FORTY YEARS ON
By Mike Garnett
Reproduced by kind permission of the author from the Robins' Review, 7 September 2019.
Looking at the National League in 2019, it is apparent that it has changed radically from the original 1979 set-up. The geographical axis of the league has moved significantly south and east, which reflects demographics as much as anything else. Most of the clubs are full-time; many of them are former members of the Football League with ambitions to return to that particular fold.
To find clubs of a similar standing and constitution to those founder members of forty years ago one is more likely to have to look at the National North or South, the extensions which were established some 15 years ago, but even at Level Six in the overall pecking order many clubs adopt, or aspire to full-time status. Whether this is appropriate at this level is not my theme, however some may debate it; it is a fact of current life and must be accepted as such. It is appropriate, though, to conclude this look back over forty years to the dawn of the National League by examining where the current denizens of Division Five were in 1979.
In 25% of the cases, the answer is simple – nowhere. AFC Fylde were formed as Kirkham & Wesham in 1988; Aldershot Town rose from the ashes of the defunct Aldershot FC in the 1990s; Dagenham & Redbridge emerged from the complicated soup of East London football in 1992; the present Dover club was created in 1983, FC Halifax Town in 2008 and Solihull Moors were the result of a merger between Solihull Borough and Moor Green in 2007.
A further quarter of the current membership were Football League clubs in 1979 – Notts County and Wrexham in the Second Division, Chesterfield in the Third and Hartlepool, Stockport and Torquay in the Fourth.
As detailed in a previous piece, Barnet, Barrow, Ebbsfleet and Yeovil were all founder members of the National League and are in that sense back where they started, though their journeys have been fraught with interest! Of the rest the Isthmian League was home to another swathe – Bromley, Sutton and Woking in its Premier Division and Boreham Wood and Maidenhead in its First. Chorley were competing in the Cheshire County League First Division, Eastleigh in the Hampshire League First Division and Harrogate Town in the Third Division of the Yorkshire League.
That the National League, in all its various guises, has changed the face of the game outside the Football League is undeniable. Whether change equates to progress is arguable; whether the model so many of its members adopt is truly economically viable only time will tell. In forty years from now much will have changed – and this writer for one is well aware that he won’t see the outcome of that. Let us hope that the challenge accepted by the founding members in 1979 is still responded to positively well into the future".