League merger collapse is blow to Keynsham Town FC

ALTHOUGH Keynsham Town’s first team came away with three narrow away defeats in February, there has been more worrying news filtering down from the ivory towers of the FA at Wembley.

As readers may be aware, a merger was planned for the start of next season between the Western League and South West Peninsula League, which would in simple terms created both “north” and “south” premier divisions at Step 5 of the non-league football pyramid.

Currently there is just one Step 5 division (of which Keynsham Town is a member), stretching all the way from Bristol to Penzance and beyond.

Sadly, rumours began to surface in early February that the board members of the two leagues were in disagreement over who should fill the various board roles in the new league. These rumours were confirmed in an announcement by the FA on February 20 that plans for the merger had been scrapped.

The Western League Board issued a statement expressing its disappointment at the news.

“We had hoped that the intervention of the Football Association, under the leadership of an independent chairperson, would have led to further talks on February 22, but today’s statement makes it clear that not only have the South West Peninsula League withdrawn from this process, the FA have no desire to engage in proactively addressing the economic challenges our clubs currently face with travel.

“Whilst we had been consistent in our commitment to the merger project, the FA had requested an alternative solution to managing the challenges posed by long-distance travel.

“The board proposed a plan to split the Premier Division into two geographical areas as an interim measure for 2023/24 season, in order to reduce clubs’ travel.

“At the same time, we were told that the South West Peninsula League had submitted a proposal to create their own Step 5 division, across the southern region originally planned for the Western Peninsula League. Both proposals have been rejected by the FA.

“In the short term, the board remain resolute in our belief that clubs competing in the Western League Premier Division must have their travel requirements addressed before next season.

“The board welcome the FA’s proposal to consult clubs on the future of Step 5 and 6 football in the South West, and with this in mind the Western League will be conducting our own engagement exercise to ensure that all options are properly considered.”

The board refuted any suggestion that it was to blame for the breakdown of negotiations.

“In the short term, the league will issue a short survey to all our clubs to ascertain their views and this will be followed by a meeting with all our clubs.”

This affects everyone: teams in the Western League’s Step 6 Division One have been playing all this season with the knowledge that the top four would gain promotion to the new Step 5 league – that is now not the case, and the number of teams to be promoted is anyone’s guess.

Similarly, with Bitton having resigned from the Premier Division earlier in the season, thereby filling a “relegation” place, it was thought that no more teams would be relegated from that division; clearly that may not now be the case.

Ks club secretary Jules French said: “This news is a massive disappointment to everyone involved with our community club.

“Whilst we are in a stable financial position due to our players receiving no money to play for the club, our current first-team travel costs for this season will be close to £8,000, with six trips to Cornwall, three to Devon and one to Dorset out of our 18 away league games.

“With the proposed restructure, we were looking forward to reducing that cost by around 50%, but with that now having disappeared, we are now having to recalculate our financial forecast for next season and beyond accordingly.

“With no income from our clubhouse bar, we will now be even more reliant on the supporters from our local community to come to home games and for local companies to help the club with the various sponsorship deals we have to offer.”