The upcoming Essex Senior League season is set to be more competitive than ever with up four clubs relegated and two promoted.
The FA is restructuring the football pyramid to add an extra division nationally at Step 3 (run by the Southern League) and at Step 4 (run by the Isthmian League).
As a one-off, there will be an extra 12 promotion places up for grabs across the 14 Step 5 leagues, including the ESL, to help fill these new leagues.
Those promotion spots will be allocated to runners-up clubs across England with good enough grounds and the best points per game average. So get your calculators ready.
Clubs in the ESL who already meet the ground requirements include some of the title favourites – Barkingside, FC Romania, Great Wakering Rovers, Ilford (if reinstated to the league), Redbridge and Waltham Forest.
Additionally, Takeley are known to be undergoing ground improvements, while Southend Manor say they have already spent £12,000 with more to come as they go all out for a promotion tilt.
Meanwhile the Old Spotted Dog, where Clapton and Hackney Wick are hoping to play next season, does not meet Step 4 standards so would need significant improvements.
A statement on the Clapton FC website last week said rather vaguely: “We still have our sights set on being promoted to the Ryman League in the future.”
Meanwhile at the bottom of the table, there is even more reorganisation planned ahead of the introduction of a ESL Division 2 for 2018/9.
The FA wants up to 4 teams relegated from the ESL next season to help fill up the new division 2.
However, rules also state ESL should have between 16 and 20 clubs. Therefore it seems unlikely that 4 clubs wlll go down. particularly with Eton Manor sitting out this season, possibly no Ilford, and perhaps 2 teams leaving via promotion too.
Automatic relegation is expected to continue from Step 5 each season – something that hasn’t happened when there was no Step 6.