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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Buoyant Conference rides the wave
By Pete Oliver

Shrewsbury players celebrate by giving the thumbs up
Life is good in the Conference at the moment
While the Premier League and its clubs embark on a period of soul searching, Conference chief executive John Moules insists that the top level of Non-League football is in rude health.

Comparing the two leagues and the products they offer is a bit of a chalk and cheese exercise.

But they do play the same game, and dwindling crowds, high ticket prices, inconsistent kick-off times and accusations of dull football are not problems the Conference is having to deal with.

"We are very pleased with the start to the season," Moules told BBC Sport.

"Not only are crowds holding up, they are on the increase. We monitor on a monthly basis and the August figures are well up on last year."

One or two clubs have found it a struggle, but since the Conference introduced play-offs for a second promotion place three years ago, attendance figures have gone up.

Last season the league enjoyed a three-and-a-half per cent rise with 462 league and cup games attracting over one million spectators.

We still offer traditional, three o'clock Saturday football, which is affordable
Conference chief executive John Moules

Gates averaged across the 22 Conference National clubs at just under 2,000 and Moules attributes the growing interest to a number of factors.

"We still offer traditional, three o'clock Saturday football, which is affordable and competitive," said Moules, who rates average ticket prices at 9 and 12 for a seat.

"Stadium facilities and playing surfaces have also improved dramatically, as has the quality of the players," he added.

The Conference has undoubtedly benefited from an influx of players from Premiership and League clubs at both ends of the age scale.

Youngsters not quite making the grade and established players squeezed out by reduced budgets, smaller squads and overseas players have made the drop down.

Scott Kerr and Colin Cryan, who both left Scarborough to join Lincoln City this summer, are among those who have bounced back up as well.

"With 18 of the 22 clubs full-time, we employ somewhere in the region of 500 full-time players across those clubs, which is a fair indication of the progress we have made over the last couple of years," Moules added.

Lincoln's Scott Kerr
Scott Kerr has used the Conference to re-launch his career

Wage bills have gone up accordingly and while playing budgets vary across the clubs from less than 5,000 a week to around 10,000, the Conference has tried to make the competition a level playing field.

Three years ago the league introduced an approved playing budget which means clubs can pay no more than 60 per cent of their real income on their playing staff.

"We try to encourage all 22 clubs to live within their means and operate with real money coming into their clubs, not promises and loans.

"We are not restricting the number of players they employ, but just how they sign to spend their budget," Moules added.

Barnet ended up by romping away with the Conference title last season but, unlike Chelsea, they did not boast the biggest playing budget.

And, like the season, before it was not until the final day that the play-off places were decided.

Moules is predicting this season's promotion race to be even more competitive and with the league expanding to 24 clubs next season, he believes the future is bright.


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