Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Corridor Of Uncertainty

Royston Town  2  St Neots Town  1

Southern Football League – Premier Division

If the word on the street is correct, the FA’s plan for forming the new Central League at Step’s 3 and 4 is going to be based around a ‘Golden Triangle’ which in simple terms is the basis of the league’s geographical footprint.

Taking the three points of the triangle in turn, in the North West it would allegedly begin just South of Shrewsbury, stretching across to the North East point just beyond Kings Lynn, and then forming the third and final point in the Maidenhead / Slough area. A perfect triangle if you will!

Basically, if you then sit inside that triangle at Step 3 or 4, you are in the Central League next season, if you sit on the edges of it, along what could best be described as ‘The Corridor of Uncertainty’, you may be in it, or you may not.

It further complicates itself around the Southern point because you could in theory go one of three ways, which would be either the Southern League, Isthmian League, or indeed Central League.  Consequently some clubs are a little on the vulnerable side here, one of them being Royston Town.

Garden Walk
Royston currently compete in the Southern League, but if you draw the triangle, they fall into the Isthmian League, but then when you do the maths and work out an equal split of numbers in each league, you could then arguably move them into the Central League. That said, if they get through the Play Offs which they are in with a shout of reaching, they could end up in the National League South!

All this started to occur to me as I was looking at the programme from the game the other night, I noticed that next Tuesday they are at home to Weymouth, and that is a 356 mile round trip! It’s not the longest journey though, as Tiverton is 444 miles, Taunton 414 and Merthyr Tydfil 416 miles.

So, forgive me for being presumptive, but surely if given the option, Royston would want to be giving those trips a swerve next season if they can help it.

If they were in the Central League, I reckon the longest trip would be somewhere like Rushall, and that is a round 216 miles, while in the Isthmian its Bognor Regis at 266.

Change and restructuring can only be a very good thing for Royston, along with many other clubs who sit on the outer boundary of a leagues footprint, the creation of another league at the same step will reduce costs massively, but the issue of the unknown remains.

Decking - With A Roof
Players are typically signed with one eye on geographical location. For example, I know of a well know Step 3 Surrey based club that signs the bulk of its players from Kent as they compete in the Isthmian, but they are strongly being tipped to join the Southern League and as a consequence the distance and direction of travel would mean a complete re-think in terms of recruitment.

I suspect it will be mid-May, whence the Play Offs have been finalised and the promoted clubs from Step 5 are all allocated, before the provisional constitutions can be declared (they aren’t final until the AGM). That doesn’t leave a club an awful long time to prepare, especially if they are moving to a new league. This is nothing new by the way, clubs have moved up down and laterally over the years, sometimes without prior warning, take London Colney last year who were fully expecting Isthmian football, got put in the South and suddenly quit as they weren’t prepared nor happy to move into that competition.

No easy answer to this, but maybe some kind of steer would be useful, especially to the clubs that do sit along this corridor? For all I know, they may well get consulted about the moves, but evidence in recent seasons would suggest possibly not.

Moving on, I first saw Royston Town play in October 2010, they were away at Langford and smashed then into the next County with a 7-1 victory.  They finished third that season in the South Midlands League, but then won the competition at a canter the following season.

Match Action
After some near misses, finishing seventh twice and second twice in the Southern League Central Division, they finally clinched the championship last season and found themselves promoted to the Premier Division, the highest level in their history.

I’ve been meaning to go for a while, and when, my  first choice game at Ware was called off, I immediately decided to bring forward a visit that I’d originally planned in for February. Now, I talk a lot about clubs making great first impressions, and that is exactly what I got with the Crows of Royston. Texts were sent to both the Club Secretary and Fixtures Secretary, and within minutes both had got back to me with positive news about the pitch, then going on to wish me a safe journey South.

Upon arrival in the attractive Hertfordshire town, a town that doesn’t look to be short in disposable income, the welcome and the friendliness of the club officials at the Garden Walk stadium was first class. This may sound a bit sentimental, but when you get a good feeling about a club thanks to the people involved, you just know you are going to enjoy the experience. This proved to be the case.

Garden Walk is a quaint ground, maintaining a lot of traditional features from years gone by such as the clubhouse and dressing rooms that sit behind the goal, and also the old stand that perches on the halfway line. Hemmed in by housing and a graveyard, the club are clearly mindful that work needs to be done to move to the National League. A small standing area has been erected in one corner that has the appearance of decked platform with a roof over the top, unusual but not out of place by any means.

Beer, Burgers And Team Baths
Bases have also been laid behind the bottom goal and also adjacent to the dugouts whereby additional terracing and seating will be erected at some point. I have a feeling it will be the typical ‘Meccano’ style structures that are craned in, but one can only hope that Royston can buck the trend and go for a more bespoke version?

On the field, Royston sit just outside of a play-off space, while neighbouring St Neots occupied a mid-table berth. It was the home side that started positively, taking the lead in the eighth minute through a superbly taken John Frendo volley, then just seven minutes later a free kick wide on the left by Lee Chappell sailed over the bewildered St Neots goalkeeper into the back of the net.

Royston then missed two excellent chances to increase their lead, and in the end that might have proved costly.

The three points looked reasonably comfortable for the Crows as the game moved into the latter stages, but then a misplaced back pass was intercepted by Lewis Irwin who rounded the goalkeeper to make it 2-1.

St Neots were now galvanised and went in search of an equaliser, but Royston dug deep to keep them at bay, despite the visitors getting both man and ball into potentially dangerous situations.

It was a deserved victory in the end that moves Royston into the Play-Off places, and I really hope that they can continue on the upward curve that they’ve been on for a few years now.

What next for them?

The perils of living in the Corridors of Uncertainty mean just that, but whatever happens, I suspect any moves will be for the better, that’s why we have restructuring isn’t it?

The Green Green Grass Of The Southern/Isthmian/Central League

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