THE Northern League is considering using play-offs in the Second Division at the end of next season.

The League is asking clubs at next Saturday's AGM for their thoughts on introducing play-offs for those finishing between third and sixth places, with the prize being a third promotion place.

League officials have yet to decide on the format of the play-offs, and whether there will be two legged ties, but league chairman Mike Amos said: "The idea has been aired in the past, and the management committee would like to know the clubs' views.

"Maybe we need to experiment a little bit, and see whether the idea works or not. The play-offs would involve the clubs from third to sixth position.

"If the ground of one of those clubs wasn't up to standard, then the seventh placed club would be admitted into the play-offs. But we would go no lower than that, and as well that none of the First Division clubs would be involved.

"We're one of the few leagues that don't have play-offs, and maybe now is the time to consider them."

Whether clubs want to go ahead with the idea remains to be seen. The play-offs could extend the playing season by at least a week, and it would probably mean that the Second Division league season would finish on a fixed date, and not be extended as it has been sometimes in the past to avoid a hectic fixture backlog if bad weather has forced postponements.

The League would also probably switch the second division cup, the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Trophy, to nearer the start of the season, but then there would be a question mark over whether the clubs would want it to be played in the holiday season or just before FA Cup and FA Vase matches.

It could also conflict with Durham Challenge Cup and Northern League Cup ties.

However, the mid-table clubs would still have something to aim for towards the end of the season. If the play-offs had taken place this season, then Washington, South Shields, Marske and Norton would have been battling it out. Promoted Washington finished 13 points ahead of sixth-placed Norton.

THE proposed new UniBond League First Division is a facing a crucial week.

Durham City decided last week that they do not want to participate in the new Northern division because of all the uncertainty, and now the proposal must get the backing of two meetings over the next week.

The UniBond League board is due to meet soon, and then the clubs themselves are attending a special meeting next Wednesday.

The original hope was for two divisions with 18 teams in each, but after Durham's withdrawal the latest suggestion is for a 20 team northern division and a 15 team southern division, with Colwyn Bay, Warrington and Cammell Laird moving from the southern division into the northern, and the southern division teams playing each other three times.

How that will attract Northern League teams, who are worried about travel distances in the future, remains to be seen. There is still a train of thought that the First Division should be split east/west.

Newcastle Blue Star have reiterated their ambition to join the UniBond League, and intend to play their games at Kingston Park next season, but it looks as if they will have either a long journey to Colwyn Bay in the north or Spalding in the east depending on how the divisions are formed.

BEDLINGTON, meanwhile, are watching Blue Star's actions nervously. The Terriers finished third bottom in the season just finished, a point above Horden, but have been reprieved so far from relegation because of Blue Star's pending departure.

They were fairly relaxed a month ago when both they and Horden were facing a possible reprieve, but Durham's u-turn has got them sweating, as well as Horden's ongoing appeal against having three points deducted.

Manager Tom Wade, said: "As long as Blue Star hold their nerve we are OK, and I am 99 per cent certain that we will be playing in Division One next season.

"I hope it will be resolved sooner rather than later so that we can get on with finalising our squad and begin our preparations for the campaign ahead.

"We have clearly been told that Horden's appeal could not succeed as the rules are very clear about having control of your pitch. Regardless, the FA has indicated that their appeal has been returned due to it being submitted out of time. Therefore, the situation with Horden does not concern me at the present time."

ALNWICK Town's future in the league is still in the balance, and they could resign from the league at the AGM next week. The club is facing a shortage of cash and volunteers.

JARROW Roofing chairman Richie McLoughlin has strongly denied that he is stepping back at the club.

McLoughlin was thought to be standing down as manager following the appointment of Colin Myers last week, but he'll be taking an even more active role.

He said: "I'm taking over as secretary of the club, plus I'm already chairman and treasurer. I'll still be involved in playing matters, in fact Colin and I are joint managers. And don't forget that I'll still be registered as a player! So I'll still be 100 per cent into the swing of it."

McLoughlin, who is in his late 50s, played the full 90 minutes for Roofing in their game at Tow Law in April last season.

NEWCASTLE Blue Star director of football Bob Morton has taken the blame for the team's midtable finish in their last Northern League season.

The Star were champions last season and were expected to be figuring again this time round, but they never really threatened the leading pack - and Morton says that it is down to him.

"I admit that it's been a disappointing season," he said.

"We have had three managers who have tried to play with other people's teams, and that has been very difficult for them in terms of getting players motivated.

"Maybe we made a mistake by parting company with Tony Lee after we won the league last season.

"Logistically we couldn't have players going up and down from Teesside, but that would have been better than the position we ended up with. It's been a poor season, and since I'm director of football, then the buck stops with me.

"I believe Andy Gowens is the right man to take this club forward into the UniBond League, that's why we brought him back for."

Tony Lee was followed last summer by Eric Tait, who left in October to be replaced by Craig Melrose. He in turn left in February to be replaced by Andy Gowens.

SEAHAM Red Star manager Neil Hixon says that he is looking for four players to strengthen the promotion winners for next season.

Seaham finished runners-up to champions Spennymoor, and Hixon said: "To finish second behind Spennymoor is a decent achievement, considering that they only lost two league games this season.

"We need to find at least four players to strengthen the squad, and if we can persuade them to come to the club, then I think we'll be ok in the first division." Hixon has already signed former Hartlepool midfielder Stephen Halliday from Sunderland Nissan, left back Elliott Hughes from Jarrow Roofing and striker Ben Jackson from Horden.

Virtually all of Seaham's players have agreed to stay at the club for next season.

Meanwhile, midfielder Chris Bell won a special award at the club's presentation night last week - the hairdryer award from manager Neil Hixon for the biggest rollicking of the season.

Defender Michael Savage and keeper Keith Finch both won the players' player of the year award, with Finch winning the committee's player of the year and striker John Toft winning the manager's player of the year award.