Western and Peninsula League merger officially postponed
A proposed merger between the South-West Peninsula League and the Toolstation Western League has been officially shelved by the FA.
The merger was designed to help clubs struggling with travel costs, which is uniquely difficult for some teams in the Western League. For example, the round trip from Mousehole to Keynsham is a grueling 400 miles.
Unfortunately, the proposal was always going to face an uphill task to complete in the short time frame allocated and will now be put on ice until the FA consults with the clubs.
The immediate impact on both leagues will be to maintain the current system for next season with the normal level of promotion places available.
“The merger was the idea of the leagues in the first place, but ultimately needs FA approval as it would mean structural changes to the national league system,” said Phil Hiscox of the South West Peninsula League.
“The original idea was to progress the merger and help clubs reduce travel costs, that was the main motivation. The FA said it will now consult with member clubs in both leagues on what changes are desired at club level.
“It may be a case of looking at an alternative structure for future seasons, but the leagues will remain business as usual for the 2023-24 season.
“The normal promotion places will still be available to clubs in the Peninsula League, so these are just the extra places that are no longer eligible. I know some clubs would only take the extra places due to travel restrictions and now that the reduction is not in place, the question will be whether they will be promoted if their final league position provides that option.
“There is no other part of the country that faces the same travel challenges that we experience in the South West, which is why the FA was willing to look at the merger. They themselves described it as a unique geographical area.
“We also deal with a large number of clubs, each with their own views. Some clubs feel that promotion and moving up the football pyramid will lead to more travel and that is part of the process.
“However, it is particularly difficult for clubs in the farthest corners of the region. For example clubs like Mousehole and Wendron in the depths of Cornwall or at the other end of Keynsham or Cadbury Heath.
“There is of course a point in consulting the clubs because there is no point in making changes that are not desirable. The time frame for the proposed merger was always tight and my view is that it is better to ensure that all changes are correct and feasible than to rush something that may require further changes.
“The Western League was excited about the initial time frame and the FA said at the start it was very ambitious. If you go back to when the Devon League and the South West League merged, we did all the rules and structure over a two-year consultation period.
“In this case we have tried to put the structures in place at the same time as the clubs competing in their respective leagues.”
While the concept of a merger remains sensible, the current format of the Western League and SWPL has produced some fantastic football this season. The title race in all divisions looks set for an exciting climax and runs in the FA Vase to the likes of Brixham and Bovey Tracey have shown the quality of our teams.
“Competition-wise in the South West Peninsula League, the two divisions are extremely close and exciting this year, so our competition is in a healthy place,” Hiscox added.
Brixham have also gone further than any other club in Devon and Cornwall in the FA Vase, plus Bovey Tracey have done brilliantly, so there is an argument that the opportunities to compete at a higher level already exist.