Five divisions of 20 – Football League restructure proposal resurfaces

The Football League has released proposals that could see the domestic professional league system re-organised into five divisions of 20 teams from the start of the 2019-20 season.

As if to prove there’s nothing new in the game, the same proposal was put forward back in the sixties and, half a century later, could the 100-club structure suffer the same fate?

The 21st century version carries the title of a ‘Whole Game Solution’.

It was in 1959 that Football League secretary Alan Hardaker compiled a plan called the ‘Pattern for Football’.

Although the author was a renowned dour Yorkshireman, it was described as the most remarkable document any League official had ever formulated.

He foresaw three national divisions of 20 plus a regionalised Division Four (north and south with 20 each).

Hardaker was responding to the demise of England’s standing as the leading light in international football, the rise of European club competitions, the looming influence of television and the continued dwindling of attendance figures.

Following the post-war boom, attendances were on a notable decline. From 1956-57 to 1961-62, Football League attendances would drop by five million to below 28 million.

Instead of embracing the plan as a whole, the clubs decided to cherry-pick and agreed to a new midweek knockout cup competition that would replace the potential loss of league fixtures. The Football League Cup was born.

Hardaker was not a man to be deterred though, and was convinced that meaningless games were the major contributor to the reduced attendances.

With restricted promotion and relegation in 24 team divisions, some clubs would have little to play for as early as October in a season.

He put forward the ground-breaking proposal of four up and four down in 20-team divisions.

After much toing and froing, when the five of 20 part of his ‘Pattern for Football’ reached its final format, it was met with healthy support at a meeting in March 1963.

However, three months later at the vital AGM, the support dissipated. Needing to gain a three quarters majority from the club chairman, it fell eight votes short.

A decision on the ‘Whole Game Solution’ proposals will be made in June 2017 when 90% of the 72 Football League clubs must give the thumbs up for a five division system to get the go-ahead.

With some of the league’s smallest clubs already operating on a slender shoe-string budget, it is difficult to imagine that less than seven of the member clubs won’t, or won’t be able to, see beyond the loss of revenue from four fewer home games.

Unless their fears can be met, is a repeat failure inevitable?

Should the new proposals fail, many will ruefully reflect on the words of a frustrated Alan Hardaker in 1963:

“We were wasting our time.

“It was defeated by selfishness and shallow thinking. It was rejected because, myopically, too many clubs could see no further than their own little worlds.

“They were not interested in the game as a whole. Their only concern was self-preservation.

“They closed their eyes and minds to anything which even remotely threatened their status and life-style.”

Could we see a case of history repeating itself?

Five divisions of 20 – Football League restructure proposal resurfaces

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