Lower league football: fight for life

Over the years clubs have dropped out of the Football League to be welcomed by the sudden threat of the Blue Square Premier.

Teams such as Mansfield, Kidderminster, Rushden and Diamonds, and Wrexham – who are all currently in the Blue Square – previously played regularly in the Football League.

The teams who often replace such sides and take a place in the Football League are hungry for success, which on the pitch is certainly noticed. Burton Albion, who for the first time in the club’s 60 year history bought their ticket to the Football League last season, winning the Blue Square Premier outright in the most successful campaign the Brewers’ faithful has ever witnessed.

Paul Peschisolido, Burton Albion manager, has guided his side to league safety this year, after a more than impressive first season in League Two. Part of Burton’s success has stemmed from having a strong spine to their squad and the desire to cherish yet another year playing League football.

Accrington Stanley also fall into the same category as Burton when you look their own persona and that, before they were promoted from the Blue Square, almost four years ago in 2006 they were almost disregarded as a strong non-league battleaxe.


Burton Albion's supporters will be witnessing yet another season in the Football League next year. Photo: LeamDavid

Stanley have shown a willingness under the pressure of a small budget and fanbase to proceed up the League Two table, narrowlingly missing out this season on the playoffs. This season has also seen Stanley record their best performance in the F.A Cup reaching the fourth round and reflecting the succcess of the original Accrington side of the late 1960’s.

Yet for the sides that do gain promotion to the Football League, in some cases to begin a rollercoaster of a ride that is nothing like non-league football, there are the once established League Two sides that will plummet to the roots of English football.

This season has seen no other like it in League Two. So far Rochdale have been promoted to League One for the first time in the club’s history and filthy rich Notts County have followed.

Focusing on the bottom half of Coca Cola League Two and north-east outfit Darlington are already confirmed relegated. With three games of the season left to play, one of three teams, Barnet, Lincoln City, or Grimsby Town could open the trapdoor for themselves and fall into the realms of non-league football.

Grimsby Town are currently seven points away from safety and seem almost destined to shadow Darlington into the Blue Square. The Mariners, who only nine years ago were playing their football in the Championship, play The Quakers this Saturday and if they cannot emerge victorious their worst fears will be realised.

Many of the first team players will either have relegation release clauses in their contracts or will simply leave the club as they will not want to be associated with a non-league side. The mistake clubs often make when they are pushed down into a lower league is to buy bigger players from higher divisions. However, this could be counter-productive and this certainly proved true for Gainsborough Trinity who this season had and used the biggest budget for players and found themselves in a battle for survival in the Blue Square North.

The conclusion is that now, in the current climate of small clubs with small budgets who fight a big fight, can prove deathly to the bigger, more renowned clubs who have a greater fanbase yet do not scrap for their lives in the Football League.

2 Responses to Lower league football: fight for life

  1. Dave Lee says:

    “Burton Albion’s supporters will be witnessing yet another season in the Football League next year.”

    Yet another?! This year was their first!

    I think suggesting teams who go down aren’t as keen to stay in the league as the ones that stay up is a bit off — go to any ground when a team is relegated into the non-league and you’ll see how much it hurts, both for players and fans.

    I was at The Abbey when Cambridge went down – for the first time since joining the football league – to the Blue Square Prem. It was a terrible day – lots of tears all around me.

    Remember, Burton only just made it up last year – on goal difference – after a shocker of a run as the season came to an end.

    “The mistake clubs often make when they are pushed down into a lower league is to buy bigger players from higher divisions.”

    Mistake? How can many non-league teams — many of whom are part-time, remember — afford to buy ‘big’ players from higher divisions? And even if they could… who would want to drop divisions to play non-league? Nobody.

    So the trick is clearly in youth – both for getting up the league, and for getting safe financially. And what a joke that is – the FA pays relegated Premiership teams £16m EACH when they go down. How much do they offer to lower-league youth set ups? £15m. And that’s to share between everyone.

    A horrible imbalance, and sickening when you think of the great footballing talent that emanates from the lower divisions, despite the best efforts of the FA bean-counters.

  2. Tom Farmery says:

    Dave – Thank you for your comment, it is highly appreciated.

    I would just like to address a few points you have made.

    I am infact a Grimsby Town fan and to see them relegated, after the success they have had during the past 15 years would be a complete tragedy – yet it has been coming.

    I wasn’t suggesting that teams who maybe considered ‘bigger’ in League Two don’t scrap for their lives to survive. I was merely suggesting that because non-league clubs have a strong desire, to prove themselves in the Football League when they are promoted, the other teams in League Two, such as Grimsby do not have the playing style, of say Burton, Accrington and Torquay – the type of sides that know fighting for every ball counts, because they so badly want to survive.

    My argument about buying or signing ‘bigger’ players from higher divisions was based on Gainsborough Trinity. As they did exactly that, after acquiring a ‘healthy’ budget that allowed them to wheel and deal higher than their said division – subsequently not bettering their league position and crucially sticking them in a relegation scrap only a few monthes ago.

    Of course not every club in non-league football can do that and by having to look elsewhere such as youth players, who provide more hunger and inevitably provide better performances than older, experienced league players, who may also be a step off the pace.

    As you will know with Cambridge, consolidating is now a big part of lower league football, most importantly in non-league. It is a complete joke that relegated Premiership teams get a ‘parachute payment’ of £16m, which still possibly may increase.

    I think you can even go as far as saying it’s an injustice, when at the grass roots level of football, clubs are constantly battling with the taxman or have to carefully balance wages, relying mainly on season tickets and gate receipts to get by.

    The problem is now that you have an almost capitalistic situation, where if any of the lower clubs produce a star of the future, a much bigger team can ‘behind the scenes’ influence a decision whereby a youth player has no choice but to leave his hometown.

    And in some cases, also his favoured club, to go and warm the bench at a higher league club for a few years, that doesn’t help to further or develop his potential and what’s to say he will ever get the chance to complete his dream?