THE TOP flight of the Sussex County League will be merged with its three neighbouring leagues at the end of next season under the Football Association’s plans for reorganisation.
Division One of the County League (SCFL) is currently one of 14 leagues nationally operating at Step 5 of the non-league pyramid. The FA plans to cut this number by two by creating 12 new leagues for Step 5 teams to merge into, in changes set to come in for the start of the 2013/14 season.
It means the sides in Division One of the SCFL by the end of next season will be split to join either the new London South East or London South West League, or a new Southern League.
Teams joining the London South East League would merge with teams from the Kent League, and could include the likes of Peacehaven, Rye Utd, Ringmer and AFC Uckfield.
Teams joining the London South West League will merge with teams from the Combined Counties League and could include teams like Horsham YMCA, Three Bridges, Hassocks, Arundel, Shoreham and Worthing.
Teams joining the new Southern League will merge with the Wessex League and would likely be sides such as Chichester, Pagham and Selsey.
The FA want to have 12 leagues at Step 5 so there is two leagues to feed into each of the six Step 6 leagues. Currently the Wessex, Combined Counties and Sussex County League feed into Ryman League One South.
Long-standing SCFL chairman Peter Bentley has voiced strong concerns over the proposed changes, announced in a meeting in Thurrock on Sunday. He believes the increase in travel for some clubs could leave them struggling financially and questioned the necessity of the changes.
“Some clubs will find they face rapidly increased mileage as a result of the changes,” said Mr Bentley, who has chaired the league since 1976.
“Peacehaven, for example would have to go to places like Deal in Kent (a 104 mile journey) and others will have to take the lottery of navigating the M25 to get to places.
“We as a league are very much opposed to the changes, I for one believe it will be to the detriment of the clubs in Sussex.”
Mr Bentley informed Division One clubs of the changes at a meeting at Ringmer FC on Monday night. He said: “The general consensus from our clubs is that nobody wants the changes.”
Under the proposals the SCFL would still operate two divisions at Step 6, but Mr Bentley said future proposals to reorganise this level of the non-league as well made the future of the County League uncertain.
Mr Bentley said the main reason in his eyes for the changes was pure ‘neatness’, and ‘completely unnecessary’ as there had never been a season when all 14 champions at Step 5 were able to go up.
He added that it was unclear if there would be a vote on the changes, but urged Sussex County League clubs to attend a further meeting in Thurrock this coming Sunday (January 15) to voice their concerns.