Welcome to Part Two of our lookback at the original teams that made up the original National League North/Nationwide Conference North/Blue Square North way back in 2004. If you missed the first part of this, you can catch it here.
Here we’ll be taking a look at what happened to the teams who finished in the top half of the season, where the stories get a bit odd to say the least.
Gainsborough Trinity – 11th
Another side many will miss from the original Conference North days, Gainsborough were one of the top teams in the Northern Premier League throughout the 1990’s but dropped off just as the Conference North was created.
Trinity would for the most part spend the first 5/6 seasons of the Conference North stuck in midtable obscurity, though they would reach the first round of the FA Cup in 2007 and 2008.
By 2009, former Premier League manager Brian Little had taken charge of the club after sliding down the leagues, but he didn’t really change the clubs fortunes and by the time he was gone they ended the 2010/11 season in 18th place.
The following season the club would see the club bounce back under Steve Housham, and finish the season in 4th place as they lost out in the play off final at home to Nuneaton Town. An 8th place would follow the year after, but that’s as good as it would get for Trinity.
They’d begin a slide down the league with a number of bottom half finishes before they began to battle with the drop zone, just managing to stay up in the 2016/17 season. They’d be relegated the following season though, sinking back to the Norther Premier League after a terrible season.
The 2018/19 season had them finishing in 6th place which was a respectable return to the NPL, but it wasn’t good enough to get them into the play offs. A slide down the league followed the season after and COVID killed any chance of Trinity mounting a late season play off charge. When football restarted in 2021, Trinity would disappoint many as they really struggled, finishing in 17th place and narrowly avoiding the drop.
Last season was an improvement under Neal Bishop, as they turned it round and managed to secure a 4th place finish in the league – losing to Bamber Bridge in the semi finals of the play offs. That resurgence was only a brief one though, as Trinity currently once again occupy 17th place.
Their stadium (The Northolme) was originally built in the 1850’s and is undoubtedly a stadium with plenty of character, despite being a bit run down these days. A trip to Gainsborough would beat the vast majority of these new prefabricated out town industrial estate stadiums we seem to visit every few weeks these days.
Hucknall Town – 10th
The team that should have been in the Conference National. Hucknall have had a rather turbulent 20 or so years and sadly for them, the league NPL title win in 2004 would be the high point – and a bittersweet one at that.
3 midtable finishes in the mid 2000’s would be followed by a 20th place finish in 2007/08 season, but they’d be saved from relegation after Boston United were booted out the league. They failed to turn things around though and would finish rock bottom of the league in 2009, going back down to the NPL.
Things didn’t get any easier for them though and after a 17th place finish in their first season back in 2009/10, they’d be relegated in 2011 and end up down in the Northern Premier League First Division South.
By now though financial problems had begun to really effect the club and in 2013, they’d be relegated again and forced to drop down even further to the Central Midland League South, which is the equivalent of the Northern Alliance Premier League (level 11).
They’d stay at this level until 2019 when they’d finally escape – doing so as champions. They’d join the East Midlands Counties Football League but wouldn’t complete either season they spent in that league due to COVID-19. By the time the world got back to normal they’d join the United Counties League Division One and won promotion to the United Counties Premier (level 9) last season.
At present they are rock bottom of that league and are more or less already relegated. Chances are we’ll not see Hucknall Town back at this level of football again.
Redditch United – 9th
After spending the 90’s and early 2000’s in the Southern Premier League 1st Division West (level 8) Redditch finally won promotion in 2004. Lucky for them though, this meant they could compete with the teams in the bottom half of the Southern League Premier Division in the play offs for a spot in the Conference North. And after 2 wins against Kings Lynn and Merthyr Tydfil* they were promoted to the CN, in a very rare case of a team earning a double promotion in the English league system.
*Honestly, I spelt that so badly wrong at first even Microsoft Word AND Google didn’t have a fucking clue what I was trying to say.
Following a points doc in their first season they finished 9th, which was a respectable achievement for a team that had jumped up 2 leagues. That would be the height of their success though and a drop down the league would follow over the next few seasons.
Notably in the 2005/06 season they would have been relegated had it not been for Canvey Island resigning from the Conference.
At the start of the 2010/11 season, they completely fell apart. Losing 30 of their 40 league games while conceding 105 goals after losing their sponsor at the start of the season, Redditch were effectively skint and had to use local players who were mostly unpaid. It won’t shock you to know that 1 of their 2 league wins that season came thanks to Spartans, and they did it with a striker in goal for 50 minutes.
Back in the Southern Premier League with a temporary stand that had now been there 10 years, they slowly began to rebuild with a new owner finishing 15th, 19th, 10th and eventually 6th in 2015. The following season they managed a runners up spot but lost in the play offs to Leamington.
After their play off heartbreak, they’d fall back down league and spend a few seasons around the bottom half. Had it not been for the 2019/20 season being cancelled they’d have been relegated. When the season stopped they’d lost 27 of their 33 games, having conceded 89 goals.
Now though under the management of Matt Clarke and with new owner David Faulkner, Redditch seem to be bouncing back are currently locked in a promotion battle with Needham Market at the top of the Southern Premier League Central.
The stadium now has a 3G pitch and that temporary stand is now long gone! So, it may not be too long before we see Redditch back at this level.
Stafford Rangers – 8th
Yet another team who’ve endured more downs than ups in the last 2 decades. An 8th place finish in the league’s first season would be followed by a runners up spot in the 2005/06 campaign, and they’d go onto to beat Droylsden on penalties to secure promotion to the Nationwide Conference National.
The 2006/07 season would be a struggle but Stafford managed to finish in 20th spot, only just avoiding the drop. They would though have a bit of a cup run, going onto play Brighton in 2nd round where they were beaten 3-0. The following season would be a miserable one though and they’d be relegated, finishing in 23rd spot with just 25 points.
The club nearly went to the wall in the summer of 2009 though, as they owed ‘Slick Seating’ £50,000. I’d imagine they were the company supplying them with the 2,000-capacity temporary stand that looked out of place and frankly, just awful.
The club was bailed out by the fans though, with a rather creative initiative as they sold 250 tickets at £200, that would be repaid in weekly draws to save the club from administration.
The club may have been saved but their fortunes on the pitch were taking a nosedive and after 2 seasons struggling in the bottom third of the league, they’d be relegated in 2011 with just 32 points – having gone through 3 managers in that season. Longtime chairman Jon Downing had also left the club.
They’d move down to the Northern Premier League rather than the Southern Premier due to the shifted league boundaries, ultimately being one of the most southern based teams in that league. The club would continue to spiral and after 2 years of bottom half finishes, they’d finish in 22nd place in 2014 and face relegation to the NPL 1st Division South.
After 2 seasons they’d be back in the NPL, romping to the title with 95 points in 2016. Since then, they’ve been dwelling in and around the middle of table, only once bothering the play off hunt.
They tend to still get between 600 and 650 for games, which is near more or less what they used to get back in their Conference North days.
Worcester City – 7th
Definitely one of the more depressing tales on this list. Wey, of the clubs that are still alive that is.
Worcester were a solid team in the early days of the Conference North finishing 7th, 8th and 9th in the league’s first seasons with the help of prolific striker Adam Webster, who scored 94 goals across 6 seasons for the club in the mid to late 2000’s.
After a 12th place finish in 2007/08 they’d be transferred to the Conference South, which was a sigh of a relief as Worcester was always a total bastard of a journey. Despite the Conference South historically being inferior the Conference North, The Blues struggled massively – finishing 16th and then 20th before being moved back into the North.
They’d struggle in their first season before recording a 7th place finish in the 2011/12 campaign, only just missing out on the play off’s. It would be all downhill from here though, both on and off the pitch as in 2013 they’d leave their longtime home of St George’s Lane for housing.
They had been meaning to use the money they raised to build a 6,000 all seater stadium but that would never happen, and they’d be forced to groundshare with Kidderminster Harriers and then Bromsgrove Sporting.
After a few more seasons in and around mid-table, they’d be relegated in the 2016/17 season but would end up resigning from the league (or being forcibly demoted depending on which source you read) and ended up down in the Midland League, the equivalent of the Northern League Division One where they’ve since bounced between promotion chances and relegation battles.
This season they were moved over to the Hellenic League and it appears to working for them, as they currently sit 2nd in the table with plenty of games in hand.
In 2020 they’d moved back to Worcester, though it would be at new home of the Worcestershire FA which has a capacity of less than 2000. If were being honest, It looks shite compared to their old home.
In November just gone they announced yet another set of plans for their own stadium, this time at the Worcestershire Community Sports Park in the northern part of the City.
Harrogate Town – 6th
Money talks. That would be an easy enough way to describe Harrogate’s rise up the leagues, but I suppose we’ll need to dive into this one a bit more.
Under Neil Aspin, Harrogate were a formidable and established side at the top of Nationwide North between 2004 and 2009, recording several 6th place finishes and a 5th place finish in 2006, where they’d lost to Stafford Rangers in the play offs. A drop to 9th in the 2008/09 season would see Aspin move on, and Simon Weaver come in.
Weaver’s first year as manager would be a disastrous one, leading them to a 21st place finish and they needed to be saved by a reprieve. It became clear as to why Simon Weaver wasn’t handed his P45 soon after that season, as his father Iriving Weaver had began to get involved with the club and they bean to splash the cash.
In the summer of 2010 they began taking players from the North East, with Wayne Phillips, Graeme Armstrong, Mark Cook and Spartans own Richard Pell moving south for some healthy contracts.
A 12th place finish was certainly an improvement and by now, they’d really began to throw some cash around – stealing away Paul Brayson, Michael Tait and Stephen Turnbull from Blyth as Mick Tait’s team collapsed in the summer of 2011. They joined the likes of Peter Bore, Liam Hardy and the league’s former top scorer Johnny Allan.
It was rumoured that Brayson and others had been contacted well before the 2010/11 season ended about joining Harrogate that summer, supposedly as early as February which isn’t exactly very legal. But as Harrogate had money to throw about, they wouldn’t given a toss.
Amazingly they’d regress though, dropping to 15th place but again Simon stayed on as manager – as Irving was now the club’s chairman and owner. The decision to keep Simon in charge looked like it may pay off as the following year they’d improve massively and bag a 6th place finish, before dropping back down to 9th and then 15th by 2015.
More money was spent on players and eventually if you throw enough mud at the wall, sometimes it sticks.Harrogate would be fired into the play offs in 2016 thanks to the goals of Brendan Daniels, though they’d lose to AFC Fylde in the play offs. The following season they regressed again, finishing in in 11th place.
Despite most of their games only getting around 700 people in, they made a bold (and expensive) move and switched to a full-time model, while also installing a 3G pitch which finally levelled out the playing service that dropped down 3 breeze blocks in one corner.
With the likes of Josh Falkingham, Jake Wright, Ryan Fallowfield and Dom Knowles on top form and James Belshaw in goal they had a brilliant season – finishing in 2nd place and hammering Brackley Town in the play off final to win promotion to the National League.
More reinforcements came in that summer, most notably Michael Woods. A 6th place finish would follow before losing in the play offs to AFC Fylde yet again. The following season would be another strong one, though the pandemic would call it to a halt in March 2020 and Harrogate would end up finishing 2nd on PPG.
In the play off’s they’d be followed by BT Sports cameras, documenting their summer as they competed in the play off’s and dealt with the restrictions enforced upon them by the pandemic.
In early August they’d defeat Notts County 3-1 in the play off final at Wembley in a major upset thanks to a goal from George Thomson, Connor Hall and Jack Diamond.
Their first season in the Football League would see them finish in 17th place, but they would win a delayed FA Trophy final at the end of the season – beating Concord 1-0 and becoming the first ever Football League team to participate in the trophy.
Over the last 2 years Harrogate have finished in 19th place, just outside the drop zone but at the time of writing they currently occupy 9th spot. Simon Weaver has clearly improved as a manager, despite having a win record of only 39%. One of the finest examples of nepotism in football?
Altrincham – 5th
Another team who’ve experienced some soaring highs and agonising lows (and I think I could say the same thing about the next 3 teams on this list) Alty would win inaugural play off’s, defeating Eastbourne Borough as for some reason, they made the winners of the North play offs take on the South play off winners for a spot in the Conference National. I have no explanation as to why this happened, or who thought it was a good idea.
Alty’s first season in the Conference National would be a struggle. Made even worse by an 18-point deduction, after it was discovered that midfielder James Robinson had been ineligible for 3 MONTHS!
Joining the club in November 2005 from Accrington Stanley (who would win the Conference that season) he would feature 13 times for Alty, before leaving for Australia in February 2006 and it wasn’t until then the issue with his registration emerged. His new employers discovered Robinson was still registered in Iceland, where he played before Accrington. For whatever reason, Accrington didn’t receive any punishment despite brining him in from ÍBV and not registering him with the English FA in the first place. He never actually played for them, so i’d have to expect that’s the reason why.
How the FA or Conference never picked up that he wasn’t registered, I’ll never know.
They would have finished in 18th spot and avoided relegation with a few points to spare but alas thanks to the points deduction, they finished rock bottom on 23 points HOWEVER… they would be saved from the drop!
Altrincham were reprieved from relegation due to the enlargement of the Conference to 24 teams and the voluntary demotion of Canvey Island. Scarborough had come out of administration and would have been reprieved due to the voluntary demotion of Canvey Island and Altrincham being below them in the table, but they did not fulfil the Conferences financial guidelines as they were still in administration and were thus relegated instead of Alty.
The 2006/07 season would be another struggle, finishing in 21st place out of the now 24 teams but yet again, they were reprieved from relegation due to Boston United’s double relegation and their financial issues. The following season would see Setanta start splashing the cash and the league be renamed to the Blue Square Premier, but that wouldn’t change Alty’s fortunes. Another 21st place finish saw them finish in the drop zone again, but for the 3rd season in a row they’d be saved as Halifax Town went pop at the end of the season.
Over the next 2 seasons Alty would finally establish themselves in the Blue Square Premier with a 15th and 14th place finish thanks to the goals of Chris Senior and Colin Little. They’d both depart the club in the summer of 2010 though, with Senior getting a full time move to Darlington where he’d go onto score the winning goal in that season’s FA Trophy final. Long-time forward Colin Little left after making 228 appearances, scoring 114 goals to take up a role in coaching, though he still played part time locally.
They’d finish the 2010/11 season in 22nd place, finally being relegated to the Blue Square North and they would have a fairly rough landing given that some expected them to go straight back up, finishing in 8th place and 11 points off the play offs. A 4th place would follow the year after, though they’d be quickly eliminated from the play offs by new boys Brackley Town.
Promotion would finally follow in 2014, as they beat Guiseley in the playoff final but their 2nd stint in the now Vanarama National League wouldn’t last long. Damien Reeves powered them into an 18th place finish with his goals, as he established himself as one of the best strikers in non-league football.
In the 2015/16 campaign they’d sink back into the National League North though, ending the season in 22nd spot. On top of that, long time goalkeeper Stuart Coburn also departed the club after making over 600 appearances for the club.
Things went from bad to worse for Alty as dropped out of the National League system altogether, having a disastrous 2016/17 campaign where they’d win only 4 games and net 21 points across the season. They would though eventually bounce straight back up, with Jordan Hulme and Josh Hancock powering them to the Northern Premier League title.
A double promotion would nearly follow, as they finished in 5th place, beating Blyth in the playoff quarter finals on penalties (shudders) before losing to Chorley in the semi final after yet another penalty shootout.
When the 2019/20 season was curtailed due to COVID-19, they lay in 3rd spot and qualified for the behind closed doors play offs on points per game. After dispatching Chester and then York, they faced off against Boston United in one of York Street’s last games, where they won 1-0 and secured passage back to the National League.
After struggling through the 2020/21 season that was played entirely behind closed doors, they recorded a respectable 17th place finish. A 14th place finish would follow the season after and in the summer of 2022 the club made the decision to go full time. Under the management of Phil Parkinson (the bald one) and under a firm financial footing, Alty are currently sat in 4th spot in the National League and seemingly have a very bright future ahead of them.
Kettering Town – 4th
In the early days of the Conference North, Kettering Town were always known as one of the strongest teams in the league. That being the said, over the last 20 years or so the club has more or less bounced between chaos, disaster and success.
After a decent first season in the Conference North, manager Kevin Wilson would leave the club, being replaced by Newcastle, Spurs and England legend Paul Gascoigne as his life was rapidly beginning to go downhill. His 39-day spell at Kettering would be a disaster.
After 37 separates ‘incidents’ at the club, the Chairman gave him the boot after starting “Unfortunately Paul Gascoigne has been under the influence of alcohol before, during and after several first-team games and training sessions. This has been noticeable to the board of directors, players, coaching staff and sections of the media. A referee and fourth official have also filed a report with the FA.”
Former manager Kevin Wilson returned to the club and guided them to a 6th place finish, just outside the play offs. A second place finish the season after would follow but they’d lose to Farsley Celtic in the semi-finals, which was considered quite the upset and led to the arrival of Mark Cooper.
The following season would see them claim the now Blue Square North title at last. They did take a bit of time to do so though, as they stumbled towards the end of the campaign after a superb start – notably traveling up to Blyth expecting to win the league at Croft Park, only for Adie Webster to spoil the party.
An 8th place finish and a cup run followed during their maiden season in the Blue Square Premier, defeating Lincoln City and Notts County before losing to Premier League side Fulham. By the end of 2009 though Mark Cooper had been poached by Peterborough United, but that wouldn’t stop them finishing in 6th spot and going on yet another cup run, earning a replay at Elland Road as Leeds thrashed them.
This would be where the good times stopped for Kettering though, as 3 years of misery was about to follow. In 2011 the club left its home at Rockingham Road, as chairman Imraan Ladak moved the club to Nene Park, the home of Rushden and Diamonds who had just recently folded. They’d last only 18 months at Nene Park as the club hit financial trouble, despite having just had 2 FA Cup runs. As of 2017, both Rockingham Road and Nene Park would end up being demolished.
In February 2012 George Rolls (ne relation to me) took over control of the club from Imraan Ladak, although Rolls wasn’t officially the Kettering Town owner he was involved in the day to day running of the club. Rolls was suspended from football for five years after breaches of Football Association betting laws were proven and was also fined £10,000.
Imraan Ladak the owner of the Club assumed the role of Interim Chairman after a dispute. By this point the club had finished rock bottom of the Blue Square Premier, taking a double relegation to the Southern Premier League.
John Beck who had been appointed as Manager in June 2012 was asked to leave the premises just before a game against Bashley in early October. On 8th October, the lights were switched off at Nene Park and several games were postponed by the Southern League in order that the Club could find new investors. They’d end the season bottom of the league, having been docked 10 points for ‘financial irregularities’ and ended up in the Southern Premier League Division One Central, the 8th tier of English football.
After play off heart break in the 2013/14 season, the club was eventually taken over by Ritchie Jeune before the 2014 season got underway. They’d storm to the title to win promotion back to the Southern Premier League and were now playing at Burton Latimer, just 5 miles from the now disserted Rockingham Road. The ‘new’ ground is a long way off the old one in terms of size. In fact, it’s actually rather shite.
Plus, this one doesn’t have a Wimpy in the car park.
Anyway, on with the football. Between 2015 and 2018, Kettering either finished just outside the play offs or failed when they actually did make the play offs despite being a lot more stable on the pitch. Thankfully for Kettering though, another league restructure would follow that would benefit them.
The Southern Premier League Central would be created at step 3 alongside the Northern Premier League, Southern Premier League and Isthmian League to feed directly into the National League North, with most teams being based in and around the midlands. The Poppies would win the league’s first title with a whopping 94 points.
Back in the National League North after 11 years away, Kettering were far from the side they once were and struggled in their first season. Thankfully COVID came to save them from potentially dropping back down, as they finished the season on 32 points in 19th place. The following season of course wouldn’t really get to the halfway mark, and Kettering were found in 18th place when the season was null and voided.
After a COVID impacted return to the NLN, Kettering would finally have a successful season in the league as they finished in 8th place and collected 61 points in their first full (and completed) season back which was an impressive feat, as manager Paul Cox had ditched the club during the season.
The following season would be a disastrous one though, as they struggled all year and Kettering were relegated on the final day of the season as Blyth won, and they lost away to Kidderminster Harriers who needed a win to get into the play offs. This season hasn’t been a happy return to the Southern Premier League Central, as they currently sit one place above the drop zone.
Droylsden/Dave Pace FC – 3rd
Another side who’ve had an almighty drop off over the last 20 years, sprinkled with some brief success at times though. Droylsden (or Dresden to some) have been managed and owned by Dave Pace since the early 1990’s and the two are more less intertwined, as the club is essentially Dave Pace, and Dave Pace pretty much is Droylsden FC. Pace made is money in the building trade back in the day, and bankrolled the club a fair bit in the early to mid 2000’s which of course led to them being a successful side in that era.
After a strong start to life in the Conference North were they finished 3rd and then 4th, they eventually gained promotion at the third of asking as they went up as league champions in 2007. Goalkeeper Paul Phillps was one of the best around at this time, as was forward Terry Fearns who scored 32 goals in the league that season to lead their promotion charge. He would later be jailed in 2010 when police found him with £30,000 worth of heroin and a few knives on him.
Anyway back to the football, for now. Dresden’s start to life in the Blue Square Premier would be a difficult one as they failed to win any of their first 13 games in the league. It would take a home win against former Football League side Oxford United live on Setanta Sports to eventually grab 3 points and give them some hope of avoiding the drop.
That hope wouldn’t last long though, as they’d finish the season at the foot of the table with only 24 points and 5 wins. The 2008/09 season would see them have a decent first season back in the Blue Square North however it would be a controversial FA Cup run that they’d be remembered for that season. Me explaining things wouldn’t do it it justice, so I’d recommend checking out the below video that will fully explain Droylsden and Chesterfield’s the saga that is the drama laden FA Cup 2nd round tie(s).
Droylsden would manage to secure a play off spot as they ended up in 5th place with just 62 points in 2010 but they’d be eliminated straight away, losing to eventual play off winners and big spenders Fleetwood Town. The 2010/11 campaign would see a drop off in the league as they finished 8th, but they did embark upon another FA Cup run. After drawing against Leyton Orient at The Butchers Arms, they earned travelled to London and were beaten 8-2. Orient would eventually go on to play Arsenal later in the cup.
In the FA Trophy they came to Croft Park in the round of 16 and Irish forward Kieran Kilheeney punched a ball off the line and went onto score the equaliser late in the game. Thankfully though, we dicked them 4-0 in the replay on the Monday night.
The 2011/12 season would see them drop to 9th in the league, though by now it was becoming increasingly apparent they could no longer compete with the top brass in the Blue Square North. They did reach the FA Cup 4th qualifying round but Spartans would put an end to their FA Cup hopes that season. Off the pitch though, things were starting to fall apart.
At some stage in 2011, Pace was hit with a tax bill by HMRC. This was reported to be a bill of £250,000, and Pace spent a great deal of time and money (£75,000) fighting the charge and by 2012, Droylsden FC had been issued with strike off action on companies house.
The 2012/13 season would see Droylsden relegated in 21st place with only 5 wins, and that was mainly down to the fact that Dave Pace massively scaled back on his spending. Rather than folding the club and restarting as Droylsden Town or AFC Droylsden, Pace agreed a deal with HMRC and other debtors to actually pay the debt back and continue trading as Droylsden FC, though the first team would have to use players getting paid next to nothing for a few seasons. Pace’s logic was “What about the plumber who’s done £20,000 on the clubhouse and ends up getting paid £2 because we’ve gone into administration? That’s not fair, is it?” Personally, I don’t think that’s the real reason.
Between 2014 and 2019, Droylsden more or less just treaded water in the Northern Premier League First Division North, as they finished between 10th and 19th every season and failed to really get any kind of FA Cup or FA Trophy run going or even bring back the crowds they had in the 2000’s, having to settle for average gates of just 150.
When COVID struck and the season was cancelled, Dave Pace made the decision to mothball the club due to the lack of income, and the ground stood stagnant for years until the summer of 2023, when Dave finally made the decision to raise the club from it’s rest after 3 seasons of inactivity. Currently Droylsden play in the North West Counties Division South in the equivalent of Northern League Division Two and currently sit in 7th place, just outside the play offs.
Now some of you may remember a few of the stories about and rumours about Dave Pace that did the rounds back in the day, and when going through some of his history on companies house and while looking through a few articles on google, I came across a few interesting individuals that Dave was linked with and in business with back in the day.
Firstly his brother in law Noel Corry, who was done for fraud and accepting bribes according to this Daily Mail article, with some of the money going into the football club. Corry also worked for a company Boulting, who were at one point Droylsden’s main kit sponsor.
Pace was also linked to a certain Stephen Vaughan Sr, who previously owned Barrow and then later Chester City. You can read about Mr Vaughan Sr and his son here if you don’t know the stories already. There’s also a rather interesting club that’s still about on YouTube. One of the comments on said video also gives you an idea of what people suspected he was up to, based of his reputation.
Anyway, whether the old stories about Dave Pace were true or just be pure bollocks, he circinately kept some interesting company.
Nuneaton Borough – 2nd
The club who’ve paid even less tax than Amazon over the years. Currently in the process of folding for the 3rd time in the last 30 years, it’s fairly obvious that Nuneaton Borough have seen better days and while it’s not been confirmed just yet, it’s expected they’ll be starting up as a new club yet again this summer.
Nuneaton’s league history is an odd one as even before they folded in the early 1990’s, they were known by a few different names. In the years prior to the birth of the Conference North, Nuneaton had spent a few seasons in the Conference National before relegation to the Southern Premier League came, and they were swept up into the Conference North after just a season back in the Southern league.
They had a solid start to life in the new league, finishing as runners-up and only 3 points of the top of the table. They would probably have been a bit disappointed with their performance in the play offs though having been one of the famotines to go up at the state of the season, as they were dumped out at the first stage by Alty.
A 3rd place finish and another disappointing play off performance followed in the 2005/06 season, before Nuneaton dropped off during the 2006/07 season and finished in 10th spot.
The following season would be a tough one for Borough, despite moving into their new home at the Liberty Way Stadium. Ill-health meant the club’s owner Ted Stocker decided to sell his shares and Ian Neale eventually took 100% ownership of the club in April 2008, but just a month later Neale found irregularities in the club finances, raising fears that the club would be forced into administration.
Reforming as Nuneaton Town under Ian Neale (which is a strange one as these are usually set up by supporters) they’d start life out in the Southern Premier League 1st Division Midlands League, where they’d finish 2nd behind Leamington. A play off final win over Chasetown would put them into the Premier Division, and they’d once again finish 2nd and once again, with the play offs. This time they’d defeat Chippenham Town to secure passage back to the Blue Square North.
A 6th place finish would be a great first season back in the BSN, and they followed that up with a 5th place finish – despite getting docked 6 points for fielding an ineligible player. After a battle against Guiseley in the play offs they defeated Gainsborough Trinity in front of nearly 4,000 to secure promotion to the Blue Square Premier.
From liquidation in 2008 to the Blue Square Premier with 3 promotions is a genuinely brilliant achievement in just 4 years.
Andy Brown’s 19 goals would keep them off away from the dropzone as the finished in 15th spot with 56 points, what was a great season by Nuneaton Town/Borough’s standards. Manager Kevin Wilkin who’d been in charge of Nuneaton since 2006 made the jump to full time football at Wrexham in March of 2014, having guided Nuneaton to safety in the BSP yet again.
With Wilkin gone, things began to unravel for Town. Lee Thorn began to invest in the club, becoming chairman later in the season and eventually purchased the club. His investment allowed the club to regain ownership of the Liberty Way but none of that could stop Town being relegated in 2015, finishing rock bottom of the league with just 36 points.
Back in the now National League North, their first season saw them land in 6th place however had they not been done for fielding an ineligible player, they’d have made the play offs. After 2 mediocre seasons in midtable though the club would once again be on it’s knee’s, as in 2018 the club nearly went bankrupt again and limped over the line at the end of the season – using generators to power the stadium on the final day of the season against Blyth as they hadn’t paid it’s bills.
The chairman walked away form the club that summer, and Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite purchased the ground, which is just a tad odd. He would be investigated by the FA later that year as Thorn had walked away from and Smurthwaite was accused of running 2 clubs.
Nothing came of it though, and Nuneaton limped on as the season got underway with a Supporters Cooperative seemingly running the club. The club had changed the name back to Nuneaton Borough, though that wouldn’t stop them dropping out the National League North with just 19 points, finishing in last place.
At some stage Jimmy Ginnelly took over the club, who had been manager at Barwell Town. He struggled to fund the club though and 2 COVID hit seasons didn’t’ realty help matters. Once the league restarted in 2021, they recorded a lowly finish in the league before surprisingly mounting a play off push in the 2022/23 campaign where they lost to Rushall Olympic on penalties in the play off final.
As the season got underway though, Borough completely fell apart. In October 2023, the club were issued with an eviction notice with debts of around £650,000 having not paid any rent on the stadium in nearly 4 years. A takeover by DA capital came in late November 2023 but it wouldn’t be enough to turn the tide, and the club resigned from the Southern Premier League in January as they couldn’t purchase the ground or secure a new lease.
Southport – 1st
Honestly, this entry is going to be a fairly boring one compared to the shitshow’s above. The leagues first ever champions would be led to the title by Terry Fearns, who smashed in 33 goals in front of average crowd of 1,000.
Fun note, the first ever league trophy that Southport are celebrating with below ended up being used as the league’s play off trophy by Barrow in 2008. Ne idea what’s happened to it now, but it’s better than the fucking monstrosity that is the current league trophy.
Port would do the North proud in their first season in the Conference National, claiming a respectable 18th place finish with Steve Daly leading the line with 12 goals. They wouldn’t quite be so lucky the following season, as they finished in 23rd spot with 47 points – ending up 4 points away from safety.
Back in the now Blue Square North, Port landed in 4th spot and managed to maintain their 1000+ average attendances, though they’d have a disappointing result in the play offs as they lost to Stalybridge Celtic on penalties. A 5th place spot the next season would see more play off disappoint, this time at the hands of Gateshead.
Manager Liam Watson was able to keep most of his key players at the club though, and they bounced back in the 2009/10 season, beating new money Fleetwood Town to the league title on the last day of the season as they won away at Eastwood Town.
Now back in the Blue Square Premier, Southport struggled and after a 21st place finish they should have been relegated but the demise of Rusden and Diamonds meant they’d be reprieved. Watson’s side bounced back the following season though as they finished in 7th place with Tony Gray netting 17 goals for the club as the averaged crowds just shy of 1300.
Sadly for Port they failed o build upon their successful season and nearly went down, finishing in 20th place and beating the drop by just 4 points. Liam Watson also left the club that summer as well, eventually taking up a job with AFC Telford.
Between 2013 and 2016, Southport would just about maintain their National League status and even got to the FA Cup 2nd round on 2 occasions. They never recaptured the success they found back in the 2012/13 campaign and after years of treading water they were relegated in 2017, finishing in 23rd place.
They’d suffer a rough landing as they came back down to the National League North, finishing the 2017/18 season in 18th place. Liam Watson may have been back at the club, but his old magic seemed to have vanished and he could only lift them to 14th in the 2018/19 season.
After 2 uneventful COVID impacted seasons, Port looked like they may be getting back on track as they finished the 2021/22 season in 11th place and just 6 points off the play offs. They had a decent start to the 2022/23 season but completely fell apart in the later half of the season, and even ended up getting caught in the relegation battle as they survived the drop by just a single point.
This season Southport can be found down at the bottom of the league, though they do have plenty of games in hand at the moment. They’ve moved on from Liam Watson and have a new ownership structure in place so I’d expect with a year or 2, they might be a force in this league once again should they survive the drop this season.