Weymouth and Dorchester bosses today welcomed plans for the biggest soccer shake-up of the past two decades.
Nationwide Conference board members have passed a rule which allows them to increase the competition to up to 66 clubs for the start of next season.
They have written to all 69 Premier clubs in the Dr Martens, Ryman and Unibond leagues inviting them to join. Depending how many say yes, the Conference plan to add one or two divisions beneath their existing 22-club competition. If up to 22 apply they would form a new division called Conference Two, but if up to 44 want to get involved they would form two geographically-based leagues called Conference North and Conference South.
Under the proposals, all promotion in the extended Conference would include play-offs.
The shock move, which is sure to cause outrage among executives of the Dr Martens, Rymans and Unibond leagues, comes after the FA’s own restructuring plans faltered recently.
Conference chief executive John Moules said: “The FA have failed football. Now we are doing what needs to be done for the good of the game.”
Terras chairman Terry Bennett said he welcomed the proposals – assuming the Wessex Stadium club avoid relegation this season – in particular the prospect of North\South regional leagues.
He added: “We have yet to receive our letter from the Conference executives, but we would be very, very interested in their proposals. This is something Weymouth has been arguing in favour of for a while and we’d be foolish not to think seriously about it. A lot will obviously depend on our funds and whether in fact the club could afford to make such a move. But on the other hand, can any club really afford not to go with it because ultimately it will be good for the non-League game. What cripples clubs like us is all the travelling involved in the Dr Martens Premier Division like our trip to Stafford which cost us a fortune on Saturday. If the Conference cut off was somewhere like Birmingham, that would make a huge difference to teams like Weymouth. But I have to stress that these are my own personal opinions and any proposals that came our way would have to be discussed at board level. However, from what I know about the plans, it looks a good opportunity for both Weymouth and football in general.”
For Dorchester to be considered for the new set-up, they first have to win promotion from the Dr Martens Eastern Division. But secretary David Martin said if the shake-up went ahead they would still want to be part of it.
He said: “Our focus at the moment is very much on winning promotion back to the Premier Division. But our stated aim has always been to one day bring Conference football to the Avenue Stadium providing we could do that within our budget and not cripple the club financially. If they go ahead with regional Conference divisions – and they do need FA sanction to change their rules to accommodate them – it would certainly make sense as far as travelling is concerned because we do a tremendous amount in the Eastern Division.”