Football: League clubs must change or 'go bust'

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Life outside the Premiership just gets harder. Yesterday Nationwide League clubs were bluntly informed that their futures could not be guaranteed unless they embraced radical plans for the wholesale overhaul of the three divisions below the elite.

The changes would see clubs currently in the Vauxhall Conference invited to join an enlarged League, split regionally at the lowest tier. Any opponents of the plan were told they risked sending the League into an abyss from which it would not return.

Strong words indeed, which came from Gerry Boon of the management consultants Deloitte Touche, commissioned in January to draft the independent report. Its findings, sent to all 72 League chairmen last week, will be debated at a special meeting, addressed by Boon, in London tomorrow.

The scale of the proposed changes is certain to provoke an outcry in some quarters, but Boon warned: "If these recommendations are not accepted I think that within a few years 20 clubs will have very serious financial problems and potentially go bust.

"There are already 20 clubs where the Inland Revenue could send in the liquidators, and more than 10 who need the support of the Professional Footballers' Association to survive, while the vast majority are running at an operating loss.

"In simple terms, there is not a standstill option. The League either goes forwards into the future, or backwards."

The proposals are:

The League will be "reinvigorated" by being expanded to include Vauxhall Conference clubs;

The current First and Second Divisions will be unchanged, but the Third Division would be regionalised, with clubs run on a part-time basis allowed to join;

Promotion and relegation issues would be extended to ensure fewer "meaningless" games;

Play-offs for both promotion and relegation. Up to five clubs could move each way from divisions within the League;

The Coca-Cola Cup would be given an extra two-legged first round to accommodate the increased number of League members;

First Division and Premiership clubs would be allowed a phased entry from the third-round stage, with all ties from that point settled on the night. There would be no replays;

A commercially qualified chief executive would be appointed to head the new-look League, with an independent chairman and commercial director;

The organisation and administration of the League would be located under one roof, with the traditional headquarters in Lytham St Annes abandoned and the League offices centralised in London;

Restructuring of the League itself, to turn it from an administration- led organisation into a market-led body; and

Ensuring the League operates as a professional representative body, acting for the long-term good of professional football and not narrowly for the sole benefit of current member clubs.

Hereford, the relegated Third Division club that would benefit from such a bold restructuring, have persuaded Graham Turner to withdraw his offer to resign. Turner, the club's director of football, had offered to stand down following Hereford's demotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference on Saturday.

One League club currently undergoing an internal review is Shrewsbury Town, who have dismissed their manager, Fred Davies, following the club's relegation to the Third Division. Davies, at 57 the League's oldest manager, steered the Gay Meadow club to the Third Division title in his first season in charge and last year took them to Wembley for the first time in the Auto Windscreens Shield. However, a decline this term - with one win in their last 16 games - turned initial play-off hopes into relegation from Division Two.

Happier news for Mick Jones. The Plymouth caretaker manager has been given the job on a permanent basis. Jones has been in charge since Neil Warnock, now managing Oldham, was dismissed by Argyle in February.

Sheffield Wednesday confirmed that the Monaco defender Patrick Blondeau has arrived at Hillsborough to undergo a medical. The 29-year-old French international has agreed a three-year contract and Wednesday hope to finalise a deal, believed to be worth pounds 1.8m, providing he passes his medical. Blondeau will not be paraded as a Wednesday player until the end of the season because Monaco, the newly crowned French champions, still have two games remaining.

Paul Peschisolido has threatened to quit West Bromwich Albion, claiming the club have reneged on a promised wage review. The Canadian striker, now on the transfer list, said he agreed to a wage cut when moving from Birmingham on condition the situation would be reviewed at the end of this season.

Billy Stark, Celtic's assistant manager, will stay at Parkhead until 18 May before stepping down.

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