THE PROPOSED merger between the Western League and the South West Peninsula League has been shelved following a fallout at board level, writes Josh Goodman.

In a statement, which was posted to the league’s Twitter account, the Western League confirmed that talks had broken down ahead of the merger’s launch meeting next month.

‘The Board of the Western Football League can confirm that talks with representatives from the South West Peninsula League, concerning the creation of a new Western Peninsula League, have broken down,’ it said.

‘The merger between the two Leagues was always intended to bring together the best of both Leagues and whilst a huge amount of progress has been made, talks broke down over the roles and responsibilities that will sit at the heart of the new Leagues administration. Despite the intervention of the Football Association, which we welcomed, it has not been possible to resurrect the merger.

‘We were due to meet with representatives of the SWPL today (6th February) to agree on the one outstanding issue which is the role of the football secretary. However this was pre-empted by a statement put out by the SWPL stating that they would no longer be engaging in any further discussions with the Western League.’

‘We recognise that this decision has profound implications for Clubs currently competing in the Western League Premier Division, specifically in relation to their costs of travel and for that reason we remain committed to find a solution across the South West of England. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how this might best be achieved with the Football Association, going forward.’

The two competitions were supposed to become one upon the conclusion of the 2022-23 season with the merger creating the Western Peninsula League, a group of regionalised leagues covering the South West from Bristol to Lands’ End.

A reduction of travel time and costs was the primary reason for the competitions to come together, making football more sustainable for local clubs. The league was due to have a five-division set-up; two Step Five divisions, the Premier North and the Premier South, and three Step Six divisions, Division One East, Central and West. It was intended to have 18 clubs in each league.

The merger would mean that four clubs would be promoted from the South West Peninsula League Premier East, which is the haunt of Okehampton Argyle, who are top of the league.

A spokesperson for fellow East side Bovey Tracey said: ‘We’ve got no experience of the Western League officials or their administration of the league. We can only speak as we find – within the South West Peninsula League – how professionally it has been run by Phil Hiscox.

‘At present, with the cessation of talks, it looks like the merger is not going ahead unless the FA intervene. Ideally, as it stood at the start of the season, it was an unwritten statement that the top four from the South West Peninsula Premier West and Premier East would be promoted to make up the new-look Step 5 in the area, and that was ultimately our aim.

‘If that is withdrawn, we are a bit too far off pace to go up as champions, so ideally fourth place was still realistically our target. We cannot reset our targets now as it is too far gone. We will have to revisit our ambitions for next season.

‘Bovey Tracey, like other clubs within the Western League and South West Peninsula League, are just going to have to wait and see how this evolves. The clubs are led by the elected officers and you would hope that they would come up with some sort of agreement – in this case, they haven’t. Hopefully the FA will intervene and offer some direction to the clubs that will be left in the lurch.

‘It is only two months until the end of season and we don’t know where we will be playing or what is going on.’

The FA National Game Board met on Tuesday, February 7 and it is likely that more will develop as a result of the meeting.