FOR WHOM THE TRAPDOOR BECKONS.
It seems almost certain that, unlike
the last three years, the team which finishes bottom
of the league this year is destined to join the Vauxhall
Conference. Stevenage Borough tried to overturn the
recent trend by appealing that the Leagues ruling
that their home ground was not up to scratch by the
end of December was a restraint of trade. The courts
more or less said that they were right but that it
was too late to reverse the decision and promote them
to the Third Division because of the unfair effect
this would have on Torquay. Certainly the prospect
of the drop has inspired both Torquay and Scarborough
to get their acts together this season.
I have felt some sympathy for the supporters of Stevenage and Kidderminster
and Macclesfield in turn as they have been rejected from entering the
League. But not much sympathy should be given to the clubs themselves
who knew the rules before the season started and only chose to protest
when there was any chance of them winning. Fans of other Conference sides
moaned bitterly about Kidderminster who had chosen to spend money on
building a team rather than rebuilding the Aggborough stadium until it
was too late. It was ironic that our erstwhile hosts Macclesfield were
refused League status when we had played there for two years but it was
never going to be our permanent home (At least only in nightmares). I
was intrigued to learn that they had proposed sharing the Deva Stadium
while the Moss Rose was upgraded.
Macclesfield in fact did quite well out of sharing with Chester. A visit
to the Moss Rose now shows that the Star Lane End, which was improved
while we were there, is now covered and that there is a flimsily canvas
clad construction to the south of the main stand which brings the seating
capacity up to minimum League standard. The Bramble End also had some
considerable work done on it during last season. Much of the initial
improvement was due to the money earned from Chesters two year
There is in the Conference now a whole swathe of clubs who would automatically
qualify for promotion if they won the championship. The three who failed
most recently would qualify if they won this season, so would Woking owners
of an impressive new stand, Southport (The ground where Chester won promotion
from the Fourth Division for the first time, without kicking a ball)
and Rushden & Diamonds, newly promoted and backed by the Dr Martens
(Will they ever go out of fashion?) Millionaire Max Griggs. There could
be a case for saying that the Conference is becoming the unofficial Fourth
Division of the League.
Yet it is questionable whether every team in the Conference has the backing
or the will to sustain life in the Football League. Some clubs
are simply not interested in gaining entry to the professional ranks;
they could not afford it, ground improvements being just a small percentage
of the overall extra costs of running a league club, overheads which
are unlikely to be covered in the short run by big enough increases in
gates. so runs an article in Non-League Monthly recently. The article
also quotes a Conference Club chairmans estimate that no more than
seven clubs from the division have serious professional aspirations towards
Football League status. Hardly worth having an automatic promotion arrangement.
I used to feel that if Chester ever dropped into non-league football
it would be the end of the world but having experienced the charm of
the Moss Rose compared to the comparatively sterile Deva I do feel sort
of wistful for that type of ground. I made a nostalgic trip back last
season to see Macclesfield trounce Kidderminster and what the crowd lacked
in atmosphere and the play lacked in quality was to no small extent compensated
for by idiosyncratic appeal. The freedom, for instance to walk round
the whole ground while the match was in progress or to queue up for chips
and still be able to see the game, gives the whole thing a different
feel. A semi- detached way of watching football which is somehow closer
to sanity than fervid concentration on the field of play for ninety minutes.
Even Terry Owens, the Aldershot chairman who has revived the fortunes
of the club from being expelled to the nether regions of the pyramid
system and has helped to inspire their progress towards League status
once again, has grown to thoroughly enjoy life in non-League football. It
is no longer the be all and end all to return to the Football League.
I am enjoying football tremendously at this level and there are a lot
of nice people involved in the game. he says.
Whoever falls through the trapdoor at the end of this season can at least
look forward to meeting a lot of nice people.