In the latest episode of the Toolstation Western League Podcast, Ian Nockolds interviewed the chairman of the Western League, John Pool. Read the interview below.
IN: Well, I'm delighted to welcome back to the Toolstation Western League podcast, the chairman of the Western League, John Pool. John, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us, it's obviously been a very busy time for you and the board. If we look at the immediate situation, with the merger being off, can we assume that next season's competition will be run along the same lines as this season, in terms of the travel distances, in terms of the structure of the divisions?
JP: That's exactly how we're viewing it at this point in time, certainly on the evidence that's been provided, that they (the FA) consider that next season will be conducted under the same terms and conditions, rules and regulations as any other season. So, at the end of this season promotion and relegation will operate in the same way as per normal with one automatic (promotion) going from (Step) five to four, and then the second place - and this might be important as well to just remember, that the second place normally would dictate the second club playing the third from bottom (at Step 4). What actually happens, if you recall, Exmouth got promoted last year without going into a playoff. The reason for that is because all the 16 clubs would go into a pool, and they would decide – ‘they’ being the FA - would decide then who plays who on a geographical basis. In the case of Exmouth, obviously, there was nobody for them to play so they got automatic promotion. So, it's worth bearing in mind that it doesn't always follow that you will actually participate, and there will be clubs relegated from [Step] five back to six. When you come to [Division] One, there will be the one automatic (promotion) and then the playoffs will operate from two down to five. The dates have been scheduled for that for the 25th and 26th (of April), so two plays five, three plays four, and the final is set for April the 29th. That's how we are looking at it going forward.
IN: If we look at the issue of relegation in the Premier Division, does the resignation of Bitton mean that one of the two places we would expect to lose -
JP: Once you lose a club, they become a relegated club, so in the case of Bitton they would have been one of the two.
IN: So, that means that it won't be the teams in 19th and 18th, we're thinking it will be the team in 19th?
IN: Right, okay. And what about relegation from our First Division because, of course, we've got 22 teams in there as it is, and the FA say that potentially three could be liable for relegation.
JP: That is the case, therefore, it depends on the applicants, and our view would be there are sufficient applicants out there as we speak, that, if they finish in promotion positions, then certainly we would expect to see new clubs joining us and potentially clubs going out. That is as it is at the moment.
IN: And we won't know about any of these decisions, including any decisions related to lateral movement, until the new constitutions are issued.
JP: That is one thing that we have tried recently to try to get a feel for what considerations are they giving to lateral movement, and they will give you no indication at all. Understandably, to a certain degree because, like you say, clubs start dropping out, voluntary relegation, all manner of different scenarios can hinge on how they would consider lateral movement to be implemented. When you go back to the new league evolving, there was a lot of movement that took place, and I would suggest now that certainly there would have been clubs, had the amalgamation gone ahead and there was a new structure, that would have been looking to apply for lateral movement to come back into the league. Those particular clubs now may well be considering whether they want to see it through or they don't, and that is the problem. However hard we push now to try to get the next season sorted out if you like, and the proposals that were put forward certainly would have allowed that to happen if the FA would have been prepared to take it on, but they weren't.
IN: Really we need to address the challenges that have been going on, or the events that have been going on over the last month. I mean, the last couple of times I've had you on the podcast, obviously you've been joined by Phil Hiscox and things were progressing very positively. So, are you surprised at how quickly events have unravelled and we've come to the point where now this merger has collapsed?
JP: Yes, to be honest. Maybe it all went too well? Early doors, really, but I mean, I think it's fair to say that up until the last steering group meeting, everything was very much falling into place. I think we knew what direction we were aiming for. There's always going to be issues in and around the way that administration was implemented but I think it's a crying shame to see it fall down to the extent that it has, really because there was just no agreement, even with compromises, we just couldn't reach an agreement whereby it was acceptable to both parties.
IN: When you look back on what's happened, do you think things could have been done differently?
JP: I think you can always look back and think to yourselves that maybe these issues should have surfaced earlier on in negotiations. To get as far as we did, and then almost fall at the last hurdle would probably indicate that, yeah, perhaps we should have looked into it earlier. But, I mean, I don't think it was a fault of anybody. I think it was just assumed that everything would all run and fall into place pretty much as it has done. Hindsight is wonderful, isn't it?
IN: I mean, you personally have been singled out for criticism in all of this. How do you respond to that?
JP: Well, it goes with the territory to be quite honest Ian. I think it's unfair. I mean, there was a steering group, we met monthly, the progress that had been made had all been agreed. I think it's almost become something that you have to accept now is that everybody's got an opinion. I think what is upsetting is the fact that you can drag this down as far as you want to, really, I mean social media is always going to be an issue nowadays, and I think what gets to you a little bit is the fact that people that form an opinion actually don't always have the facts to go with it. And I think if parties start putting stuff out in social media and putting certain slants on it, then that becomes the truth, doesn't it? Unless you want to actually get in there, start defending it and then you're just dragging the whole thing down into the "He said, I said" situation. So yeah, when allegations are made about promises, and all the rest of it, you just think ... yeah...
IN: If we look ahead, obviously, we've got clubs that are going to be concerned about the financial impact of travel, there's going to be clubs that are obviously conscious of the impact it has on their availability of playing staff, and also volunteers on a match day. These are the challenges that it looks like we're facing next season, what are the Western League doing about addressing those challenges?
JP: Well, the questionnaire has gone out (to all the Clubs) already, as you're aware, and what we're trying to do is get the feedback now in the first instance to just see exactly what the thoughts of the clubs are. It is about having open meetings, which I'm sure we're going to have to do that sooner, probably, rather than later. But at the moment, I think what we want to do is try and get feedback from the clubs. What we're hoping is that there will be enough comment in there to be able to take back to the FA to try to speed this process up and emphasise the urgency of getting this resolved. I acknowledged the comments that were in the non-league paper about getting it right. I think that is important to get it right. But as regards to the issues that we've got with the clubs and travel; we would do as much as we possibly can as a league. Yeah, I think that all we can do is just accept the fact that we need to try to make this work in the best way possible for the clubs because it is about the clubs and I mean, the whole exercise was about the clubs from day one, and that won't change.