Move to launch Central League second division boosts interest from clubs

posted in: Central League, News

By Alister Browne

Clubs throughout the region are lining up to chase promotion from this season’s Federation League after it was revealed a new second-division competition would start in the men’s Central League in 2025.

Double the number of last year’s meagre five sides have signed up to play in this season’s Federation League, though final details of how the promotion system will work have yet to be decided.

It is likely to be a combination of automatic promotion and play-off results, possibly including Capital Football sides.

Clubs are expected to be in the know by the start of the season.

Clubs keen to play in 2024 Federation League

The 2024 Federation League sides include Palmerston North teams Marist and United, plus Whanganui Athletic, relegated from the Central League last year after one season.

Marist and United finished first and second in the Federation League last season.

Others this year include three sides from Taranaki — Western, Peringa United and New Plymouth Rangers — and a trio from Hawke’s Bay, Napier City Rovers reserves, Havelock North Wanderers and Taradale.

The other side is Gisborne Thistle.

Napier finished third last year, followed by Thistle and Taradale.

The competition begins on April 6, and 18 rounds are scheduled.

The first round includes a derby clash between Marist and United, who are also due to face off in the annual Chinese Cup fixture in Palmerston North on March 23, the same day Marist and Takaro women play for the Green Cup.

The new men’s division was the outcome of a “comprehensive consultation process” with clubs, according to the Central Football and Capital Football boards.

The hope is it will help close the gap in standards between the federation game and the Central League as well as involving more clubs in higher-level football.

The resurrection of a Central League second division competition next year is expected to stimulate interest in Manawatu after years of the game going nowhere in the region, even when Manawatu sides have won the Federation League title and with it, entry into the play-off for promotion to the Central League.

Whanganui Athletic … champions in 2022 but struggled at higher level in 2023.

Last year it was Whanganui Athletic’s turn, when the club unexpectedly gained a Central League spot after a Wellington club dropped out, thus creating a vacancy.

But Athletic, the side that couldn’t lose a Federation League game in 2022, won just one Central League encounter last season, and finished bottom to return to play in the Federation League this year.

Last year’s five-team Federation League was a far cry from the seasons of leagues containing eight to 10 teams slugging it out, even if the winner invariably went on to lose against Wellington opposition that took promotion to the Central League.

Back in the day (around the 1990s), the Central League had three divisions, but the cost of travel, among other things, persuaded those running the game to regionalise the competition, leading to the current structure across the area.

Majority of clubs support the change

A joint statement from the Central Football and Capital Football boards, after a “comprehensive consultation process” with 36 clubs across the two federations, says a second division will kick off next season.

The boards say “both federations will work together to provide more clarity on the structural mechanics, including the promotion and relegation mechanism for men’s Central League 2 …”

They also say that 85% of Central clubs and 79% of Capital clubs support the move.

The statement adds that “the changes … provide an opportunity for more clubs to compete in the National League pathway, closing the gap on and off the field between the current federation leagues and the men’s Central League.”

Donald Piper … ‘the change provides exciting opportunities for the local game.’

Central Football chief operations manager Donald Piper, who is based in Palmerston North, said the change would provide “exciting opportunities” for the local game.

It would help close the perceived gap between Central and Capital playing standards which had stymied progress in the region for years.

Piper said it was expected that clubs would have a clear idea of such issues as promotion-relegation and travel costs by the end of the year in preparation for the debut of the new division in 2025.

Alister Browne

Alister Browne is a Manuwatu football enthusiast who has written about the game for many years.

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