With another season behind us, we look back at how the season has gone for our ever-growing list of fan owned football clubs in the English Pyramid.
The list of achievements for fan owned football clubs this season means I picked the very worst six months to go abroad and as a result, missed out on the almost weekly promotions for fan owned clubs. So, we can be sure next season there will be a ton of relegations for me to enjoy instead. MK Dons may have been promoted but there is plenty to celebrate in the English pyramid.
Some people have serious meaningful relationships but not I, dear reader; it’s because of that I can bring you another round up of the entire fan owned clubs in the Non – League. I must also point out that a few clubs who I was unaware had become fan owned will be included from next season onward, you lucky things.
Right then, off we go…
Hinckley AFC – Midland Football League Division 1 – Step 6
Pre-season prediction: Top 3
Well they left it late, but Hinckley got me off to a good start from my preseason predictions. Two wins from their first 10 league games and a first qualifying round defeat in the FA Vase. However, since then they went 26 games undefeated in the league and pinched third place on goal difference on the final day, with a 5-1 victory in front of roughly 250 people. At Step 6 and ground sharing, it shows Hinckley AFC have a long term positive future.
Sadly, with league re-organisation only one team went up from this division this season but Hinckley will be in a strong place to challenge next season and you would expect them to be in the top 2 and heading for promotion.
Result: Top 3, FA Cup entry next season
AFC Croydon Athletic – Combined Counties Division 1- Step 6
Pre-season prediction: Promotion
AFC Croydon Athletic did what they had to do this season. The club moved back to Thornton Heath (the old clubs home) and with 21 wins from 30 games, they should be confident of surviving next season at Step 5. They also had a London Senior Trophy win to their name, to go with a trophy from their first season so it is all positive for AFC Croydon Athletic. The challenge now will be to stabilize and then try to get out of the nightmare that is Step 5.
Saffron Walden Town FC – Eastern Counties Football League Division 1- Step 6
Pre-season Prediction: Promotion
Talk about leaving it late. Saffron looked like they had missed out on promotion but a final day draw against Great Yarmouth Town in front of 762 people saw them wrap up the final promotion spot in third place. They have decent infrastructure in place and a good crowd for Step 5, so they should be more than capable of holding their own next season.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds- United Counties League Premier- Step 5
Pre- season Prediction: Top 3
I didn’t want to stick my neck out here with Step 5 always being a league where a moneyed team playing in front of one man and his dog can come and snatch it away. However, this year there was no one who could live with the Diamonds after the challenge of Holbeach United fell away. The Diamonds wrapped up a League & Cup double as they bid farewell to the nightmare of Step 5 and enter the Southern League Central.
With local rivals Kettering winning the league that the Diamonds are about to enter, the league has opened up for them. Averaging 550 fans despite ground-sharing with Wellingborough, the long term aim remains a home of their own in Rushden but they can look forward to making a push for the top half of the table and continue their progress both on and off the field.
Fisher FC- Southern Counties East League- Step 5
Pre- season Prediction: Lower Half
So the Fish have done what they had to do really. A season in which survival was assured means that they will begin life at their brand new 3G facility back in Bermondsey, after ground-sharing since their unlikely resurrection. At a time when clubs across London are naturally going to be put under pressure by property developers, it is a great achievement that Fisher has secured their future.
So a solid 16th, job done and now Fisher can start to think about moving up the streams of non-league football. Hats off to all at Fisher for a wonderful job so far, the rewards aren’t that far away.
Result: Lower Half
Newport (Isle of Wight) FC – Wessex League Prem – Step 5
Pre- season Prediction: Top 3
So, a season of transition for The Port with a new Chairman and Manager being appointed in April and a season where they have finished far off the pace in 7th , 31 points behind the eventual winners. With the latest incarnation of the constantly self-bankrupting Salisbury City likely to enter at Step 5 it is hard to see any other winner of the league next season.
As a result, it will be a time for Port fans to ask themselves what the long term aim of the club is and start to put the building blocks in place for it over the coming year.
AFC Liverpool- North West Counties Prem – Step 5
Pre-season Prediction: Mid Table
So another season over for a club whose original concept, to be against high ticket prices for Liverpool fans but not the owners of Liverpool (who set the prices), has consigned them to obscurity. As it turns out, people don’t like watching ‘B’ teams and you can’t see AFC Liverpool making any progress.
However, with Liverpool fans seemingly breaking out of their delusions and realizing there is as much chance of Liverpool getting into the top 4 or competing for the title as there is of Kylie Minogue showing up in gold hot pants to give me a lap dance, there is a chance for AFC Liverpool to drop the “why can’t we be friends?” nonsense and be a real alternative.
If not, I suspect that AFC Liverpool will remain as they are now, going nowhere fast.
Result: Lower Top Half
1874 Northwich – North West Counties Prem – Step 5:
Pre- season Prediction: Top 5
A season that really could not have gone any better for 1874, who now have back to back Top 3 finishes in their first two seasons as a Football Club. Finishing six points between 2nd and 4th with attendances stable at over 300, the future looks good for 1874 Northwich.
There are challenges, with the Zombie Vics returning to the local area after agreeing a ground-share with Witton Albion has probably closed off a way back for 1874 to Northwich in the short term. I do not suspect fans to drift away from 1874 back to the Zombie Vics, whose ownership had abused the fan base for too long to be given another chance now.
Also, with Witton Albion relegated to Step 4 and the old Vics missing out on promotion (thanks to fan owned Bamber Bridge) it means there is just one league between all three teams and that should be good enough motivation for 1874 to push on and fight it out for promotion against the most unlucky fan owned team at Step 5 in football…
Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5
Pre-season Prediction: Top 2
You have to feel sorry for Runcorn Linnets who have been the bridesmaid and not the bride over the last two seasons, with consecutive runners up spots. 187 points and only nine defeats in their last 82 league games has still not been enough to break out of the nightmare of Step 5.
The club could easily manage at Step 4 and probably Step 3, with great infrastructure in place and an attendance in the high 300’s but they seem to always come up against a team where someone will throw money at them like it’s going out of fashion.
However, fingers crossed next season will see no crazy money man and it will be a straight fight between them and 1874 Northwich. The last two years have been a painful experience but Joey Dunn will pick them up and it should be third time lucky for the Linnets.
Merthyr Town- Calor League South and West – Step 4
Pre-season Prediction: Promotion
After last season and what can only be described as choking, the Martyrs made no mistakes this time, romping home as Champions with 102 points and 122 goals scored this season. The title and promotion was ensured with a 9-0 home win, in front of 1,500 people on the 3G pitch the fans built, which just shows the potential of this club.
The main aim completed, Merthyr may be disappointed with their lack of progress in the cups but the real aim this season was the league. The club is now back at the level the old club went bust at and with booming attendances combined with great infrastructure it shows that the fans are clearly more capable then any private owner in bringing success to their club.
Next season, they will have a play-off level average crowd, one of the best facilities in the league and a catchment area with no competition. Don’t be surprised if the Martyrs are mixing it in the playoffs this time next season.
Prescot Cables- Evo-Stik Div One North- Step 4
Pre-season Prediction: Survival
We turn our attention now to Step 4 and a League whose quality and financial backing made it as competitive as the leagues above. We start with the perennial strugglers and survival experts Prescot Cables. Yet again, they took up their customary position of third from bottom to secure survival.
They seem to be in a situation where they can’t move forward or step up so I hope there is someone at the club is able to formulate a plan that will allow them to compete at the right end of the table in future seasons but for now, it is job done.
Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One North- Step 4
Prediction: Top Half
Another former Football League team trying to find a way back up the pyramid under tough circumstances, this was a great season which any other year would’ve secured a playoff place. As it turned out, Boro missed out on a playoff place by just two points to Spennymoor Town.
Off the field, return to Scarborough remains a tortuous journey but there is progress and if the club can continue to perform on the field then it should keep enthusiasm up until they can get back to Boro. They had the 3rd highest attendance despite ground-sharing miles away in Bridlington and with Darlo getting promoted, it will now be the second largest.
So a solid season after being transferred from the Division One South, the playoffs will be the aim next season and that looks a very likely prospect.
Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4
Pre-season Prediction: Top Half
After last season, I thought Bamber would struggle. Not because they lack quality but just because of the sheer amount of competition from ex-Football League teams, bankrolled teams like Salford and Spennymoor Town, who could support Conference North football in the future.
This makes another play-off final a fantastic achievement and they did the whole of British football a favour by ensuring Northwich Victoria would not be going up via the play-offs. However, two back to back playoff final defeats is going to sting and a lot of energy will be required to lift themselves for next season.
Still, with moneybags Salford and Darlington buggering off they should be confident of making a challenge for the title next season and the experience of this year should only drive them in the season to come.
Result: Play- Off finalists
Darlington FC- Evostik Div One North – Step 4
Pre- season Prediction: Play-offs
They did it the hard way but they won’t care a bit. The rise of Darlington continues at a relentless level after their play-off final victory against fellow fan owned club Bamber Bridge, making it two promotions in three seasons and never having finished outside the top two places since the fans took them over.
It gets even better as the club will be back in Darlo for next season. The club were already averaging over 1,000 a game playing in Bishop Auckland (which is a total bloody nightmare to get to), which would’ve made them the biggest team at Step 3 anyway.
Now, they will be pushing 2,000 fans a game with an easily accessible facility and will attract the cream of non-league footballers in the north of England. A great season comes to an end for Darlo and there is a good chance that not even the Manchester United ‘b’ team will be able to live with them next season.
Result: Promoted via Play-offs
FC United- Evo- Stik Premier- Step 3
Pre- season Prediction: Promotion… or else
Get in. Get in. Get in. Get. In.
They have done it, after years of anguish and torture of play-off final defeats or Championship near misses, this band of rebels has finally got their reward for years of perseverance. No play-offs this time around and a league title well deserved for a truly unique club.
Karl Marginson deserves a hell of a lot of credit for playing the “let’s see how far we can be behind at Christmas before we p*ss this tinpot league” game one last time. You could’ve got them at 8/1 before the start of the New Year when they were miles behind in points and games but they got it done, with a game to spare.
Not to forget their exploits in the FA Trophy, marching all the way to a narrow Quarter Final defeat to Torquay United after beating moneybags Fylde and Chorley, both teams who have denied FC United promotion in seasons past.
The club should also be given credit for sticking with Karl when many others clubs would’ve dumped the manager but this isn’t just another club. In many ways, their trajectory is the same of Darlington’s but just one league ahead. FC United will finally have a home to call their own come the start of next season and having already been averaging 2,000 plus at Step 3 as nomads, who would bet against a 3,000 average attendance in the Conference North?
FC United fans should feel proud as punch over what they have achieved and back to back promotions are not out of the question. Ten years ago, Stockport County was in League 2 and FC United were starting their first season in the North West Counties Div Two. Next season, they will contest two games in what will probably be one of the most passionate local derbies in Non-League football.
Many fan owned clubs could be aggrieved that FC United pinch a lot more limelight then is fair and you’d think from mainstream media that fan ownership began with FC United, having replaced AFC Wimbledon as the media darlings. However, this season and on their 10 year anniversary, it is 100% deserved.
Lewes FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3
Pre-season Prediction: Top Half
Just what the bloody hell is wrong with Lewes FC? Off the pitch, they are a shining example of the best of fan ownership. The club has raised enough money for a 3G facility for use by the whole community and a revenue generator for the club, improvements are building made to the Dripping Pan without damaging this gem of a non-league ground. They even have cool match day posters and lovely little beach huts to watch the game from for God’s sake. Stuart Fuller must be pulling his hair out about why it just won’t click on the pitch.
This season, the club yet again just managed to stay up by five points and only two spots above relegation. They have a new manager in place after Garry Wilson fell on his sword in February and Steve Brown coming in to steady the ship.
With disaster averted, the owners of Lewes have a right to demand a performance on the pitch next season which reflects the work off it. Now that Maidstone United and moneybags Margate have gone up, Lewes have the second highest attendance in the league to Dulwich and unlike Dulwich, have long term ground security.
A top half finish next season should be the minimum requirement and realistically it’s about bloody time Lewes fulfilled its potential and were challenging for the playoffs. Credit should also go to Lewes for their solidarity campaign with are next team…
Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3
Prediction: Lower- Mid Table
A fantastic season has a horrible ending for Enfield. I have no desire to go through the whole issue again but a 3 point deduction which delayed the Ryman Play-offs, thanks to FA incompetence, also denied Enfield a playoff place by two points leading them to finish 7th.
Despite this, it was still a fantastic season for Enfield and hopefully the bitterness will not obscure the fact that this is the highest finish in the short history of Enfield Town. It is the first season you can say they have start to live up to their potential and like Lewes, they now command a play-off level attendance.
If the club can use the injustice of this season to spur them on next season, there is no reason why they can’t be in the playoffs with enough points to spare that the FA can’t take it away from them.
Hendon FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3
Pre-season Prediction: Mid Table
A fantastic season had a bittersweet end for a club who deserve success more than anyone but it just wasn’t to be. A playoff final defeat to pre-season favorites for promotion Margate is nothing to be ashamed of but to be so close and yet so far has to hurt.
Still, two cup wins, 2nd place in an incredibly tough league and 25 games unbeaten before that defeat to Margate remains a great achievement. The task now will be to hold onto a Manager in Gary McCann (probably one of the most underrated managers in the non-league scene) and if they can manage that, they have a good chance at the playoffs next season.
The most important events are happening away from the pitch with a return to Hendon at Silver Jubilee Park not so far away and the club has already played their first competitive match back in Hendon this season. They are being delayed in moving in properly as they are still waiting for planning permission but the sooner they get home the better. Considering how less than two seasons ago it could’ve been curtains for Hendon, the fact that I can even talk about Hendon returning to their local area is a testament to the work of everyone at Hendon for persevering and not giving up.
Result: Play-Off Finalists
Dorchester- Calor Southern Prem – Step 3
Pre-season Prediction: Survival
Well after a nightmare start and some serious worries that the club would face back to back relegations, the tide has turned with survival ensured with 13 points to spare. Club legend Mark Jermyn was appointed as Manager in January and has seen an upturn in results with the last six games of the season seeing Dorchester have play off form.
Plus, with Poole Town and Weymouth both choking their promising Title and play-off positions respectively the Dorch have two local derbies to still look forward to and will also be joined by fellow fan owned club Merthyr Town. The Board has had a tough job in shedding the debt and moving to a community benefit society but the worst of it is now out of the way.
Next season, the club should fancy its chances of competing at the top half of the table and if they can take the momentum from the end of this season into the next, a run at the playoffs is not out of the question.
Result: Lower Half
AFC Telford United- Conference Prem- Step 1
Pre-season Prediction: Survival
If there was one prediction I got badly wrong, it was this one. I assured you all Liam Watson teams would be tough and don’t get walked over but in truth, they were down by Christmas. A new man in Steve Kittrick came in just before the new year and although Telford have good recent form and only finished 6 points off survival, the good results only came when relegation had been confirmed.
A bright spot was an FA Cup run coming to an end against Bristol City in the 2nd round but questions move to the task now of returning to the Conference at the first time of asking. With FC United in the league, moneybags AFC Fylde staying down and Stockport County appointing ex Chester Manager Neil Young, it is going to be a hell of a lot harder than it was two seasons ago but their average attendance of 1,500 puts them in the playoff mix.
In many ways AFC Telford United are becoming the old West Brom of Non-League football, bouncing between the two divisions and as much as it may hurt when you go down, play-off final wins and titles are a hell of a lot more interesting then finishing 12th every season.
Chester FC- Conference Prem- Step 1
Pre-season Prediction: Mid-Table
Another season of year on year progress for Chester is complete and a solid mid-table finish after survival was assured through the AGM Cup last season. A solid 12th place, combined with a tidy run in the FA Cup to the 2nd Round and there is a lot to be proud of.
However, they now have to ask the question: Where do we go from here? 16 points off the playoffs and 18 off relegation, I do think that they will struggle to force their way into the playoff picture. Eastleigh and FGR will throw money at it again next season, Tranmere are replacing Bristol Rovers as the biggest team and Barrow, who have just come up from the Conference North, have a sugar daddy backing them so it will be just as tough next year to compete.
For now though, it is job done and if anyone can push Chester FC forward, it’ll be Steve Burr.
Wrexham FC- Conference Prem- Step 1
Pre- season Prediction: Top Half/ Play-Offs
In many ways, if Wrexham had won the FA Trophy this would have to be classified as a good season. A second FA Trophy and three trips to Wembley in three years, combined with resurgent form in the league leading to a top half finish plus a good FA Cup run to boot and you could’ve said that this was a solid season of transition as Wrexham get ready to challenge next time around.
As it turned out, Wrexham had a shock loss in the FA Trophy final to North Ferriby United (whose money man stated they would pull the plug just after) which cost Kevin Wilkin his job. Since he left, results took a dramatic upturn in the league but it was all too late by then.
Next season, Gary Mills (who has previously got York City a promotion and FA Trophy double) will be in charge after leaving Gateshead, which has gone down well with Wrexham fans and has put optimism back into the club. He has clearly been brought in to get the club into the playoffs and if he can get Wrexham off to good start, crowds could swell again at the Racecourse Ground.
Result: Top Half
Right, that is your lot for now.
We will be back after Wycombe have their play-off final game on Saturday for a review of the four Football League teams that are in fan ownership. Fingers crossed we can have one more promotion to wrap up this season.