Vanarama column April 11 – National League North
Vanarama column - the National League North
By Glenn Moore
Size is always relative: by the standards of non-league football the Vanarama National League North is the graveyard of giants. It is a curiosity that while Vanarama National League South does not contain a single club that has previously played in the Football League the northern section has eight (albeit some have reformed after the original club went bankrupt).
There are many reasons for this disparity, and to an extent it is just a snapshot in time, but the gradual southwards economic shift of the English economy is clearly a factor. There are many upwardly mobile clubs in the south. The likes of Crawley and AFC Wimbledon have climbed into the Football League in recent years, Eastleigh and Ebbsfleet are pushing to join them. Often it is northern clubs that have made way.
Even taking into account that Boston United and Kidderminster Harriers only had four seasons apiece in the Football League in the early years of this century, and Gainsborough Trinity last played League football in 1912, that leaves five once well-established Football League clubs now in the sixth tier of the game.
Of that quintet York City, the FA Trophy holders and a Football League club only two years ago, and Stockport County, a Championship-level club as recently as 2002, look best-placed to secure a spot in the play-offs. Southport, now managed by former Bolton and England striker Kevin Davies, Bradford Park Avenue and Darlington are hoping to join them, but will each need a strong finish. None will win automatic promotion, that seems certain to be claimed by either Salford City, the club bankrolled by the Lancastrian heart of Alex Ferguson’s golden generation, or Harrogate Town, who went full-time at the start of the season.
In a tier in which attendances can dip below 200, and more than half the clubs in the northern section, and all those in the southern, average crowds of less than 1,000, Stockport and York are giants. Only four Vanarama National League clubs have averaged more than their gates, approaching 3,500 for County, in excess of 2,500 for York. For County this support is especially impressive given this is their fourth season in the sixth tier and they have been sitting in mid-table for most of it.
However, the support and facilities at Edgeley Park can inspire opponents too. “Players do like to come to our place and play in front of 3,000-4,000 fans, but they also come here with a mentality to defend and not concede and that makes it difficult for us,” said manager Jim Gannon earlier this season. County are also part-time, in a league with an increasing number of full-time clubs, including the top two.
York City are full-time, but may not be for much longer. A dispute between owner Jason McGill and the supporters trust ahead of a move to a new stadium in 2019 has clouded matters, with speculation the club may go part-time. That increases the need to go up this May. Jon Parkin, now 36 and the scorer of more than 200 career goals, including 141 in the Football League, is spearheading the Minstermen’s promotion push but with FA Trophy finalists Brackley Town all-but tying up third the chase for the remaining four play-off places is tight.
For more on the Vanarama National League North visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/
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