The summer of 2024 will mark 20 years since the Nationwide Conference North/Blue Square Bet North/Skrill North/Vanarama National League North was formed. Over those 20 years, it’s seen ALOT of changes. Alfreton Town and Southport are the only teams from the founding 22 members that can still be found in the division, and both of them have spent (brief) time in the Conference/Conference Premier/National League.
Across the first 10 years of the leagues existence it was all a bit of a shitshow and the league struggled to gain credibility, as someone was either demoted for one reason or another, resigned from the league or just simply went bankrupt. A total of 8 teams would be demoted or go bust and in total, 9 teams would be reprieved from relegation due to issues in our league and the one above – and that’s before before we even get into the various points deductions that took place.
It become such a joke of a situation, that at the end of the season we’d often joke about the AGM Cup where teams would often get reprieved at the league’s Annual General Meeting in early June every year, as they voted on various matters that usually determined the fate of clubs.
Here we’ll get into all the drama and utter bollocks that caused the various demotions, as well as looking at the lucky bastards that got reprieved, some multiple times. As you’ve probably gathered by now, we’ll just be focussing on what’s now known as the National League North. Having to explain every bit of drama and sheer nonsense that happen in the National League and the National League South within that time period will likely lead to me having a stroke.
The debut season of the then Nationwide Conference North didn’t see anyone demoted, thankfully. Bradford PA, Ashton United and Runcorn Halton were all relegated fairly and squarely, though during the season Redditch United were docked 3 points for something (I literally can’t find any information online as to why that happened) and Worksop Town were docked 10 points for entering administration later in the season – which would be a sign of things to come for them.
While nobody was demoted from the league this season, Leigh RMI did end up getting a reprieve. This was thanks to Canvey Island, who took voluntary demotion to Division One North of the Isthmian League from the Nationwide Conference. Due to low crowds, the investor decided to pull the plug – despite having just made it to the FA Trophy final in 2003.
Leigh RMI were also at one stage deducted just a single point, for some unknown reason. They finished on just 39 points alongside Redditch United, so they probably more than deserved to go down – and it wouldn’t be long before they eventually did.
The year Spartans first entered the Conference North would see no real proper demotion as such. Scarborough though would later in the season enter administration, earning themselves a 10 point deduction in the process, which would sink them to 20th in the league and the final relegation spot (20th). They would go bankrupt and fold once the season ended, with debts of over £2,500,000. As they occupied the final relegation spot thanks to the points deduction, no one was reprieved. The stadium would of course be scrapped as well along with the football club – and phoenix club Scarborough Athletic would have to start off life down in Bridlington.
Now this is where things start to get really odd. Now renamed the Blue Square North, 22nd place Leigh RMI would end the season on 26 points and in the summer, they would completely rebrand the club as Leigh Genesis, more or less renouncing the club’s history in the process. Their rather interesting ‘launch video’ is still about on YouTube today, and it’s aged awfully – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBT3Fu9PgIM
21st place Vauxhall Motors would only pick up 7 wins all season – ending their campaign on a rather pathetic 28 points. Incredibly though, they’d end up being reprieved along with 20th place Hucknall Town who finished on 39 points.
7th place Nuneaton Borough went into liquidation at the end of the season, but they would quickly reform as Nuneaton Town, starting life off in the Southern League Division One Midlands.
Boston United had been relegated from Coca-Cola League Two at the end of the 2006-07 season, whilst in administration and in the middle of organising a CVA with the relevant authorises. For whatever reason, this CVA agreement meant they ended up getting demoted a level again to the BSN. They would spend the entire season in administration and despite finishing in 10th place, the Conference board would vote to kick them out of the league at the end of the season due to concerns about the clubs financial future.
Things were a bit more normal this season, as only one team would be demoted. Kings Lynn (the original team) ended the season in 17th spot having won the Southern Premier League the season prior, however they’d be relegated at the end of the campaign due to failing the ground grading rules. Little information can be found online as to why specifily they were demoted, but then Chairman Ken Bobbins said “We’ve been to grounds that are virtually derelict, and they seem to get ground grading certificates, it’s bizarre,”. Naturally, you’d have to expect he was talking about the likes of Redditch United and Vauxhall Motors.
20th place Hyde United would be saved – which was an interesting move as they were still in the process of trying to raise funds to clear an outstanding tax bill at that time. They’re immediate future would go on to be a rather interesting one, but we’ll cover that another time.
Another mental season. This time, everyone would get a reprieve! It started off with Northwich Victoria being booted out of the league before the season started due to financial issues, though they’d win an appeal and get reinstated. However, It would mean starting the season with a 10 point deduction. Things didn’t get better form them though, and after spending the entire season in administration, they’d be kicked out of the league at the end of the season after finishing 12th. How they managed to get into such a financial mess despite having a successful FA Cup run that year will always be a mystery to me
Farsley Celtic resigned from the league in early March and their record would have to be expunged, which naturally shifted a few teams about and mess up the play off They’d go bankrupt just days later, and reform as Farlsey AFC that summer and eventually, switch bank to using the Farsley Celtic in 2015 and claiming the previous clubs history in the process.
This meant 21st place Harrogate Town and 20th place Vauxhall Motors would be saved from the drop. This would now be the second time Vauxhall Motors had been saved from relegation within the last 3 years.
This one would be boring compared to last year’s shitshow, with Ilkeston Town the real casualty this season. They went pop in early September after only 7 games, meaning the expulsion of their records was easy enough to sort out. They would automatically take one of the relegation spots – and they would be joined by Redditch United (who were also docked 5 points for giving the league false financial information) and Stafford Rangers. With Ilkeston going tits up, Hyde (who finished in 19th) were technically reprieved thanks to Ilkeston. That’s also now 2 for Hyde United in 3 seasons.
Ilkeston would go onto to reform, get back to the Northern Premier League, then go bust again. The latest version of that club was founded in 2017 – and has nearly gone bust. Twice.
Yet another fun one, as this is one of the more controversial AGM Cup’s. In the Conference Premier, Darlington finished in the relegation zone, and of course went bust – going on to reform as Darlington 1883. This meant 20th place Hinckley United would get a reprieve before the AGM even took place.
In the build up to the AGM, Bishop’s Stortford (who had switched to the BSN at the start of the season) had hinted that if they were placed in the Blue Square North once again, they’d be ready to resign from the league – which naturally would save one of the relegated teams.
As well as that, rumours persisted that a number of teams including the likes of Vauxhall, Histon and Hinckley were all considering resigning from the league due to financial issues – or were being threated with the boot for having said money issues. Of course, none of that would happen though and Spartans ended up being relegated along with Eastwood Town, who had been denied a play off spot the year before. After that they stopped spending money, and more or less accepted relegation with a cheap squad before a ball was kicked.
Interesting footnote – all 3 of the teams that threated to resign from the league due to financial issues were either bust, relegated or resigned from the league within the next 2 years. Twats.
A dull year in comparison to last year’s shitshow. No demotions or resignations took place this season however, it wouldn’t be completely drama free. Hinckley United’s foreshadowed financial issues cropped up early in the season, and they would end up being docked 6 points across the season for failing to pay creditors. They went down at the end of the season with a whimper, finishing the season on just 7 points – practically limping over the line in the end. They’d be wound up in the high court in October 2013.
The last year of real chaos in the National League North. Until Covid came that is. The only real financial issues came from Histon (again) who limped through the season, gaining just 32 points across the season. They’d go onto to suffer 2 more relegations in very quick succession, and they now flounder in the 9th tier of English football.
Oxford City had been moved in the now Skrill North as it was now known due to an influx of southern teams from the Skrill Premier (I still don’t have a fucking clue what a Skrill is btw). They would finish in 20th place after struggling to deal with travel requirements, but they would be saved, as Vauxhall Motors resigned from the league, due to severe financial concerns. Given that they struggled to get gates over 150, it was always a matter of when not if. 10 years later, they’re once again climbing the football pyramid having won promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One East. Twats.
And thus would conclude 10 years of chaos. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that across those 10 seasons, 86 points were docked from teams in total. Mainly due to teams going into administration and other financial complications – as well as A LOT of points deductions for players playing that weren’t registered.
Thankfully, Vauxhall’s resignation from the league would be the last bit of drama the Conference/National League would see for a number of years. Before covid struck, the only other demotion that took place in that 6 year period of stability between 2014 and 2020 across all 3 leagues, would be Gateshead’s in the summer of 2019 due to financial irregularities – thanks to Joe Cala and his dodgy mates.
As to why things improved and the league become a bit more stable, it’s perhaps difficult to narrow it down to one thing. The thing that springs to my mind immediately is the money that began to tickle down from the Premier League, which has since gone on to increase every few seasons. By 2014, the financial crises that began in late 2008 had begun to (sort of) subside at last. Perhaps the Conference/National League board finally got a grip on things and became much better and more capable of dealing with problem clubs?… aye probably not.
While it’s fun to look back and reminisce about about the utter madness that was the early part of the league’s history in some ways, I’m so relieved that era is long gone and non-league football has been a lot more stable in recent years.
That being said, with the financial issues looming at Kings Lynn as well as the ground grading issues down at Rushall Olympic and Warrington Town, on top of the shitshow we’ve already had with Scunthorpe Untied this season – the AGM Cup could be getting brought of retirement sooner rather than later.