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July 21, 2016

2016–17 [Non-League] National League (aka the Conference) [5th division England], map w/ 15/16-crowds-&-finish./+ features on the 4 promoted clubs (Solihull Moors, North Ferriby United, Sutton United, Maidstone United).

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2016–17 [Non-League] National League (aka the Conference) [5th division England], map w/ 15/16-crowds-&-finish




By Bill Turianski on 21 July 2016; twitter.com/billsportsmaps.

Links…
-2016–17 National League [England 5th division football] (en.wikipedia.org).
-5th division/National League page at BBC.com…bbc.com/sport/football/national-league.
-NATIONAL LEAGUE [Summary] (soccerway.com).
-Club colours…thenationalleague.org.uk/clubcolours.

2016-17 will be the second season of the re-branded 5th division in England (and Wales).
Since last season, rather than being called the Conference, the 5th division began being called the National League (groan). The 5th tier of the English football pyramid was instituted in 1979-80 as the Alliance Premier League, and in 1986-87 the 5th division (by then called the Conference), was first granted automatic promotion placement into the Football League. A second promotion-spot was granted for 2002-03 (4-team-play-off-winner). The league-winner last season [2015-16] was Cheltenham Town, while Grimsby Town defeated Forest Green Rovers to win the play-off final at Wembley.

So, just two teams go up to the Football League each season, yet 4 teams go down to the 6th level each season. That helps to further establish the dreaded 5th division Bottleneck, with the now-perpetual cycle of former-Football-League-teams finding themselves down on their luck and stuck in Non-League football. Currently, teams in that category are…Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham, Lincoln City, York City, Torquay United, Southport, Barrow AFC, Macclesfield Town, Dagenham & Redbridge, as well as two re-formed clubs (Gateshead and Chester). There are simply so many lower-League-sized-clubs now filling up the 5th tier that ex-Football-League clubs can languish there in the 5th division for years (like Lincoln City). Although, in the last two seasons, Bristol Rovers and now Cheltenham Town have bucked that trend, and have bounced straight back to the Football League at the first try.

As for the two-league 6th division, that was instituted in 2004-05. The 6th division is when the English football pyramid splits into regional leagues – the National League North and the National League South. Two teams from the North and the South get promoted to the 5th division each season, and the four currently-promoted clubs are featured further below.

The map…
I am using the same template as last year, when I covered the Football League’s 3 leagues and the Premier League (the 2016-17 versions of which will be forthcoming, starting with the Premier League location-map-&-chart, which is to be posted on 31 July 2016).

Here, the location-map shows all 24 clubs in the 2016-17 National League, with their crests shown. The larger British-Isle-map (showing 20 of the teams in the 16/17 National League) is flanked by an inset-map of Greater London (showing 3 of the teams in the 16/17 National League – Bromley, Sutton United, and Dagenham & Redbridge); the Greater London map also includes the surrounding area of parts of the Home Counties around the capital as well (showing one of the teams in the 16/17 National League – Boreham Wood, who are from southern Hertfordshire just north of the North London boundary). The main map includes the traditional counties of England plus widely-used regional names. In the London map I have included notable places of interest (such as Parliament/Westminster, Hyde and Regent’s Parks, and Greenwich Mean Time’s location in SE London), and some infrastructure (Wembley Stadium, the Dartford Crossing), plus I have listed the Home Counties surrounding London, plus the four-closest prominent towns (Watford, Medway Towns incl Gillingham, Slough, Southend-on-Sea).

The chart…
The chart on the right-hand side of the map-page shows the 24 clubs’ attendances, stadium-capacities, and league-finishes for the last two seasons [2014-15 and 2015-16], plus last season’s Percent-Capacity figures as well as Numerical Change in average attendance (from the previous season). At the far right are two columns: one for seasons spent in the English 1st division, and one for English major titles (English 1st division title, FA Cup title, League Cup title)…but none of this current crop of 5th division clubs has ever done either of those things. In case you are wondering, there have been 5th division clubs with top-flight history and even with titles, and last season saw a former-First-Division-side – Grimsby Town – win promotion back to the Football League (Grimsby played 12 seasons in the 1st tier [albeit not since 1947-48].) The only clubs with titles who ever played in the 5th division are Oxford United and Luton Town, and both those are quasi-tin-pot League Cup titles (both won in the 1980s).

Best-drawing clubs in the 5th division, currently…
Currently [2016-17], no club in the 5th tier has ever reached the rarefied air of the first division, and if I were to guess, I would say Tranmere Rovers are the biggest club in the 5th division this season. Tranmere Rovers are from Birkenhead on the Wirral Peninsula (which is part of Merseyside and is located across the Mersey Estuary from Liverpool). Tranmere drew 5.4 K in their first season down in Non-League in 2015-16 (finishing in 6th, 2 points off the play-off places). But don’t forget about Wrexham, who, as an entirely-supporter-owned entity these days, are debt-free and coming off a +1.3 K per game attendance increase last season (when they finished 8th), drawing 4.6 K up there in North Wales. To round out the top-drawing current-5th-tier sides…The just-relegated-back York City drew 3.2 K last season in League Two at Bootham Crescent. The now-5th-tier-mainstays Lincoln City drew 2.5 K at Sincil Bank in Lincolnshire. And the back-to-back-promoted Maidstone United, of Kent, drew an impressive 2.1 K last season in their sweet new stadium (see it further below). Maidstone played to a very-impressive-for-Non-League 69.6 percent-capacity, and they were the 3rd-best-drawing 6th division side in 2015-16. Only FC United of Manchester and Stockport County drew higher in the 6th level last season.

Full-time-pro clubs versus part-time-pro clubs in the 5th division – the distinctions are blurring…
Most clubs in the 5th division these days are full-time-professional, and even the handful of current part-time professional clubs in the National League essentially behave as if they are full-time-pro. In the old days [pre-1986-87], the Non-League/Football League divide was also the divide between amateur and professional clubs. These days, the majority of 5th-division/Non-League clubs are full-time professional. But it is rather hard defining who is fully pro and who is not. So to get to the bottom of this, I made contact with Richard Joyce, who is Press Officer at Forest Green Rovers. I had remembered that on his old FGR-based podcasts, he had described which Conference teams were still part-time [back in 2010-11].

Richard Joyce explained to me that in the 5th division now [circa 2014 or so], the lines between full-time-pro clubs and part-time-pro clubs have become blurred…”On the topic of clubs still operating as semi-professional sides – there are still quite a few. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which ones are because some train slightly more than your traditional part-time side in an attempt to get as many hours on the training field as possible. For example Boreham Wood train three times a week and in the mornings – which is just one less training session than FGR. So although that may mean they are close to being ‘part time’ they more or less have a full time schedule.
But there are still definite proper ‘semi-pro’ clubs such as Braintree Town, Bromley and North Ferriby United. Some other semi-pro clubs include Sutton, Maidstone, Solihull Moors and Woking, however some of those sides can sometimes train a lot more than you would associate with an ‘old school’ part-time team. They also sign a lot of full time players, who although are playing for a part-time club, still train and behave like they are full time professionals. With so many talented players available and unable to secure a move to a full-time outfit, they choose to join a part-time team which means they can still play at a good level in the National League. It depends financially where clubs position themselves but if they can work as many hours on the training field as possible to enhance their chances on matchdays then it seems like a good move to make”…
(Quote by Richard D Joyce, Press Officer at Forest Green Rovers FC).

    Clubs promoted from National League North & promoted from National League South, for 2016-17…
    (Solihull Moors, North Ferriby United, Sutton United, Maidstone United).

Promoted clubs from National League North, for 2016-17…
Solihull Moors FC. (Est 2007, via merger of Moor Green FC [6th-level-side] and Solihull Borough FC [8th-level-side].) Solihull, West Midlands (population 206,000/2011 figure). Solihull is 14.5 km (8 mi) E of Birmimgham, and Solihull is 24 km (15 mi) W of Coventry. Colours: Blue & Yellow [hoops]/ red-black-white [hoops] on the road. Nickname: the Moors. Manager: Marcus Bignot. Here is a recent article about Marcus Bignot…Marcus Bignot’s journey: From rejection at Birmingham to Solihull, via Crewe (by Ged Scott on 6 July 2016 at bbc.co.uk/sport).

This is the highest-league placement for the nine-year-old club. As Moor Green FC, pre-merger, the club was a charter member of the Conference North in 2004-05. Before and after the merger (in 2007), Moor Green/Solihull Moors were a mid-to-lower-table 6th tier side that never really threatened to win promotion, and drew less than 300 per game.

By 2014-15, when they finished 12th, Solihull Moors’ crowds had improved by about a couple-hundred-per-game and they were averaging 463. Then last season [2015-16], the Moors came out of nowhere to win the league by 9 points, increasing their average gate again by about a couple-hundred-per-game – to 671 per game, at their 3-K-capacity Damson Park located about a mile north of Solihull town centre. Here’s an article on the Moors’ 2016 promotion to the 5th level…Solihull Moors confirmed as National League North champions (thenonleaguefootballpaper.com).

As you can see below, Solihull Moors had a pretty nondescript crest prior to 2015 (it looked like lame and ugly clip-art, in a dismal colour-scheme of greenish-gold-and-black). But now Solihull Moors new crest rightfully incorporates – within a shield-device – design elements from the crests of the original two clubs which went on to comprise the new club. Plus the Moors no longer play in drab home whites with black pants, but rather in bold hoops. Solihull Moors are located somewhat close to central Birmingham, and are located about a half-mile from Birmingham International Airport (the flight tower for the airport is visible from the stands at Damson Park {see it here}), and, as it says in the Football Ground Guide website, ‘The ground is situated very close to Birmingham Airport, so you are ‘treated’ to a procession of planes taking off throughout the afternoon.’). There is a power-vacuum in Birmingham/West-Midlands-football these days (Aston Villa has imploded, Birmingham City are still going nowhere, and West Bromwich are surviving in the top flight – but just barely). So Solihull Moors could benefit from this, and the club could see a continued increase in attendance, and maybe the Moors will start to pick up some disaffected fans of the nearby and just-relegated Aston Villa.
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Photo credits above – Shots of main stand, 1st photo by solihullmoors.com.
2nd photo with main stand filled, photo by richardl1969 at stadiumsandcities.wordpress.com. Photo of Moors fans, photo by solihullmoorsfc.co.uk/news/[tickets]

North Ferriby United AFC. (Est. 1934.) North Ferriby, East Riding of Yorkshire (which is part of Greater Hull [population 433,000/2011 figure]). North Ferriby is 14 km (9 mi) W of Kingston-upon-Hull. Colours: Green & White. Nickname: the Villagers. Manager: Steve Housham.

Here is an excellent and informative article on NFUFC (from the Guardian, of course)…How North Ferriby’s village football team made the jump to the National League (by Richard Foster on 15 July 2016 at theguardian.com/football).

Promoted as play-off winners of National League North (North Ferriby Utd 2-1 Fylde). This is the highest-league placement for the 83-year-old club. In late 2011, North Ferriby were a relegation-threatened 7th division side. A year-and-a-half later (in May 2013), the Villagers had reversed course and won promotion to the 6th division. Now, after just 3 seasons in the 6th tier, Norh Ferriby continue their climb up the pyramid and will now make their 5th division debut for 2016-17. But North Ferriby United will face an uphill battle, as one of the smallest clubs in the 5th tier this season.

The Villagers play at the tiny 2.7-K-capacity Grange Lane, and drew only 446 per game in 2015-16. But that crowd-size more than tripled for their play-off final win over Fylde, when they drew 1.8 K and won it late in extra-time, with the winning goal in the 95th minute by Danny Hone {see fuzzy screenshot below}. Here is an article from the Hull Daily Mail….Brilliant North Ferriby United seal promotion to National League (on 14 May 2016 by Charlie Mullan at hulldailymail.co.uk).
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Photo credits above –
footballgroundguide.com. unattributed at footballtripper.com. Screenshot of promotion-winning-goal-celebration, from video uploaded by North Ferriby at youtube.com. North Ferriby squad celebrates their promotion, photo by hulldailymail.co.uk.

Promoted clubs from National League South, for 2016-17…
Sutton United. (Est. 1898.) Sutton are from the southern reaches of Greater London near the boundary with Surrey, and Sutton is about 17 km (10 mi) SW of central London. Colours: Amber & Chocolate. Manager: Paul Doswell.

Sutton Utd spent 6 seasons in the Conference – 5 seasons from 1986-1991, as well as the 1999-2000 season. And during that first spell in the 5th division in the late Eighties, Sutton had their historic giant-killing of 1st-division side Coventry City, in the 1988-89 FA Cup 3rd Round. {See this article I wrote 4 years ago on Sutton United’s legendary Cup-upset, 2011-12 FA Cup, Second Round Proper./ + Sutton United’s FA Cup Giant Killing – January, 1989 – Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City.}

Sutton United now return to the 5th tier after a 16-year absence. Last season, the U’s won the National League South on the second-to-last game of the season, on 23rd April 2016, when they beat Chelmsford City 2-0 in front of a solid 1.5 K at Borough Sports Park (aka Gander Green Lane). {See this article…Sutton United clinch promotion to the National League (bbc.co.uk/football).}

Sutton United these days average 1.0 K and still play at their Gander Green Lane (which opened in 1912 as a racing track). The pitch is now 3G there – that playing surface was installed in the summer of 2015. Like Maidstone United (see the Maidstone section further below), Sutton will be in promotion-limbo until 3G pitches are allowed in the Football League.
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Photo and Image credits above – Aerial shot of Gander Greeen Lane, photo by suttonunited.net/info_stadium. View of Main Stand at Gander Green, photo unattributed at nescot.ac.uk/news. Standing terrace at Gander Green lane, photo by BeautifulGame15 at backpagefootball.com/400-sutton-united-fc-vs-dartford-fc-part-two. Screenshot of Sutton fans applauding the Sutton squad (and vice-versa) after Sutton clinched the 2016 National League South title, image from a youtube video uploaded by Clarets TV at youtube.com.

Maidstone United (II) (Est. 1992 as Maidstone Invicta, a Phoenix-club of Maidstone United FC (1897)./ Changed name to Maidstone United (II) in 1995.) Maidstone is in Kent, about 64 km (40 mi) SE of central London, by road [or 52 km/33 mi from London as the crow flies]. Nickname: the Stones. Colours: Amber & Black. Manager: Jay Saunders.

Maidstone United have now achieved back-to-back promotions. Maidstone were promoted as play-off winners of the 2016-17 National League South. The re-emergence of Maidstone United is a great story – they had the 3rd-highest crowd size in the 6th tier last season (only FC United of Manchester and Stockport County drew higher in the 6th division in 2015-16). On 14 May 2016, 17 miles NE of Maidstone, in Northfleet, Kent, before 3.8 K at Ebbsfleet United’s Stonebridge Road, Maidstone United won promotion to the 5th tier in a dramatic play-off final aet shootout win, beating their nearby rivals by the score of 2-2/4-3 on penalties. Maidstone FW Dimebe Dumaka had scored at the last gasp in added time, to even it up in the 121st minute. Then in the penalty shoot-out, Alex Flisher, Jack Paxman, Bobby-Joe Taylor and Dan Sweeney scored from the spot, while Maidstone GK/captain Lee Worgan made 2 penalty-saves, the latter of which was off of Ebbsfleet-brace-scorer Danny Kedwell…and the Stones were promoted. Here is an article…Ebbsfleet United 2 Maidstone United 2 match report (aet, Stones win 4-3 on penalties) (from 14 May 2016, by Chris Tucker at kentonline.co.uk).

Maidstone United’s new, compact (3.0 K-capacity), attractive, and very functional Gallagher Stadium (which opened in 2012), has helped swell crowds and helped propel Maidstone back up the pyramid. The original Maidstone United, which was wound up in 1992, were a charter-member of the 5th division in 1979, and went on to spend 3 seasons in the 4th division of the Football League (from 1989-1992). In 1989-90 the original Maidstone United (I) had their highest league-placement when they finished in 5th place in the 4th division and drew a peak 2.4 K per game. But 2 seasons later, the first version of Maidstone Utd had overspent themselves into oblivion. So Maidstone United (I) were wound up, and a re-formed club with a nucleus of the youth side was established that same year (1992). Twenty four years later [2015-16], the second iteration of Maidstone United (II) drew a healthy 2.1 K – in the 6th division – en route to promotion, so you could say that Maidstone United are back.

The only problem with Maidstone’s ascent is that they play on a 3G pitch, and the Football League still bans that, so until the rules change, Maidstone United are in a neutral mode with respect to another promotion push. Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium is the first purpose-built football stadium in Britain that utilizes a 3G pitch in its business model. See this, at the Wikipedia page for the Gallagher Stadium, where it says that…”Rather than the traditional choice of grass, Maidstone were the first English team to build a stadium with third generation artificial turf”…”The reasons for going with the synthetic turf were threefold, the first being to eliminate match postponements caused by waterlogging and freezing conditions, the second so that the pitch can be hired out, bringing in vital funds (around £120,000 to £150,000 profit per year), and thirdly so that the stadium can be a hub for all the club’s youth and community teams.”…”A major downside of the 3G pitch is that so far the club has only gained permission to use the pitch in the Football Conference [the National League/5th division].”…{excerpts from Gallagher_Stadium/3G Artificial Pitch (en.wikipedia.org)}.
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Photo and Image credits above -
Aerial shot of stadium, photo by Gallagher Group at gallagher-group.co.uk/case-studies/maidstone-united-fcs-new-stadium. Interior shot from terrace behind goal, photo by Steve McCaskill at pixelsport.co.uk/2012/10/23/non-league-day-maidstone-united-5-0-dulwich-hamlet. Shot of a full-capacity main stand during a Maidstone game, photo by kentnews.co.uk/sport. Close-up shot of 3G pitch with main stand in background, photo by maidstoneunited.co.uk. Shot of captain Worgan lifting trophy with squad celebrating promotion, photo by Gary Browne at kentonline.co.uk.

___
-Thanks to the contributors at 2016–17 National League (en.wikipedia.org).
-Thanks to Nilfanion…Blank relief map of Greater London, by Nilfanion (using UK Ordnance Survey data), at File:Greater London UK relief location map.jpg.
-Thanks to Soccerway for upper-divisions Non-League attendance figures, uk.soccerway.com/national/england/conference-national.
-Thanks to the excellent site known as Non-League Matters, for lower-division Non-League attendance figures, nonleaguematters.co.uk.

Special Thanks to Richard Joyce at Forest Green Rovers official site.

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