Clapton could be playing at least four fewer league fixtures under ambitious FA plans to add a second division to the Essex Senior League.
Our area is one of only three in England without a Step 6 league. Instead there’s a chasm between the ESL at Step 5 and the Essex Olympian League at Step 7.
Now the FA is looking to plug that gap with a Step 6 league, an ESL Division 2, made up of 16 teams from Essex and fringe areas.
The plans are currently at the consultation stage but if approved the clubs in the new ESL D2 would come from four sources:
1 Transfers from Eastern Counties League
The Eastern Counties League, to the north of the ESL, has a second division featuring 21 clubs, which the FA wants to cut to 16.
That might see the southern-most clubs, such as Halstead Town, Cornard United, Haverhill Borough and Braintree Town’s and AFC Sudbury’s Reserves, moving to the ESL.
2 Promotions from Essex Olympian
Clubs in the Essex Olympian League would have a golden opportunity to leap up two steps in the pyramid – with the FA even willing to relax ground grading rules to allow them time to adjust.
Locally that could include the likes of Canning Town, who play at the Terence McMillan Stadium in Plaistow, and Newbury Forest, who share Redbridge’s Oakside Stadium. Both clubs already have the ground grading to play Step 5 football.
Respected village clubs in the Essex Olympian Premier League, such as Hannakins Farm, Harold Wood Athletic and Frenford Senior, may also fancy stepping up.
3 Promotion from the Middlesex County League
Tower Hamlets and West Essex are among the clubs to have moved up to the ESL from the Middlesex League, which is Step 7 like the Essex Olympian League.
Despite the name suggesting West London only teams, there are several more who could qualify for a switch to Essex, such as Sporting Hackney, Hackney Wick, Tottenham Hale Rangers and Mile End Park Rangers, if they could find a suitable ground.
4 Relegation from the ESL
The FA wants to cut the size of all Step 5 leagues, including the ESL, to a maximum of 20 clubs.
The ESL has 22 clubs now, so if the FA’s plans are approved there would need to be at least 2 relegations. If any Ryman North clubs were to be relegated down to the ESL, that would require more clubs to drop down to ESL D2.
However, if the FA struggles to fill the 16 places in the ESL D2 from the places outlined in options 1 to 3 above, they could end up taking even more clubs from the ESL D1.
Potentially the ESL D1 could be cut to 16 clubs too. That would mean as many as 12 fewer league fixtures for the Tons.
Whatever variation of the FA’s plans are approved, ESL strugglers like Haringey and Waltham, Sporting Bengal, Burnham Ramblers and Wadham League would be under real threat of relegation.
The next steps
All clubs in the leagues affected were given until the end of October to give their views on the proposals.
The next meeting of the FA working group to consider the next step is November 21.
It’s unclear if the new league would begin next season or at a later date.