Following yesterday’s blog I had a brief conversation on Twitter with fellow Grimsby Town fans about the standard of football in the Conference and whether some of the bigger teams could handle themselves in League 2. Coincidentally, I discovered this cracking article on Two Hundred Percent debating whether it’s time for three to be relegated from League 2 and three to go up from the Conference. The article references a parliamentary Early Day Motion by Lib Dem MP Tim Farron which calls on the FA to do exactly that. Clearly Farron – whose party has single handedly wrecked a generation of young people’s prospects by jumping into bed with the Tories – is desperate for votes by meddling in an issue that doesn’t affects him and, quite frankly, should be well down on his list of parliamentary priorities. But the point is actually a very fair one – is the gap between the two leagues as big as all Mariners fans thought it was when we were relegated on that horrible day in Burton?
Ask Crawley fans and they’ll likely say no having just waltzed through the league and on to a successive promotion. I fully expect this year’s promoted duo York and Fleetwood to challenge for honours too. I’d say the top 8 or 9 clubs in the Conference would finish in the top half of League 2 and that includes Grimsby Town – look at attendances of the likes of Accrington and they’re dwarfed by sides such as Luton and Stockport. Either due to financial difficulties or bad management, there are now some big, ex-League clubs in the first tier of non league football and there are very, very few whipping boys in the league anymore. Very few are part-time and the sides that are – Ebbsfleet and Southport, for example – have done quite well.
The problem will be convincing the League 2 clubs to open an extra place in the trapdoor to the abyss. Had three relegation places been installed a few years ago, Town would have gone down a season earlier as they were only saved by Luton Town’s points deduction. At the time there’s no doubt the Mariners would have voted against any suggestion. 12 months ago Macclesfield and Hereford would have done the same – now I’m guessing they’d vote the other way. Is there a huge gap between the leagues? Town beat Port Vale last season (although they lost to Salisbury in the next round of the FA Cup which kind of negates the argument) and other non-league sides have had great cup runs in recent times too, Crawley in 2010/11 in particular. And with every other league having at least three up, three down – and League 2 to League 1 sees four clubs change – surely it’s about time to bring parity to proceedings.
Of course there’s no guarantee that any new system would help Grimsby Town – the first two seasons in non-league have brought mid-table finishes. But the stigma non league football had when Town joined the Conference simply isn’t there anymore. Hell, it’s just had its first £1-million footballer in Jamie Vardy. I don’t expect Tim Farron’s EDM to amount to much and I don’t expect the Football League to take it too seriously. But surely, regardless of the obvious result, it’s time discussions and debate took place to make promotion and relegation fairer in line with other English leagues.