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West Midlands League facing extinction after 130 years of football

By Matt Maher | Grassroots | Published:

Devastated officials fear the West Midlands League faces possible extinction after FA plans to axe its Premier Division emerged.

Neil Juggins (right) alongside Wendy Juggins

Founded in 1889, the league is one of the oldest in the country and steeped in history, with Wolves legend Steve Bull among a host of famous names to have played in it.

But the latest season will kick-off this weekend under a cloud due to FA proposals which threaten to change the face of Midlands non-league football.

A restructure would see the league’s Premier Division, which operates at level six in the non-league pyramid, wiped out. Though the league would still be able to operate the remaining two of its three divisions, at levels seven and eight, officials warn that may be financially unsustainable.

Clubs were told the news at an eve-of-season meeting earlier this week and immediately voted to appeal the FA’s decision.

League secretary Neil Juggins said: “It has come as a huge shock and was not something we were expecting at all. To describe it as devastating is really not an understatement.

“All leagues were made aware of the FA’s plan to restructure the non-league pyramid at steps five and six. We had to express an interest in maintaining a division at step six and then submit a business plan, before a face-to-face meeting to further put forward the case.

“We then received a letter last week saying our application had been unsuccessful. We couldn’t believe it. There are three leagues around the country set to lose their division at step six and we are one of them.”

Originally formed as the Birmingham and District League by William McGregor, then Villa chairman and founder of the Football League, it quickly developed into one of the strongest leagues in the country, with Coventry City and Shrewsbury Town among the early members. For many years it was called as the Banks’s League due a lucrative sponsorship deal with the brewery.

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It’s Premier Division is currently one of two operating at level six in the region, the other being Division One of the Midland Football League. Both feed into the Midland Football League’s Premier Division.

The FA have drawn up their plan in a bid to create the “perfect pyramid” for a non-league structure which incorporates hundreds of divisions all across the country. Should the proposals go ahead, clubs currently in the West Midlands Premier Division would be re-distributed into other leagues.

But Juggins believes history and tradition have been ignored in the FA’s decision-making. He now hopes to meet with the chairman of the FA leagues committee as part of the appeal process.

He said: “We are going to do all we can to try and make them change their minds. “We just cannot understand why we have been selected. We have not been given any reasons whatsoever for how they reached the decision.”

Matt Maher

By Matt Maher

Chief sports writer for the Express & Star.

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