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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Conference better than ever

Exciting promotion and relegation tussles, clubs turning full-time and thriving FA Cup runs have made the 2001-02 season one of the best in the Conference's history.

The news that the Conference looks set to receive two promotion places next season is the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, the ITV Digital fiasco has only served to highlight the progress of non-league's elite clubs.

The only media intrusion to budgetary constraints has been the bonuses for the televised coverage of FA Cup ties from the BBC and the income from live Sky matches.

The long awaited two-up two-down system could be in place for next season.


The Conference has always been close to the Football League
Conference chief executive John Moules
If ratified at the Football League's AGM on 8 June, the relegated clubs would receive parachute payments of 70,000 per year over five years - and there are few better financial guarantees around.

All in all, Conference chief executive John Moules has enjoyed the last nine months and believes there are lessons to be gleaned from the 22-club league.

"The whole competition has been on a knife-edge all season," he said.

"The fight at the top and bottom of the Conference and for the LDV Trophy places has been the closest ever.

"The live TV contract has been a huge success with the clubs, their players and also the supporters.

"Compared to all the own-goals and negative publicity regarding football this year, we have had one of the most exciting Conference seasons.

"We have kept our heads down - increased attendances have proved we can provide live entertainment that people want to watch at a price they can afford."

Yeovil fans
Yeovil have thrived as a professional club
The vast progress the league has made since Moules first took office as Conference's secretary in 1994 is exemplified by the way the last three champions have stood their ground in Division Three.

Cheltenham Town were edged out of automatic promotion to the second division this season, joining last year's Conference winners Rushden and Diamonds in the play-offs.

Kidderminster, meanwhile, just missed out on the play-offs.

This season, several clubs have opted to step up to full-time status to ensure they are even better prepared for the jump to the fully professional stage.

"The Conference has always been close to the Football League," Moules added.

"The clubs are extremely well run and supported and, where they have gone full-time, they have been able to attract better players.

"And we will continue to encourage our clubs to spend within their means and attract quality players who want to play for the club.

"Morecambe and Yeovil are the perfect example of how to go full-time and thrive at a lower level.


I watch the Manchester Uniteds, Arsenals and Liverpools of this world and wonder where my future England team is
Conference chief executive John Moules
"Yeovil are through to the FA Trophy final and Morecambe have some fine young players it their squad.

Moules is confident the structure he oversees can only produce more success.

"I love football, but I watch the Manchester Uniteds, Arsenals and Liverpools of this world and wonder where my future England team is," he said.

"Many of the places are being taken by foreign players and, while I don't have a problem with that, I don't see the opportunities for the boys that there once was."

Such promise will not ease Halifax's woes for the moment.

Yet the concept of dropping out of the League and into the abyss of non-league football is rapidly being overthrown.

Links to more Eng Conf stories are at the foot of the page.


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