JERSEY BULLS manager Gary Freeman has weighed into the debate on the lack of play-off places in Step Five – the level at which the Islanders currently play in the Combined Counties Premier Division – as the season reaches its climax.
His side travel to Balham tonight knowing that nothing short of a win is necessary to keep their promotion hopes alive.
They currently lie fourth, eight points behind leaders Raynes Park Vale and five behind second-place Badshot Lea, having played a game more than both teams.
While the champions automatically gain promotion, the teams finishing second across the 16 Step Five leagues may earn promotion only on a points-per-game basis, or via a one-off match against a Step Four side.
Every level in the structure, from the National Premier through to Step Six, has a play-off competition at the end of the campaign – apart from Step Five.
And Freeman has echoed the calls of other managers – including Gavin Smith of Badshot Lea – for a rethink from the Football Association, saying the lack of anything to play for for many clubs is detrimental to the product.
‘It adds a whole new level of interest, keeps players and coaches motivated and brings people through the door. For me, play-offs are the way forward,’ said Freeman.
‘Players, coaches and supporters all love the element of competition but, given the current set-up, that’s taken away by the limited opportunity to get promoted. Everyone else in the structure has it, so why not us? There are teams in Step Five who are more than good enough to compete at the level above, and I’d count four or five in our league alone.
‘There’s also a lot of money and time resource invested by clubs and people and they’ll continue to do that if they see a potential return. I fear if we remain with the status quo, players might be more attracted to drop down or seek to play their football at Step Four.
‘Yes, that doesn’t really affect us but I know it’s something lots of managers feel and I guess, for us, it’s looking at the lads who may be on the mainland studying who might feel it’s better to play for a club local to them,’ he continued.
‘This isn’t me having a moan due to our league position, more a view on how we can better the product at this level and make it more exciting, for longer.’
Jersey Bulls have seen their push for promotion slip away in recent weeks, having won only one league match out of the last five. Freeman has been frustrated at the spoiling tactics used by some of the clubs, as well as his own team’s failure to provide a cutting edge when needed. Bulls could find no way past Knaphill on Saturday as the match finished in a 0-0 draw.
‘This is no slight on Knaphill at all because they’ve had a very good season but their management team said to us afterwards that they were more than happy to spoil our promotion campaign by making sure we didn’t win the game,’ he said.
‘That’s fine – we have no complaint because ultimately it is down to us to figure out a way to win, and we didn’t against Knaphill – but the current situation just winds down the season prematurely for half the clubs in the league.’
Freeman is missing top scorer Lorne Bickley for tonight’s match as he starts a three-match suspension, while Miguel Carvalho is out with a slight knee problem meaning a call-up for Leandro Vieira.
Kick-off is at 7.45pm with the game being streamed live via Bulls’ website.
Jersey Bulls squad: Euan Van Der Vliet, Frank Tobin, Jay Giles, James Querée (c), Luke Campbell, Sammy Sutcliffe, Joe Kilshaw, Adam Trotter, Luke Watson, Jonny Le Quesne, Leandro Vieira, Francis Lekimamati, Sammy Henia-Kamau, Fraser Barlow.