Ramsbottom United will kick off the new season on August 18th with the prospect of facing a number of “new” teams.
Due to the long-awaited restructuring of the non-league pyramid, the second tier of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League (level 4) has been realigned from North/South to East/West, mainly due to the introduction of a new League at level 3 covering the central area of the country. This has seen a shift northwards of the League’s southern boundary, resulting in a redrawn lower divisional structure.
As a result, former opponents on the eastern side of the Pennines will no longer feature on the Rams fixture list, but more southerly based sides have been added.
Chasetown in Staffordshire and Market Drayton in Shropshire will prove to be the farthest trip down the M6, whilst acquaintances will be renewed with the likes of Newcastle Town (Staffordshire), Kidsgrove Athletic, and Leek Town, all of whom played in Evo-Stik South last season. Former NWCFL rivals Runcorn Linnets have been promoted to the League along with relative newcomers Widnes, as runners-up.
Plenty of traditional opponents remain in what will be a 20 club Division (two down on last season), with Atherton Collieries, Clitheroe, Colne, Colwyn Bay, Droylsden, Glossop North End, Kendal Town, Mossley, Prescot Cables, Radcliffe, Skelmersdale United and Trafford all being welcomed back to the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium again.
Not quite so straight-forward is the promotion issue.
Whilst attempting to rectify the out-of-sinc pyramid, the FA committee have made one error which has caused further problems.
Ramsbottom secretary Tony Cunningham explains:
“From a National League (step1) to National League North and South (step2) the disparity of only 3 leagues at step 3 has been addressed by the introduction of a 4th league at that level. However, the expected next level (step4) where Ramsbottom are, has only had one League added, making the 4th tier a complement of just 7 leagues instead of the symmetrical 8.
“Whereas each of the 7 Champion clubs at step 4 will be promoted, each of the leagues will operate a play-off system to decide which club should follow them upwards.
“But here is the problem. Instead of 4 clubs being relegated from each of the 4 step 3 leagues (16), only 3 clubs are about to suffer that fate (12) which only leaves a further 5 promotion places.
“Instead of insisting upon 4 clubs coming down, and exempting the 2 that finish fourth from the bottom, based on a points per game average, which would then allow all 7 play-off winners the chance to move up, the FA have determined that the 2 winners of the play-offs with the worst points per game average, will NOT be allowed to gain promotion.
“Talk about punishing success and rewarding failure!
“I’ve expressed dissatisfaction with this decision on behalf of the club, but have been told that for the 2018-19 season, this will take place.
“The FA state that they feel there are insufficient clubs available with the necessary ground grading to make up an 8th Division at step 4 (although the influx of around 20 clubs to the reconstructed North West Counties League at steps 5 and 6 would appear to cast a doubt on such a comment), but what concerns me is that when an 8th division finally arrives – as it must – unless the leagues at step 3 alter their relegation policy to four clubs, we could finish up with four play-off winners denied promotion!”