MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: Conference clubs deserve a fair deal
3:20pm Tuesday 5th March 2013 in Sport
LET’S examine the Conference doomsday scenario for the current top eight or so, shall we?
I make the point clear that this is a Conference issue, not a Newport one, though I’d presume most of my readers will have the Exiles in mind when they mull this one over.
You have your best season in decades. For 46 games you’re consistent, strong, robust on the road, clinical at home and you’re there or thereabouts all season, challenging for the title.
And then on the last day of the campaign, a referee makes one tiny mistake, an honest error and you fall a point short of the honour and prestige of winning not just the division but (arguably) the second biggest prize in English football, behind ascension to the Premier League.
You know already where I’m going with this. In every other division that blow to professional pride is nothing more than that. It’s far from terminal to your season. You don’t get a championship winning medal, but you do get promoted.
If you do all that in League Two you’re promoted with something to spare. You could finish 38 points behind the champions and still achieve AUTOMATIC promotion, by finishing third.
No wonder teams in the Conference talk ambitiously about going through the divisions. With four promoted from League Two, a division with not many more established Football League clubs than the Conference, it’s little wonder.
I’ve covered County a long time, to the point friends and family with little interest in the club look out for them. “You see them a lot,” they’ll say. “Do you think they’ll get promoted this season?”
My answer has become stock in recent weeks (now that I’ve ditched my default, pessimistic football fan attitude of just assuming that no they won’t, because I want them to do it). Now I simply pull a face as if to suggest I know a secret that they’ve probably not even considered, except it’s not a secret.
With a furrowed brow I’ll then proceed to explain that only two clubs in the Conference get promoted. That if you miss out on winning the title by a point, a goal or an injustice, it only presents you a one-in-four chance at glory in the playoffs.
Like everyone with a Newport hat on I celebrated Wrexham failing to win at the weekend, the league leaders getting their noses bloodied in a game they should’ve won. But make no mistake, there is no justice whatsoever in the fact Wrexham are even here. They won 30 games out of 46 last season and achieved 98 points and had a goal difference of +52. They should be in League Two.
It really is the most absurd and distorted rule anomaly in British football and it’s imperative that publications such as this one, with a vested interest, continue to bang the drum until someone in power finally listens.
It’s all very well to have Paul Merson and Co gurning maniacally on Soccer Saturday and proclaiming how “amazing” it is that Barnet have pulled off “A Great Escape, AGAIN,” surviving as they have, relegation from League Two on the final days of the season – for three successive campaigns – by virtue of finishing third from bottom.
You know third from bottom? It’s a familiar position to nearly all football fans as the one you don’t want. The one that gets you relegated from the Premier League, Championship, League One and of course, the Conference. Because four get relegated from the Conference. Four go down, but two go up.
It’s ridiculous, it’s unfair and I’m saying it now, not waiting until County do or don’t face this injustice.
The debate has been going for more than a decade and each and every year the Conference resolve to lobby the Football League with no luck.
Why? Because, and this is the only accepted answer apparently, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
The Football League clubs will never go for it, and why would they? What’s in it for them?
It’s a fair argument and one the Football League simply MUST address.
So much is made of the parachute payments for relegated Premier League clubs, but it’s clearly a model to follow on a smaller scale. Make dropping out of the Football League less terrifying financially and there will be no logical reason for the majority of the 72 clubs to oppose ‘three up’ from the Conference.
Fans like new teams in their division. They like travelling to new grounds, experiencing new days. If County are still in the Conference next season, I’m already keen to go to Salisbury. Haven’t been there in years. That’s how our brains work.
Amazing stories like AFC Wimbledon, money-bags ‘new boys’ like Fleetwood and Crawley, a lovely team to watch and city to visit like York, these sides enhance the Football League and always will. New is good. New rivalries, fresh opponents and more intrigue.
The issue will once again be on the Football League agenda at their annual conference this year and as the Football League celebrate their 125th anniversary no doubt they’ll be grateful for a sexy new gimmick they can tweet about and get profiled by Dan Walker on a Saturday lunch time.
Well how about this revolutionary concept... justice for the 24 teams in division five, trying to claw and scratch their way to the Promised Land. How about fairness and parity? What a revolution that’d be.