Football: UniBond sticking point

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THE FIRST organised opposition to the Football Conference's plans to introduce a new, national second division to the English non-League game has come this week from the UniBond (Northern Premier) League.

Duncan Bayley, the UniBond League secretary, has said that most clubs joining a second division of the Conference would be "committing financial suicide." A statement in this week's UniBond League press release continues: "The Football Association will surely be unable to ignore the overwhelming objections from the other leagues who would be affected by the Conference proposals, and the damage the plans would inflict on the pyramid structure.

"The plans have not received the support of the three senior feeder leagues [UniBond, Ryman and Dr Martens], who currently promote clubs to the Conference, nor do they have the backing of the feeder leagues below that level."

The Conference has, according to the UniBond statement, "failed to give a single tangible benefit for the proposed second division that does not already prevail in the existing promotion arrangements. The obvious problems of increased travel costs and a much higher players' wage bill have not been addressed."

The proposals by the Conference to expand from one to two divisions were publicised towards the end of last season. John Moules, the Conference secretary, said yesterday: "This is nothing less than what we expected from the UniBond League. Their clubs tend to struggle in the Conference. Compared to the southern feeder leagues, their structure is not as strong."

Moules stressed that the campaign for a second tier was "all about clubs, not about competitions. We are responding to pressure over the last five years from clubs to expand." Almost 30 clubs from the three feeder leagues have so far expressed written interest in joining the new national division. Only a few are from the UniBond.

The proposals are now being discussed by the FA and its National League Systems Committee. Moules revealed that the FA has instigated a time- consuming process of consultation, which could prevent the new division gaining official approval in time for next season.

It is possible, though, unlikely, that the Conference could attempt to launch its second division without FA authorisation. Whatever route it takes, this controversy is sure to escalate.