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Sport blog: Football League place must be special
IN Burnley and Accrington, they still talk about their brushes with non-league with emotion in their voices.
For Burnley, it was a narrow escape, a last day victory over Orient in 1987 that remains one of the most important events in the club’s history.
Stanley were not so lucky. After losing their Football League status in 1962 and going out of business altogether, it took them 44 long years to return.
The thought of losing their place in the Football League is terrifying to any club and its community.
It is a mystical status that puts a town on the map.
Had Burnley dropped out of the Fourth Division 26 years ago, they knew it would have been a virtually impossible task to return.
Only one team went up from the Conference in those days, and even that was a newly introduced system – banishing the previous controversies of election to the Football League.
In 2003, the Conference was awarded a second promotion place, which they used to set up play-offs.
No match, no matter how glamourous, should be considered more important than the Conference play-off final.
It is a single match to decide the difference between league and non-league.
I have been to four of those play-off finals and they are enthralling encounters, so much do they mean to the two clubs involved.
But now Conference clubs, FA Cup giant-killers Luton included, are campaigning for a third promotion place.
It is a step too far.
With three up three down, promotion and relegation between League Two and the Conference would become just like any other league.
It should be more difficult to get into the Football League, since the prize is so great.
I say this not because Accrington Stanley currently face the threat of relegation from League Two.
It is a view I have held for some time, and any rule change would not affect this season anyway.
For Stanley, relegation would be a devastating blow for the club and the town should it happen – having worked so hard for so long to regain their Football League status.
It makes the next two months so crucial. The outcome could be remembered in the same way as the great escapes pulled off by Swansea in 2003 and Burnley 16 years earlier.
Three up three down would devalue all of that. The difference between league and non-league would no longer be special.