Vanarama National League – a new column



Each week the FWA will round up events in the Vanarama National League in association with our sponsor Vanarama. Glenn Moore, former football editor of the Independent and FWA committee member, explains...

It is said the league table cannot be trusted until ten games have been played. Until then it a phoney war, shadow boxing, foreplay – whichever cliche takes your fancy. The Vanarama National League has now played a dozen matches, more than a quarter of the programme. It should have settled down by now with a picture of who will be contending for the title – and with it automatic promotion, and who will be pushing for the play-offs.

Well… that hasn’t quite happened. As of this morning Maidstone United are three points behind Sutton United. The Stones are not exactly on the leaders’ heels – they are back in ninth. Leyton Orient, in 13th, are three points off the play-offs. It is tighter than a Wrexham defence that has conceded six goals in 12 games. The gap from 1st to 18th-place Tranmere Rovers is nine points, easily bridgeable for last season’s runners-up.

The Championship is usually quoted as the most interesting competition. Big clubs like Aston Villa who have fallen on hard times, sleeping giants such as Leeds United waking from their slumber, upstarts Burton Albion, bloodying noses. And plenty of unpredictable results. But, after just nine matches, the leaders are already seven points clear of ninth and 11 ahead of 18th.

The Vanarama National League also has bruised egos – half the competition are ex-Football League clubs with Leyton Orient on the cusp of the Championship three years ago. There are clubs with a long-established non-League pedigree, such as Woking and Sutton. And there are the nouveau riche, keen to hurry through the leagues, like Eastleigh and Fylde.

There is plenty of vibrant life, and vivid backstories, in the regional divisions too. In Vanarama North on Saturday Harrogate Town drew a staggering 2,800 to the Bettys Tea Rooms derby with York City. Town’s win kept them ahead, on goal difference, of Salford City – famous now for their association with former Manchester United players Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt. York, who once conquered Don Howe’s Arsenal, lie seventh having finally halted a horrible slide. Close behind lie several others trying to clamber back to the full-time game including Stockport County and Darlington.

While there are 11 fallen Football League clubs in Vanarama North none are in Vanarama South. Instead there is a cluster of upwardly mobile ones such as current leaders Truro City, the highest-placed Cornish club in the football pyramid, and East Thurrock United, less than 50 years old, an Essex League club 25 years ago, and in only their second season at this level.

It is a competition full of stories, often only told when the FA Cup juggernaut rolls around and the media descend on the plucky part-timers looking for butchers and bakers. Increasingly they find instead full-time pros, especially in the Vanarama National League, but they still have stories to tell, often of rejection from a Premier League academy, a tumble down the divisions, and a quiet determination to make their way back. Every week this new column will seek to tell the tales of a fascinating competition.

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