When I wrote my blog article at the weekend about how the Eastern Counties leagues finished I should have realised that promotion and relegation would not be so simple and it looks like the success that local clubs have had in the London Leagues has benefitted teams in leagues lower down too. John Mackay, chairman of the ECRU competitions committee which met this week, has sent a letter to clubs explaining how promotion and relegation is going to work. You can read the letter by clicking here but I have put my spin on what is says below.
Some of you will have heard of the ‘cascade effect’ when there is an uneven number of clubs relegated between areas, in our case Essex and Eastern Counties. I remember very well in about 2001 when Colchester, then playing in Eastern Counties One, finished fifth from bottom of the league but were still relegated to Eastern Counties Two because so many other ECRU clubs had been relegated further up the ladder.
Well this season the opposite is true. Depending on play offs there could be five Eastern Counties clubs promoted in the London Divisions (see my previous article) and none dropping into the Eastern Counties Leagues; the three relegated teams from London 3 North East are all from Essex. I know that Braintree dropping out of the London leagues mid-season has further muddied the waters but I’m not quite sure what effect that has had.
Now it starts to get complicated so bear with me…
Eastern Counties One is a league of 12 teams and Southwold have been promoted and no teams have come down (they all went to Essex One). Two teams will come up from the Eastern Counties Two level which means that the team that finished second from bottom, Thurston, have won a reprieve and will play in EC1 next season. Bottom team Swaffham are now not automatically relegated but will instead contest a play-off. So on 25 April Colchester II will play Diss II for one of the places in EC1 while Swaffham and Cantabs II play off for the other. But it gets better…
Ely, runners-up in EC1, have to contest a play-off against Epping Upper Clapton for the right to play in London 3 North East next season. If Ely win what will be a tough game then there will be another promotion place up for grabs which the losers of the Colchester II v Diss II and Swaffham v Cantabs II games will contest. These games will be played on the same day as Ely’s play off game so the losing team won’t know if they will have a second bite at the cherry until after the final whistle My head was starting to hurt at this point.
Now we come onto the consequences of teams losing play-offs. The rules of the Eastern Counties leagues state that two teams from the same club cannot play in the same league with the lower team have to drop a league. Colchester as a club have had an extraordinary season with the first and second teams contesting play-offs as a minimum and their third and fourth teams winning EC3 South and EC4 South. However, if Colchester II fail to win their play-off game and stay in EC2 South, that means that Colchester III can’t get promoted and nor can Colchester IV.
Cantabrigian are in a similar position because Cantabs III, who were runners up in EC3 West and should therefore be promoted, won’t be able take their place in EC2 West if Cantabs II don’t get promoted to EC1. This then brings up the problem of which teams should get promoted in their place but I’m not going to go there now.
So is that all clear?
What is for certain is that although the main part of the league season is over we are in for some intensely fought games over the next couple of weeks:
- Bury St Edmunds play Gravesend at home on Saturday 18 April in a game that the form book says they should win comfortably, but if you are in Suffolk wanting to watch a game then I know that the team will appreciate as much vocal support as they can get
- I will be at Eton Manor where they play Colchester in a winner takes all game for promotion, the loser having to contest a play-off the following week. There are coaches going from Colchester but as above they would like as much noise as possible on the touchline – it really makes a difference
- If Bury St Eds or Colchester lose their games then they will be in a play off the following week which is when Diss play Chiswick for a place in London One North next season
- On that Saturday (25 April) supporters of Cambridgeshire rugby will be torn between travelling south to Epping to cheer on Ely to promotion to the London Leagues or heading North East to Swaffham to see if Cantabs II can make it to EC1
- Meanwhile Colchester II will play Diss II which has the potential to be a high class 2nd XV game
- If Ely win their play off game then the losers of the above two games will play off at a neutral venue in May
So there is plenty of good rugby to look forward to for the partisan and the neutral supporter and you should make the most of the last couple of weeks of the season to get to one of the games. For those of you on Twitter follow @BSERugby and @ColchesterRFC for score updates on Saturday.