London Raiders face up to new era
PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 May 2017
Team preparing for 12-team National League
London Raiders will be part of an enlarged 12-team National League Division One next season, after four former English Premier League clubs had their applications to join the competition accepted.
Basingstoke, Bracknell, Swindon and Peterborough were welcomed at the weekend, along with promoted Cardiff, and the 2017-18 campaign will see teams competing in two conferences.
Raiders will line up against rivals Chelmsford, Invicta and Streatham, as well as Peterborough and Swindon in the Britton Conference, playing those teams twice home and away.
And the Wilkinson Conference is made up of Basingstoke, Bracknell, Cardiff, Oxford, Milton Keynes and Solent, whom Raiders will also play once home and away.
The four ex-EPL clubs have been grouped together in the cup, with Raiders, Chelmsford, Invicta and Streatham in the other pool and club spokesman John Scott, said: “Over the past three seasons these three teams have regularly been the top crowd pullers for Raiders, so this probably represented the best outcome for us.”
A six-hour meeting also came up with the plan to play 3-on-3 overtime in the event of matches ending in a draw, followed by penalty shots if needed, and import limits being set at two players per team.
There is also the possibility of a play-off competition involving teams from the north of the country, which is to be confirmed this weekend.
But some concerns remain about team-building and budgets, with Scott adding: “Meetings such as these allow teams to be questioned on their reasons for entering the league and to provide insight into the style of team and financing that will suddenly appear into a league that is generally accepted as being of a far more amateur nature.
“Assurances were given by some of the teams that team-owned houses would disappear which would mean squads would be made up of more local players rather than signing top quality players out of district, which can start something of a bidding war for talent.
“All the EPL teams suggested that their budgets would need to be cut significantly because the NIHL has less games and their fans would be demanding a reduction in ticket prices as a result of reduced quality.
“The EPL owners even suggested a large number of fans would desert the sport as a result of the reduced quality. Raiders management could agree that their fan numbers have reduced since the EPL days, but how much of that is due to the lower league and how much is playing away from their “natural” home is difficult to quantify.
“A few weeks ago Raiders signed Sean Easton to the coaching team, bringing a wealth of experience and series of league and play-off titles.
“He was certainly relishing the challenge in building a squad to compete for league honours, but was probably not expecting the goal posts to move quite this far apart in such a short time. For the NIHL teams, the fifth place that London achieved in the league last season is suddenly looking very attractive.”