Is relegation from the football league the end of the world?
Feature by Jaybee
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2010
Barnet Mad looks at clubs who have lost, and sometimes regained, their league status
Relegation from the football league is looked upon as a disaster by clubs who experience it. Our own club, Barnet, suffered this fate in 2001 and came very close to repeating it at the end of last season.
The Blue Square Premier currently contains no fewer than 11 former league clubs fighting for just tow promotion spaces, but the current leaders are a side that has never played in the football league, AFC Wimbledon and three out of the four play off places are filled by clubs who have never been out of non-league football. Third place Mansfield Town are the only former league club in the top five placings.
However, relegation does not always mean the end of the world. Barnet have seen that you can get back into the league; the club spending four seasons in the Conference before returning to League Two in 2005. Some clubs have bounced back straightaway. In the early days of automatic promotion from the Conference, this was quite common with Darlington and Lincoln City returning to the league after just one season and Colchester United taking just two seasons, after the Bees deprived them of an instant return in 1991.
For some clubs, it can be a chance to regroup and return to the league in much better shape than they left it. Carlisle United, promoted alongside the Bees in 2005, were regularly struggling before being relegated in 2004, but it proved just the spur they needed as they followed their return to the league the following season with promotion to League One where they remain.
More recently, Exeter City followed up promotion from the Blue Square Premier by winning promotion in their first season to League One and despite struggling a little last season they managed to retain their higher status. Torquay United, promoted two years ago were another example of a club that frequently struggled in League Two but are currently top of the table after being relegated to the Blue Square Premier in 2007.
Some clubs have taken the longer route back to the football league but have eventually made it. Accrington Stanley lost their league place back in 1962 when they went bust, being replaced by Oxford United. The club reformed and after many years spent around the lower levels of non-league football made it back into the football league in 2006 at the expense of………yes, you’ve guessed it, Oxford United. But even for Oxford it hasn’t been all bad since relegation as, after four years in the Conference they were promoted back to League Two last season and are currently doing well on their return holding down one of the play off places.
Another club to rise from the ashes of expulsion from the football league were Aldershot who lost their league place in 1992. The newly reformed, Aldershot Town played as low down as the Diadora (Ryman) League Division Three as they started their long road back to league status which was finally achieved in 2008 when they were Conference champions.
Other clubs such as Chester, Hereford United and Doncaster Rovers spent several years in the Conference before returning to the league. Doncaster were relegated in 1998 and regained their league place via the play-offs in 2003. Since then, the club has dramatically risen all the way up to the Championship where they are now an established side. It will be interesting to see if any club that has dropped out of the league will make their way up as far as the Premier League. Of course, former non-league club, Wigan Athletic are now a Premier League club, but they were elected to the football league, in place of Southport, in 1978.
Interestingly, non of the clubs who failed to be re-elected in the last 50 years, prior to the instigation of automatic relegation and promotion in 1987, have regained their league place, though clubs such as Gateshead, Southport, Barrow and Newport County are now all members of the Blue Square Premier, while Workington are a leading club in Blue Square North. Bradford Park Avenue are in the Evo-Stik Premier Division (Step 3 in the non-league pyramid).
Recent years have seen several league clubs suffer from financial problems which have seen them expelled from the Conference set up. Boston United were relegated from the football league in 2007 and soon found themselves kicked out of the Conference due to ‘financial irregularities’. The Lincolnshire club were demoted into the Unibond ( now Evo-Stik) league ), but have now recovered to the extent that they are currently in 3rd place in the Blue Square North.
Other examples of clubs to suffer from demotions to the lower levels of the pyramid have been Chester City, Halifax Town and Scarborough. Chester City were expelled from the Conference last season and went into liquidation and a new club has been formed by the supporters as Chester FC still playing at the Deva Stadium which is owned by the city council. Originally, Chester were placed in the Vodkat League at Step 5 of the pyramid but they actually began the season in the Evo Stik First Division North. When Chester were in the Blue Square Premier, crowds dwindled to under a thousand but recently, despite now playing three divisions lower down, they had a home gate of 2734 for the visit of Trafford. Chester are currently second in the table and have won four matches out of five and are unbeaten so far this season. Though the club are four promotions away from the football league and are now part time, the club’s future looks a lot rosier than it did a year ago.
Halifax Town went bankrupt in 2008 while in the Conference Premier and were demoted three divisions to the Unibond (now Evo Stik) League Division One North. Last season, they won promotion to the Premier Division and are currently 9th in the table, just four points off of the top of the table. Like Chester, the club has retained the ground, The Shay, belonging to their former incarnation. Like Chester, their gates are above average for this level; 1166 fans attended the recent home match with Northwich Victoria, another club that have been demoted for reasons other than football, but that’s another story.
Scarborough were wound up in 2007 when, like Halifax Town, they were in the Conference Premier. Unlike Chester and Halifax, they lost their ground, the McCain Stadium and now groundshare with Bridlington. The club was reformed as Scarborough Athletic and they were demoted five divisions to Step 6 and the Koolsport North East Counties League Division One; possibly due to their having no ground of their own. . Last season, they won promotion and are now in the Premier Division (step five). Scarborough are currently 14th in the table and league football does look a long way off though the club are hoping to relocate back to Scarborough in the near future. Gates are good for this level of football, 507 fans turned up for the visit of another ‘phoenix club’, Farsley AFC.
Scarborough’s plight echoes that of Maidstone united, promoted via the Conference to the football league in 1989. The Stones went bankrupt and lost their ground, which was not up to league level and groundshared with Dartford. Maidstone went into liquidation, with huge debts for this level, on the eve of the 1992/93 season and a new club, with the same name, were formed and elected to the Kent County League in 1993. Maidstone now play in the Ryman Premier League having fought their way back up to step three of the pyramid. The club currently has a groundshare with troubled, Ashford Town but are hoping to relocate back to Maidstone in the near future.
Obviously, losing your league status is a traumatic experience for any club, as I’m sure Grimsby and Darlington fans will feel, but it isn’t always the end of the world and because the potential fan base that helped make the club a football league side in the first place will still exist, most former league clubs will still have a greater chance of gaining league status in the future than the majority of clubs that they currently share a league with in the non-league world, particularly if they can hang on to their ground.