Step five clubs able to compete in play-offs next season
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The move, which remains subject to FA Council approval, will guarantee two clubs are promoted into step four each season from the 16 step five divisions – one as champion and a second through the play-offs.
Those divisions include the Northern Counties East League Premier Division and the United Counties League Premier Division North, which both include sides local to Mid and North Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and beyond.
At the end of the 2023-24 season, two clubs will be relegated from each of the eight step four divisions in order to increase league sizes to 22 clubs. There will be one relegation spot from each step five division.
From 2024-25, four teams will be relegated from every step four division, while step five will revert to two relegation places.
The inter-step play-offs were introduced last season with clubs finishing third and fourth bottom of step four at risk of relegation through one-off winner-takes-all matches against step five runners-up.
An FA statement read: “Subject to FA Council approval, the inter-step Play-Offs currently in place at steps four and five of the National League System (NLS) are to be replaced after the 2022/23 season.
“The change will see the introduction of a traditional four-team play-off in each of the 16 step five divisions – thus guaranteeing a second promotion place from step five to step four, subject to clubs meeting the eligibility criteria which includes an independent ground grading assessment.
“At the end of the 2023/24 season, this will mean that an additional 16 clubs will be guaranteed promotion from step five to step four (32 clubs in total), with the number of clubs automatically relegated from each of the eight step four divisions to remain as two in order to increase the divisional size at step four to 22 clubs per division. The resulting 16 vacancies at step five will be filled by only relegating one club per step five division, as opposed to two.
“From the 2024/25 season, it is intended that the number of clubs automatically relegated from each of the eight step four divisions to step five will increase from two to four, two clubs from each of the 16 step five divisions will continue to be promoted to step four (one automatic and one via the play-off) and the number of clubs automatically relegated from each step five division will revert to two.
“These changes reflect a long-term aim of The FA to create consistency at each Step level of the NLS pyramid.”