By Mike Garnett

Reproduced by kind permission of the author from the Robins' Review, 3 August 2019.

Part One

“Forty years on, when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today”

So starts the old Harrow School song. In terms of the football world, it is now forty years since the inception of the first national league competition in England outside the Football League itself, and perhaps it is time that those readers under the age of 50 were given some background on what is now the National League.

The purpose of this short series of pieces is to set the new competition in context, both in socio-political and sporting terms, to examine its genesis, to give some picture of where this football ground and club was in terms of its development, to look at where the founder member clubs now are and by contrast where the current members of the equivalent division then were on the football ladder.

To begin, then, with a little social and political background. I well recall from my A-Level English History studies the observation by a leading historian of the Tudor period that in 1553 England undertook “the experiment of a woman ruler.” The same phrase might well have been used in 1979 as a certain Margaret Hilda Thatcher (nee Roberts) became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I make no other comment, as to do so would be to enter shark-infested waters, and for the same reason I merely note that the U.K. had been a member of the European Economic Community since January 1973 and two years later a referendum had resulted in a two-thirds majority in favour of remaining in that organisation.

The world of education was changing. The boys’ grammar school in Sandbach which employed me at the time was about to accept its first comprehensive intake – though where Cheshire County Council went the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford, in distant Greater Manchester, was not at that point in time keen to follow.

Economically times were not easy. The oil price explosion of a few years before had led to vast degrees of inflation – we were still very much in the era of the student grant rather than the modern loan, and the best way I can illustrate the speed of inflation in the 1970s is to contrast my grant for 1972-3, my first year at University (£445), with my final term’s grant for Summer 1976 (also £445). It was only eight years since Britain had gone decimal in currency terms, but by now LSD for a substantial part of the population meant a hallucinatory drug rather than a monetary system.

Looking further afield, a former peanut farmer by the name of Jimmy Carter was the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC; Leonid Brezhnev was installed in the Kremlin in Moscow and the well-known author of a slim red volume of thoughts from Beijing (then generally known as Peking) had died only a couple of years before.

The powers in the footballing land included European Cup-holders Nottingham Forest, League champions Liverpool and FA Cup-holders Arsenal. A couple of clubs from Glasgow (one clad in blue and the other in green and white) divided the Scottish trophies between themselves, Leeds and Widnes were top dogs in Rugby League and the West Indies had retained the World Cup in cricket. Such was the world into which the new elite competition for teams outside the Football League was born. How it came into being and where its members came from will be the subject of the next piece in this series.