The Peterborough & District League Premier Division
Step 7 in the National League System is the lowest level recognised – although it should be noted that football does continue in England for a considerable number of levels below this one.
Step 7 is most easily categorised as being County level football and even at this level there are some requirements that clubs must meet in order to be eligible to participate in the leagues.
Clubs must either own their own ground or have a secure tenancy. There must be a barrier around the pitch, with a post and rope being the minimum acceptable. The pitch must be grass, unless the league permits other surfaces and must meet standard FA size requirements. There must also be adequate dressing room facilities and someone with medical training in attendance.
Step 7 status is given to leagues where 100% of clubs meet the Step 7 minimum ground grading requirements. Step 7A status is given to leagues where 75% or more of their clubs meet the Step 7 minimum ground grading requirements, whilst Step 7B status is awarded to leagues where 60% or more of their clubs meet the ground grading requirements.
These classifications are regularly reviewed and there are a number of additional leagues that are seeking to meet the criteria for classification. It is important for leagues outside the National League System to be allowed in, as it is not only a boost to the profile of the league, but it also opens up a range of potential funding streams from the FA.
Case Study: The Peterborough & District Football League
The Peterborough and District League is a regional competition for teams based in and around the city of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. It is overseen by the Peterborough and District Football Association and comprises of a total of six divisions, with the highest of those, the Peterborough and District Football League Premier Division sitting at Step 7 on the National League System.
Winners of the Premier Division are promoted into the United Counties Football League, a league covering Northamptonshire, Rutland and Bedfordshire, as well as parts of Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Division One of that league sits at Step 6 in the National League System.
Across the six divisions there are currently 90 teams playing in the league, and, somewhat unusually for a football league at this level, also has a sponsor, meaning the official name of the league is currently the ChromaSport & Trophies Peterborough & District Football League.
The current holders of the Peterborough & District Football League Premier League title are Kings Lynn Town reserves, the reserve side of Northern Premier League Premier Division side Kings Lynn Town, which was founded in 2010 after their predecessors, Kings Lynn FC were wound up over unpaid debts.
This season sees the Premier League being dominated by two sides with Coates Athletic, fresh from their merger last summer with Whittlesey United leading the way from Oakham United, who are based in Rutland and are not to be confused with the Nottinghamshire based team of the same name which was dissolved in 1996. Both sides look odds on to take the top two promotion places with the third spot, currently occupied by Stilton United, but with Peterborough ICA Sports and Netherton United both within touching distance as well.
At the bottom, it has been a dismal season for Crowland Town and Leverington Sports both of whom are rooted in the relegation spaces. Holbeach United Reserves currently look most likely to join them, but Deeping Rangers Reserves are also looking over their shoulders.
In the first division, it is Coates Athletic reserves who are way out in front making it a great season for both of the newly merged sides’ teams.
This case study highlights the vibrant and competitive leagues which can be found even at the lowest level of the National League System. Peterborough is little more than an average sized cathedral city with a population of around 200,000 people across the wider district. Yet still this region alone can support, not only a Football League club in Peterborough United, but also a county league system of 6 divisions and 90 teams.
Games at Step 7 rarely get crowds bigger than a man and his dog, and the time and effort of everyone involved in the league is entirely voluntary. It is done for the love of the game and a desire to a constructive part of the local community.
Even if they are promoted this season, neither Coates Athletic nor Oakham United are likely to make it even as high as Step 4, never mind the dizzy heights of professional football. Perhaps they might offer some young players in the area an opportunity to make it to a level where they are paid something to play, be that on a part time or full-time basis, but that is the realistic extent of their ambitions. And that is more than enough for the hundreds of participants in the Peterborough and District Football League.
This pattern is replicated up and down the country. Step 7 might be the lowest level of football to be classified under the National League System, but even at this level, there is an energy and a commitment from players and staff alike which typifies everything that makes non-league football so special, and grassroots football something so special.