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Majority of non-league fans want National League reform

An overwhelming majority of fans of non-league clubs are in favour of reforming the voting structure of the National League, according to the results of a Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) survey.

Of 1,247 non-league fans surveyed last week, more than eight out of 10 (83.9%) were in favour of reform of the current National League voting structure, while less than one in 10 (8.8%) believed it was not in need of reform.

The governance structure of the National League has come in for criticism for the disproportionate allocation of votes to its member clubs, with the league’s governance structure heavily weighted in favour of Step 1. Each of these clubs receives one vote in league matters, with just eight votes to be shared between the 44 clubs at Step 2.

Step 2 clubs have complained that the structure needs a review and some have blamed the imbalance for the controversial manner in which National Lottery funding was disproportionately distributed in favour of Step 1 clubs before Christmas 2020.

A group of Step 2 clubs successfully called an Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss a vote of no confidence in the league chairman and board in May. Although 33 of the Step 2 clubs voted in favour of a resolution for change, they were ultimately defeated by the voting system they had identified as one of the root causes of the league’s problems.

When asked to choose between three potential options for a National League voting system, three quarters of fans (73.7%) backed a one club, one vote system. Almost one in five fans (18.4%) said that a system where Step 2 clubs received half a vote each compared with a vote apiece for Step 1 was preferable, while only 8% believed the current system should remain.

A number of Step 2 clubs have made representation to the Government’s Fan-led Review on football governance. As well as calling for reform of the National League governance structure, the prospect of Step 1 clubs joining the EFL has been raised.

The frustrated efforts to achieve reform has led to calls for the Step 1 clubs to be merged with the EFL, potentially to form two regional leagues – League 2 North and League 2 South.

Fans were also asked to rate the extent of their agreement with two statements.

Firstly, “As the top division of the National League is made up almost exclusively of full-time professional clubs it would better serve the game for them to be part of the EFL rather than the non-league structure.”

  • 68.9% either agreed somewhat or agreed strongly
  • 20.7% either disagreed somewhat or disagreed strongly

Secondly, “If the clubs currently at Step 1 were to become part of the EFL, it would be beneficial for those clubs and the ones in EFL League Two to form two regionalised divisions which would feed in to League One, rather than for the Step 1 clubs to simply form a new EFL League Three.”

  • 67% either agreed somewhat or agreed strongly
  • 24% either disagreed somewhat or disagreed strongly

Andy Walsh, head of National Game at the FSA said: “The results of the survey show there is a clear appetite for reform of the National League governance structure and very little support for the status quo.

“On being appointed as the new chairman of the league, Jack Pearce said that he wanted ‘to work together with clubs to move the league forward’. Now that supporters have added their voice to the calls for reform, we would ask the National League board to open up a dialogue with disaffected clubs.

“If there are to be any changes to the league structure involving Step 1 and the EFL, this will require further consultation with all stakeholders, which must include supporters.”

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