FORTY YEARS ON
By Mike Garnett
Reproduced by kind permission of the author from the Robins' Review, 31 August 2019.
In 1976, Kettering Town’s maverick player-manager, the former Northern Irish international Derek Dougan, negotiated a shirt sponsorship deal with a local tyre company. This did not go down well with the authorities and KT (for Kettering Tyres) didn’t last long as an embellishment to their kit. It needs to be remembered that the Alliance Premier League came into being in a football world without sponsors, whether of teams, kit, stadia or players, largely bereft of agents, with one substitute named per side and players wearing shirts numbered strictly 1-12 (the last one being reserved for that single sub).
Even the Bob Lord Trophy, the new competition’s League Cup, was a personal donation by the legendary Burnley FC chairman rather than a commercial sponsorship. The age of innocence? Gola were the league’s first official sponsors in 1984 and I for one have pretty much lost count of name changes since then!
As mentioned in an earlier piece in this short series, the new league drew 13 of its members from the Southern League and the other seven from the NPL. The Isthmian League was at the time rather like the Northern League, a group of former amateur clubs in a restricted geographical area. The founder members of the APL, in alphabetical order, were Altrincham, A.P. Leamington (the nearest thing to a sponsored club in that A.P. stood for Automotive Products), Bangor City (giving the new league an international dimension), Barnet, Barrow, Bath City, Boston United, Gravesend and Northfleet, Kettering Town, Maidstone United, Northwich Victoria (apologies for foul language!), Nuneaton Borough, Redditch United, Scarborough, Stafford Rangers, Telford United, Wealdstone, Weymouth, Worcester City and Yeovil Town. Forty years on, where do these clubs now stand?
25% of the initial membership no longer exist – A.P. Leamington reformed later as Leamington F.C. and of course now play in the National League North; Maidstone fell to earth after a spell in the Football League, dragging Dartford down with them and their reincarnation now plies its trade in the National League South; the travails of Nuneaton are well enough known to us and the current club is now in the Southern League Central Division; Scarborough and Seamer Road are no more and the new Scarborough Athletic club is in the NPL Premier Division, and Telford, as we well know, followed a similar path to Leamington and are now known as AFC Telford United.
Barnet, Barrow and Yeovil are in the National League, as are Gravesend & Northfleet, who took on the name of Ebbsfleet United a while ago, from their local authority area. Altrincham, Bath, Boston, Kettering, Wealdstone and Weymouth all compete in either National North or South, which might be argued to be the nearest true equivalent to the original APL. Bangor are lost somewhere in the morass of North Wales football; the green slime are in the North-West Counties League Premier Division (the vindictive part of me says that’s about where they belong...), Redditch in the Southern League Central, Stafford in the NPL Premier and Worcester in the Midland League Premier Division. The final piece in this series will look at where the current National League member clubs were forty years ago.