New Football Association chairman Greg Clarke is hoping he can help more clubs follow the example of AFC Wimbledon and progress through non-league and into the Football League.

The Dons were founded back in 2002, following a decision to allow Wimbledon FC to relocate to Milton Keynes, fifty six miles North of their home town.

Since then Wimbledon have been renamed MK Dons, but it is the story of AFC Wimbledon that has captured the imagination of football supporters.

In their fourteen years in existence, AFC Wimbledon have achieved six promotions, with the latest coming with May’s SkyBet League Two play-off final win over Plymouth Argyle.

Goals from Lyle Taylor and Adebayo Akinfenwa sent the Dons into English football’s third tier and with that win came a notable landmark.

For the first time in their history AFC Wimbledon are plying their trade in the same division as MK Dons, with the two sides set to meet each other for the first team in a league game on Saturday 10th December.

After all of their success FA Chairman Clarke wants to see more clubs follow their example by progressing through the non-league pyramid in “a safe and sustainable manner”.

He said “I think there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the structure of the non-leagueafc wimbledon celebrate pyramid.

“What we want to see is mobility.

“We want to see teams progressing, going on to the next level, getting promoted and being successful.

“One thing we have tried to do across the pyramid is have a situation where you can start at the bottom and work your way up in a sustainable, safe manner.

“Look at AFC Wimbledon, they’re doing alright aren’t they? They are doing well in League One and you look where they started out.

“They have had a number of promotions and now they are doing well in League One, that is a sign of a healthy non-league because they aren’t the only club to have progressed and become competitive in the Football League.”

The financial welfare of non-league clubs is clearly near the top of Clarke’s agenda as he settles into his new role.

In his time as chairman of the Football League he implemented the use of the Financial Fair Play regulations, something he believes could be used in non-league, but only if leagues wish to use it themselves.

“We have lots of support for clubs in terms of helping them, advising them and certainly when I was chairman of the Football League, I put a lot in place in terms of Financial Fair Play,” said Clarke.

“The National League has some fairly effective rules in terms of how their clubs must be run financially. The trick, if you can call it that, is to live within your means.

“Clubs must have aspirations of progression that are affordable, within their budgets, rather than ones that aren’t.

“I would defer to the non-league people on how they want to regulate the financial side of the game.

“The one thing I learnt putting regulations into the Football League is that it’s not as easy as it seems at first look.

“What revenues are allowed? What if the club owns a pub? Is it allowed? So I would encourage all of the leagues to manage themselves financially and if they feel FFP, or a form of FFP is required then we will support them with that.”

greg dykeIt is ten weeks since Clarke was announced as successor to Greg Dyke (pictured) as the Football Association’s chairman, and just hours after his appointment he was making his way to a non-league game.

Clarke made his way through rush-hour traffic, around the troublesome M25, to take in South Park’s FA Cup First Qualifying Round match against Dorking Wanderers.

Since then he has visited the likes of Quorn Town, Egham Town and has made it a priority to visit the various County Football Associations.

That pattern is one that he believes will continue, as he looks to ensure his work has an impact far beyond his involvement with the England team.

“I was determined when I got the job as Chairman ten weeks ago to ensure that I didn’t become sucked into the England side of my job and the Premier League.

“I’ll be spending most of my time within the non-league side of the game. That has meant I have visited clubs like South Park, Quorn Town and Egham Town, watching good quality football with committed fans.

“I was at South Park for an FA Cup tie on the Friday after my appointment was announced. It took me two and a half hours to get around the M25 on a Friday evening but it was a real treat when I got there.

“It was a really good game against Dorking and I really enjoyed it.

“Meeting everyone involved at both clubs was a joy, we had the FA Cup there and everyone was a pleasure to meet. It was great.”

Clarke was speaking to Non-League Daily as he visited the Northumberland FA to help them launch a new Walking Football League. 

On a bitterly cold November morning Clarke stood pitchside to watch a demonstration of walking football along with a number of invited guests.

There were representatives from every level of the game, from grassroots to the Premier League and Clarke believes that he has a responsibility to ensure he is looking to “add value” to the game at every level.

“I think that you have to look at where you can add value,” he added.
st albans fa cup

“What I wanted to do is spend a disproportionate amount of my time within the non-league, grassroots side of the game.

“Because actually, the Premier League and the Football League run themselves pretty well, I do have a role with the England team and that is one I have to take seriously.

“But a lot of my time is going to be spent within the national game and the non-league side making sure we have the right investment, the right people in place to support those giving up their time at clubs and in communities across the country.

“That is really important to me.”

In recent weeks there have been a number of ideas about the structure of the FA Cup floated on social media, with many non-league supporters believing their clubs should be given a greater chance to make their way further into the competition, increasing their chances of landing a prize tie against a Football League or Premier League club.

With the competition about to head into its second round, as few as nine non-league teams could find themselves fighting for a chance of a lucrative third round tie against one of the Premier League’s elite.

Last season the only non-league team to make it to the Third Round were Vanarama National League club Eastleigh, whose run was ended at that stage by Bolton Wanderers.

When it was put to him that a change in the structure of the competition could be required, Clarke described himself as an innovator, and expressed his hopes that the FA Cup committee would be looking to make the competition “even more exciting” for supporters and clubs.

“I am an innovator, I want to try and make things better year-on-year.

“If you have a team that finished third, you want to finish second or first the next season.

“Every year you want to do better.

“I am sure the FA Cup committee are looking hard at how to make the competition even more exciting, because we want it to be better every year.”

With Clarke’s passion for non-league there may well be more examples of clubs following AFC Wimbledon’s progress in both the league and the FA Cup.

Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)

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