Conference fights for plan

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The new Nationwide Conference campaign commences tomorrow, but whatever happens on the field of play will be overshadowed by controversy and uncertainty off the pitch.

The men who run the country's élite non-League competition had hoped that this season would herald a new era, with a long-desired increase in the number of clubs being promoted to the Football League. But those hopes were dashed, for this coming term at least, by the League in June.

The Conference then pressed ahead with plans to introduce a play-off system, despite the fact that only one team would be able to go up to the Third Division. Its proposals denied automatic promotion to the title winners. Instead, the champions were asked to contest a play-off final against the winners of a four-way play-off involving the teams finishing second, third, fourth and fifth in the Conference.

Although the Football League has no objections to that scheme, the Football Association's Sanctions and Registration Committee does. An FA spokesman said: "The Conference has been given reasons why it is not in the best interests of football for their champions not to be automatically promoted." However, that FA committee ruling cannot be ratified until a meeting of the full FA Council on 20 September. The Conference intends to start the season tomorrow with its play-off system in place, and if the decision is ratified the Conference have already decided to appeal.

John Ryan, the chairman of Doncaster Rovers, has gone further and threatened the FA with a writ for potential loss of earnings if the play-offs veto is ratified. It is no wonder, then, that the Conference's chief executive John Moules told the Independent yesterday that this has been "the most difficult summer that we've ever had. We can't wait for the football to start."