Alright, we are bang half way through if not further for some clubs this football season. So it’s a quick fly threw of all the fan owned clubs in England and Wales, how they have got on so far and my (what will be terrible) predictions for the end of this season. We are going from down at the bottom of the Pyramid to as high up as League 2. I am not putting them in alphabetical order because this has taken long enough. All mistakes are down to me and apology for the inevitable typo. Off we go then.
1874 Northwich – North West Counties Div 1 – Step 6:
Since I went to see them in the summer for their first ever game, they have wasted no time cracking on in their first ever season. Boasting an average attendance of 333 for the level they’re at is a fantastic achievement and as they play away from Northwich, this is all the more reason for those involved to be proud of the success.
They are currently 2nd occupying the last promotion spot with four other clubs around them right in the hunt to go up as well. They are in for a fantastic end of the season if they can stay in the race and finally the long suffering fans of this team, free of Jim Rushe, can just enjoy the football. Off the pitch, the community work continues but hopefully plans are in place to get back into Northwich ASAP and then they can really fly.
Prediction: Promotion and party at Antony Rodgers (All invited.)
AFC Croydon Athletic – Combined Counties Div 1- Step 6:
The most recent club I have been to and as I don’t want to spoil the write up I shall not put much. Short story is this is another fantastic phoenix team after the previous club was given a death sentence related to the spot fixing scandal in Pakistan cricket and lumbered on until its death.
Last year was their first season and they won the League Cup, are now getting ready to head home from playing at an athletics track to their previous home at the Keith Tuckey Stadium at the start of next season, provided yobs stop setting fire to it. On the pitch they are in the hunt for promotion in 5th with three going up and having got the toughest games in the league out of the way, this season they look well placed to have a chance of going up.
So they are going back home to a proper footy ground, building community links and have a great base to push on up the league at a sustainable basis, so everyone at that club needs to take a bow.
Prediction: Head says top five, fanatic says Promotion in 3rd Place. So Promotion.
Saffron Walden Town FC – Eastern Counties Football League Div One- Step 6:
I had never heard of this club before this season but it’s one I am very much looking forward to seeing. The club pulled out of the league in 2011-12 due to not being able to guarantee having the money in place to survive. They were back last season as a fan owned club in July 2012. After a solid year last season they seem to be going from strength to strength off the pitch. A Clubhouse generating income for the club and averaging around 150 for home league games is a good base to build from. On the pitch, they lie in 6th and with plenty of clubs around them with games on hand this could mean they drop further. Still, a good second half of the season and who knows but they will be one to watch next season.
Prediction: Top half.
Newport (Isle of Wight) FC – Wessex League Prem – Step 5
Onto the Step 5 clubs then and onto Newport, who I have no idea how I am going to get to this season, being on (as the name suggests) the Isle of Wight. Fan Owned since 2008 and have plied their trade in the Wessex Prem since the 2008 season. Last year they came 6th and this year are third but as a Step 5 league only offering one promotion place it makes it very difficult for any club running sustainably to go up (You’d be amazed at some of the money washing around clubs at that level).
Still they look like they will improve on last year’s finish and with Sholing, who only came down from the league above for ‘financial reasons’, looking like winning the league this year (ahead of Newport IOW by 6 points and with four games in hand) then it looks like a battle for second place for the Port this season.
Prediction: Top 3
AFC Rushden & Diamonds- United Counties League Prem- Step 5
Well it’s been a great year for the Diamonds and it can still get a hell of a lot better. A memorable cup run in the FA Cup where they saw off Cambridge City of the Southern Prem (two levels above them & who are in the playoffs of their league), so a great achievement. 815 people saw them that day before they were knocked out by Dover away.
Off the pitch, the academy is in place and they seem to have solid foundations by helping their landlords Wellingborough make considerable grounds improvements. They have an average attendance well over 400 and not playing in Rushden makes it difficult. On the pitch, they are 13 points off money bags Spalding (despite being the only team to beat Spalding all season) but look well placed to be best of the rest.
More excitingly is another cup run in the FA Vase. They are only four rounds away from Wembley and if they can avoid the Northern giants of Spennymoor Town and co, then they have every chance. It shows have far they have come with this only being their second season and they look a good shout to go up next year. When they get home to Rushden, they are really going to fly.
Prediction: Top 3 and Wembley.
Fisher FC- Southern Counties East League- Step 5
Well the Fish have had some tough times lately and regular readers will know my hope of non-league London sides surviving is very small. Hemmed in by property developers on all sides, in communities where the traditional football fan are leaving seemingly as fast as they can and if you are homeless football club then the writing appears to be on the wall.
All the more amazing then that Fisher FC, having been formed in 2009 after the old club went bust and subsequently homeless, have managed to put themselves in a position where they could be going home to Bermondsey.
The club needs to raise a big chunk of money (£250,000) to move into their new home after they have a supportive council who approved planning permission and a property developer who have put aside a space for the club to exist.
If successful, it will be a brand new 3G surface allowing the club to generate income, a base to reach out to the community and build a fan base. With this, they will get into a spiral of success. If that get that stadium, it will be a testament to the heroic work of people to keep their club alive and thrive. I should note they have been blessed with a supportive council and a property developer who aren’t wankers. So hats off to them.
This season, they started badly but have pulled clear and with only one going down they look safe. All that really matters though, is getting that new ground.
Prediction: Safe, new ground by 2015.
AFC Liverpool – North West Counties Prem – Step 5
A club which I remain most sceptical of and I am just not sure of what the reason for existence is. Described as Liverpool FC’s ‘little brother’, they wish to be a friend of the main club but are against high ticket prices. Against millionaire owners but not Liverpool’s it seems. FC United this certainly isn’t, as they have not and have no intention of carving out a unique identity. They currently play at Prescot Cables home, another fan owned club.
They are currently 5th in the North West Counties Prem and are some way off the pace in a very competitive league.
Prediction: Top 8
Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5
Now this club is the real deal. Having been to see them earlier this season where they won a memorable game in a great FA Cup run, the Linnets have shown no signs of slowing down. They have a great stadium, building and strengthening community coaching plus a women’s team. With strong attendances for their level, it’s a club that are a blueprint for anyone else wanting to do things the right way.
On the pitch, Manager Joey Dunn has given them every chance to achieve their goal of going up. With Norton and a resurgent Glossop North End the two other clubs who look like being the main threat, they will have to stay strong till the end to achieve promotion to the league that the ‘old’ club finished in when they ceased to exist.
Prediction: Promotion for Joey Dunns ‘YellowGreenArmy’
Darlington FC- Evostik Div One North – Step 4
After playing dire when I went to watch them, Darlo have started to fly in the league and even managed to beat fan owned Bamber Bridge, who were on an 11 game unbeaten run in the league. Off the pitch, the move to go back home to Darlington gathers pace with a ground share at the Darlington Rugby Club on the cards for next season. They don’t look like catching Curzon Ashton for the title but they will be in the playoffs and it all looks rosy for Darlington from here on out.
Prediction: Play-off promotion, back in Darlington for next season pushing near the 1800 attendance mark or more.
Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4
Same league as Darlo and in a similar position with far lower attendances, they occupy a play off spot with teams below them having games in hand. Can’t wait to find out what they are putting in the water up their after a miracle run. I fancy them to make the playoffs but they can count themselves unlucky to have had such a good year when to go up they will almost certainly have to beat Darlo, who have beaten them twice this season. Still, playoffs represent a huge achievement if they get them and then you always have a chance…
Prescot Cables- Evostik Div One North- Step 4
Prescot Cables are in the same league as the two above but a very different story. The club is in a relegation fight to stay up just two places above the relegation spots. Getting back up from the league below is notoriously hard so they will be doing everything they can to ensure they don’t drop through the trap door.
Still, it’s in their hands and they know that whatever happens this season they will have their club’s ground, history and heritage preserved for many years to come, which is more than can be said for most.
Prediction: Staying up (Just)
Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One South- Step 4
If there is one club which may make me fail my fan owned journey, it’s this one. Since being formed in 2007 after the old club went bust, they have played at Bridlington FC meaning a 34 mile round trip for the dedicated fans of Scarborough.
However, plans are in place for a sports village back in Scarborough being built by the council. Seeing what I can snoop up, a return to Scarborough could be a while away yet but it is certainly on track. When they do return they will, like Darlo and Rushden & Diamonds, see a boost to their attendances and I wouldn’t bet against them being back in the Conference before too long.
With the best named Manager of all time in Rudy Funk, the club managed to get out of Step 5 last season and are one league below FC United, this season lying one place outside the playoffs with games in hand. So I fancy them to be in the playoffs come the end of the season. It would be a very good day for both Darlington and Scarborough if they both meet up next year in the league above, to see what both have achieved.
Prediction: Playoff Promotion. Back in Scarborough by 2015-16 at the latest.
Merthyr Town- Calor League South and West – Step 4
The Martyrs, since going bust 2010 had a phoenix club rise and have enjoyed great success with only one real heartbreak. They have been promoted in their last two of the three seasons, with last year being a playoff final defeat against Hungerford Town.
Off the pitch, they had a shiny new 3G pitch put in at Penydarren Park and with the revenue streams coming in from that plus less games being lost to the weather; they look in the perfect place to ensure a strong sustainable football club for their area.
This season, a great run of form followed by a recent wobble seems them in the play-off places. They are in the hunt for the title and the playoffs will be the minimum this season so hopefully they will go one better.
FC United- EvoStik Prem – Step 3
Well what do you say about FC United? Having just had a pint with their Manager Karl Marginson at Salford City FC, nothing bad is the answer. On the pitch they have become a bridesmaid of the playoffs, having been beaten playoff finalists by a single goal in their last three seasons.
Off the field, the club will not compromise on its principles to cheat their way up the league but are determined to have sustainable success and do it the right way. The clubs fantastic community work has been rewarded with planning permission and work starting on a ground of their own in Manchester at Moston.
It will mean that the club will be free of high rents at Bury FC, able to keep all the money spent on food and drinks in the ground and by not being miles away from Manchester, will lead to an increase in attendances and it will be an injection of energy for a club stuck in the Evo-Stik Prem for the last 6 seasons.
You have to think it will be either this year or next that they will go up. Karl won’t like me saying it but I can’t see them catching Chorley for the title, so it will be forth time lucky in the playoffs and this will be the one… surely.
Prediction: Promotion with a playoff final win. Opening the new ground in the Conference North.
Lewes FC- Ryman Prem – Step 3
Lewes can count themselves unlucky to have such a good year when the league is so strong at the top with Dulwich Hamlet, Wealdstone and of course Maidstone United all boasting big attendances and in the case of Maidstone, a 3G facility which further boosts income streams.
Still, they looked good when I watched them and have just got to a break even situation after previous mismanagement. A strong top half finish represents a massive improvement on last year’s woeful campaign and as the club starts to generate a profit the club is only going one way in the future, up.
Prediction: Top 10, good bet for next season for the playoffs.
Hendon- Ryman Prem- Step 3
The club with the toughest circumstances of any club I will visit this season, everyone involved deserves huge credit for battling on. With no signs of any support from the council or even councillors who represent Hendon, they find themselves in a very hard place.
An FA Trophy run which ended disappointingly in the First Round at home to Whitstable, it still (to my knowledge) has given them enough in the kitty to be around in this league for at least another season. Without help from a council or outside body, it remains to be seen how long Chairman Simon Lawrence and co can hold back the rising tide.
Still, on the pitch they have done remarkably well in the league sitting one place behind Lewes and can spend the rest of the season looking up, not down, at the table. Then next season, another cup run will be needed.
Prediction: Mid-table before next seasons FA Cup game away at Man United followed by Barnet Council actually getting off their arse to help the club.
Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3
The first ever fan owned club on these shores (of the modern kind) have not had the best of it recently. A terrible season led to the removal of Steve Newing to be replaced by George Borg, who at a recent game ended up with both being involved in a slanging match.
This season, I can’t see them getting out of the relegation places on what I saw and they haven’t picked up too many points since the switch. They lie nine points from safety without a win in a very long time.
Still, they have a secure future with the stadium and a line of youth teams and development teams playing, attendances are holding up remarkably well averaging 370 a game despite the performances and debt incurred in getting the stadium is gradually being cleared. I fancy them to come straight back up and be in a stronger position for it.
Prediction: Relegation this season, followed by some soul searching on and off the field. Promotion the next.
Dorchester- Conference South- Step 2
So not fan owned but moving towards it with the Trust playing a big role in the running of the club. Having had their highest finish last season, it was inevitable that there was always going to be a bit of stick heading the trusts way when they had to cut their cloth. Unlike many other fan owned clubs, they didn’t start from the bottom and instead had to struggle in the same league.
Off the pitch, they have now stabilised after more budget cuts and can approach next season, whichever division they are in, as a fresh start and get an air of positivity around the club. This year they are six points from safety and (heresy) perhaps going down wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Prediction: Relegation and a fresh start next season with their off field finances sorted.
AFC Telford- Conference North- Step 2
Despite a slowish start to the season Telford, under Liam Watson who dropped down from Manager of Southport (an encouraging sign), are beating all comers. Off the pitch, the club is run by fantastic people and is in a great position plus recently hosted Women’s International football to much praise from all involved.
10 points from the last four games having played Boston, Brackley and handed out a football lesson to Hednesford in how to be successful (got a point away and won at home) and they are now the team to beat.
Still the league is incredibly tough with Boston, Altringham as well as Hednesford all with big followings and 6 points separate the top six. Remember, this is the division that Stockport County find themselves in and they will be lucky to finish mid-table. Telford will be in the playoffs minimum and I will stick my neck out to say: If they go up to the Conference Prem this season, they will stay up.
Prediction: Play Offs minimum. I will owe Liam Watson an apology pint for the review I gave them earlier in the season if they go up.
Chester FC- Conference Prem- Step 1
Since I’ve been to see Chester, they have been battling tooth and nail at the bottom of the Conference Prem and the gulf between Step 2 and 1 has been revealed. After some shenanigans which I can’t comment on, they lost a bit of money not related to the clubs management and will post a financial loss but are in good financial health.
They are ahead of schedule in getting back to the Conference Prem before they had planned with three promotions in a row, an amazing achievement. They have a right to feel aggrieved, as they run the club prudently clubs higher than them in the Conference (Hereford, Macclesfield and others) are financially in the shit. Chester fans have to take the long term view of this and if they do go down, the club will still be in a very strong position.
I’ve made it sound like I think they will go down when in truth I think they have every chance of staying up. They have a lot of away games against those around them in the table with a home game against Wrexham on the 19th April which could be a season defining game. If Neil Young manages to keep them up then he deserves a statue to go along with those three medals he already has. Whatever happens, I bet if you told Chester fans in 2010 that they would be back in the Conference and beating Wrexham at the Racecourse ground, they would have bitten your bloody hand off.
Prediction: Survival and another pitch invasion.
Wrexham- Conference Prem- Step 1
Poor Andy Morrell, one game away from a double Wembley success in a single season and hero status as the man who took Wrexham back to the Football League, he now faces lifting his players for a season which is all but over.
Too much inconsistency combined with some painful results (lost to Chester at home and drew against Hyde). They look like being safe but they could get dragged into a relegation battle if they are not careful.
Still, look at Northampton who lost their playoff final last season, Leeds a couple of years ago who lost a playoff final then relegated the year after and this play-off blues is not just a Wrexham problem.
Off the pitch, two years of fan ownership has seen the club debt free and the FA Trophy win by Andy Morrell was a big part of that. The club celebrate its 150th year this year and considering how they might not of existed this is a huge achievement.
So, this season is a chance to bleed some new players and make the 2014 season one where the club has a clean slate. Plus, they could end up sending Chester down, at Chester, which may soothe the pain of this season.
Prediction: Mid table and go again next year.
We move away from non-league now to the four fan owned football league teams. I have to admit, I have been delaying visiting these because I thought that they might find themselves in playoff games or games for promotion. If I had been cynical, I should have gone to these first to build a bigger readership but meh.
AFC Wimbledon – League 2
So probably the most famous of fan owned teams with a fairy-tale story to match. 5 promotions in twelve seasons, with the most special days being a play off final victory against Luton in the 2010-11 season to see them back in the Football League. The fans saw justice done masterminded by the legend that is Terry Brown (now back in Management at Margate).
Last season, the club stayed up on the last day with a win against Fleetwood which has a lot to do with me taking up this project this season after I went to watch. After the game, Neal Ardley got the plaudits he deserved for keeping them up.
Off the pitch, the difficultly of being in London is once again shown with the club ten years away from being back in Wimbledon according to their Chief Executive Erik Samuelson, with an application to turn Wimbledon Greyhound Track into their new ground.
What the demographics of Wimbledon itself look like, (as areas such as Enfield and Hendon will testify to) means for actually attracting fans is a question in itself but it is another step in a long road for the Dons.
Other moments of contention since reformation was of course the game against you know who at their home in the FA Cup, which led to much soul searching about the correct course of action by fans and a lot of ignorant media coverage by the tossers at Sky Sports about how this was somehow a great game to see.
This season, AFC Wimbledon started well and looked in the playoff hunt but with only 3 points from their last six games they are looking down rather than up. Another year at this level would be a great achievement for the club and the thing about League 2 and it’s four promotion spots, is that the playoffs at Wembley and League 1 is only one good season away.
Prediction: Mid-table safety, no last day drama here.
Portsmouth FC- League 2
Well it’s been an interesting season for Pompey already but not in a good way. They have sacked Guy Whittingham after a very poor start to the season. I’ve heard off some ‘sources’ they gave him a playoff budget and he struggled to keep them mid-table. Surely after the collapse in recent times mid-table should have been the aim and it certainly is now.
The club is still having to fork out millions to ex-players which will take till May 2016 to clear, with many small businesses receiving a fraction of what they were owed so millionaires like David James and Kanu can still pick up money.
That is a just part of the debt they need to clear so Pompey fans need to be patient and realise that now having finally got ownership of the club, securing it’s financial future is the most important thing.
Eventually, the club will rise up the pyramid but a relegation this year would be a massive hammer blow and make no mistake, they are in a relegation dogfight. If they lost the Football League money as well, it may get even tougher.
So, survival is the aim of the game and I do fancy them to stay up partly because all else is unimaginable.
Exeter City FC- League 2
The club which has the accolade of being the highest placed fan owned club in Britain whilst they were in League 1 for a spell. Since taking over in 2003 they can consider themselves rightly proud of their achievements with promotion from the Conference achieved in a playoff final in 2008 at Wembley in front of over 40,000 people.
The season after they went up again after finishing second in League 2 and enjoyed three seasons their until relegation in 2011-12 season. Last year they finished 10th just five points off the playoffs and long serving Manager stated that the club ‘had to look at its ownership model’ if they want success.
Ignoring the fact others clubs around them are in debt left, right and centre and all lower league clubs are going to have to cut there cloth, Exeter City started strongly this season but have fallen off the pace in 13th, six points off the playoffs.
Too strong to go down and perhaps not enough firepower to get in the playoffs but the last 10 years of fan ownership have been a roaring success and long may it continue.
Prediction: Mid table, looking up rather than down.
Wycombe Wanderers – League 2
In June 2012, the fans took over at Wycombe and appear to have given the club stability and security as an established League 2 club. I don’t know what to say much really about Wycombe apart from they are doing a solid job this season after Gareth Ainsworth steadied the ship to finish mid table last season.
They are five points off the relegation places but with two games in hand and if they win one of those they are as close to the playoffs as they are to relegation, so I think another mid-table season beckons for Wycombe as Gareth Ainsworth has his first full season in charge to put under his belt and look to next season.
Prediction: Mid Table consistency.
So that’s it. Except of course it isn’t, with the mighty Barry Town and Monmouth both fan owned and both doing well in the League of Wales. Barry Town is a wonderful story of fan heroics and they will get their own piece soon, as will Monmouth.
If I have missed anyone out let me know. I am going off Supporters Direct plus others that I definitely know are fan owned, like Barry.
Plus, they can look forward to being including in the Fan Owned round up of Scottish and Northern Irish clubs which will get done at some point, so you haven’t been forgotten Dunfermline fans or Gretna, or … and on it goes.
All I will say for now is that I wish all fan owned clubs all the best for the rest of the season. I hope some of you prove me right, some of you prove me wrong and I look forward to some wonderful games for the rest of the season.
In fan ownership we trust, amen.
If you want to tell me where I have got it right or wrong, or just call me a bellend you can do so on Twitter @eddyman00