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A welcome catalyst for change or ignoring the real problem? Town fans debate radical proposal to regionalise League One

Radical proposals that could see Leagues One and Two regionalised have been put forward by Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley. Picture: ARCHANT

Radical proposals that could see Leagues One and Two regionalised have been put forward by Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

Radical proposals which could see Leagues One and Two regionalised have reportedly got the backing of ‘several clubs’. Here, Ipswich Town fans and writers Jason Milton and Amy Downes argue for and against the idea...

Fleetwood Town chairman Andy Pilley floated the idea of regionalising Leagues One and Two last week. Picture: PA SPORTFleetwood Town chairman Andy Pilley floated the idea of regionalising Leagues One and Two last week. Picture: PA SPORT

Plans to regionalise the third and fourth tiers of English football to help clubs struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic were last week put forward by Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley.

He claims that the idea would cut down on travel costs and make away matches more appealing for fans.

Pilley warned that at least 10 ‘famous’ clubs risk going out of business if steps aren’t taken, and also advocated the introduction of a salary cap.

The idea sparked furious debate among Ipswich Town fans on social media. So, should the EFL consider regionalisising the lower leagues?

More than 4,000 Town fans made the trip to Peterborough earlier in the season - Jason Milton says that's a good argument for regionalised leagues. Picture: PAGEPIX LTDMore than 4,000 Town fans made the trip to Peterborough earlier in the season - Jason Milton says that's a good argument for regionalised leagues. Picture: PAGEPIX LTD

YES, says Jason Milton

Spoiler alert, if your idea of a fun day out involves a ten-hour round trip to the likes of Fleetwood, and Accrington, this short read is probably not for you.

As the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic hits already stagnating revenues, a concerted effort to reform and restructure Leagues One and Two gathers pace. Cometh the hour, cometh the man with Piley calling for a return to regional football to permanently address a chronic financial burden that’ll extend beyond an eventual return of nae’ normal football.

The third divisions North and South ran from 1921 to 1958 before being nationalised and becoming Division Three and Four.

For many Town fans a return to regional football would be the final insult and reaffirmation of how far their all-conquering “three star” club has fallen, but for those of us more interested in a sustainable future and enjoying the here and now, there’s an increasing acknowledgement regional football could be the catalyst for radical change required to the structure of our domestic game.

Fact is, the majority of travelling supporters are not aspiring to visit every league ground. The majority simply love their team, enjoy the craic of an away journey and the opportunity to celebrate in front of the home support.

I was part of that experience earlier this season at Peterborough. Together with 4,000 other Town fans, we contributed to an excellent derby day atmosphere while ploughing a fair few quid into the local economy. In return, Posh repaid the compliment – as well as a footballing lesson – a few months later.

As it stands though, for every Peterborough there’s a Fleetwood or Accrington, and for whom a ten-hour round-trip to the Maracanã of East Anglia awaits.

To argue a regional structure restricts remote supporters watching their team is selfish and smacks of the tail wagging the dog. Match-day revenues and cost containment are vital to clubs operating at this level.

If the prospect of enjoying a season of “blue army” derbies appeals, you might want to consider the practicalities of a regional competition as part of a bigger picture that will - as Pilley concludes – “enable us to focus on football and not points deductions.”

MORE: ‘This could be disastrous for us’ - Town fans react to regionalised League One proposal

NO, says Amy Downes

When I read about the proposed changes to the Football League, my heart dropped.

Could Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert and captain Luke Chambers be competing in a regionalised League One in future? Photo: ROSS HALLSCould Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert and captain Luke Chambers be competing in a regionalised League One in future? Photo: ROSS HALLS

For those who don’t know, I moved from East Anglia to Yorkshire just over ten years ago, so these changes would make it much harder for me to attend games.

The truth is, there are a great number of us who do not, in fact, support the team we live closest to.

In the suburbs of Leeds, where I live, there’s an army of Ipswich fans who travel to away games.

Even more so across the whole of the north, we even have our own branch of the ITFC supporters club.

Conversely, there is some incredible support for the team from the south west of the country in Bristol, Devon and even Cornwall.

Making these changes to the game would leave thousands of us unable to support our club.

I also cannot see how this league format would mean less travelling: Town would still have to travel to places like Plymouth (over 300 miles away), when the very northern Fleetwood is closer (280 miles away).

While I understand football is a business and huge changes are going to needed to help it survive this challenging time, I can’t help feeling this is ignoring the real problems that exist.

The gap between the Premier League and the Championship is vast. Likewise, as we have seen this year, there is a huge gulf in quality between the Championship and League One.

Wouldn’t adding regional leagues make that divide even bigger?

Amy Downes, pictured with fellow Town fans before a game at Barnsley, is not a fan of the regionalised League One ideaAmy Downes, pictured with fellow Town fans before a game at Barnsley, is not a fan of the regionalised League One idea

Surely a wage cap on player’s wages would be better, to reduce costs and help clubs get their spending under control?

The suggested changes to the league would change the face of football forever, and not in a good way. I for one will be hoping it never happens. I’ll be publishing more of my thoughts on this over on my blog – diaryofatractorgirl.blogspot.com – next week, it would be great to hear your thoughts, so please do pop over and let me know!

- What do you think? Comment below!


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