January 15, 2009

Conference National (aka Blue Square Premier League): 2008-09 season, zoom map with club profiles.

Filed under: 2008-09 English Football,Eng-5th level,Zoom Maps — admin @ 11:56 am


The 5th Level of English football is still popularly known as the Conference, although for sponsorship reasons, it’s been officially called the Blue Square Premier League since the summer of 2007. The Alliance Premier League, established for the 1979-1980 season, was the first attempt to create, for the 5th Level, a fully national league under the Football League (which is Levels 1 through 4 of the English football pyramid). Clubs were drawn from the Northern Premier League and the Southern League. 7 years later, the Alliance changed it’s name to the Football Conference. That same season, 1986-87, the League (ie, Levels 1-4) recognized the marked improvement in the quality of play in the 5th Level by finally accepting direct promotion and relegation between the Conference and the League. In the late spring of 1987, Scarborough became the first club to be promoted to the League, supplanting Lincon City. [Scarborough FC is now defunct, they were wound up in June, 2007.] In 2002-03, a second promotion spot was added, decided by a four-team playoff competition.

[ At the end of each season, two Conference clubs are promoted, and two 4th Level League clubs are relegated. Concurrently, four Conference clubs are relegated to either the Conference-North or the Conference-South, and four clubs, two from each of these 6th Level Leagues, are promoted to the Conference. ]  

Up until then, for the first century of professional football in England, Non-League clubs had to apply for election to the League. As the League expanded to a 2nd Level (the Second Division, in 1892-93),  to a 3rd Level (the Third Division, in 1920-21), and to a 4th Level (the Fourth Division, in 1958-59), the promotion/ relegation gate was kept shut below these levels.  

The belated implementation of promotion/ relegation, in 1986-87, between Levels 4 and 5, has proven to be a fair development, as this list shows  {Click here (list from Wikipedia: ‘Former Conference clubs now in The Football League‘) }. There are 5 clubs on the list that have risen two levels above the Conference, to League One…Carlisle United, Cheltenham Town, Colchester United, Hereford United, and Yeovil Town. And there is one former Conference club that has risen 3 levels:  Doncaster Rovers.  Had election to the League remained in force, what are the odds that all these clubs would have been elected to the League during the last 22 seasons ?  Nil. And the fact that some rather good-sized clubs are now stuck in the Conference, like Oxford United, further attests to the improvement in the standard of play in the 5th Level.

Blue Square Premier League official site, {Click here}.

Currently, all but one of the 24 clubs in the Conference have played just over half their 46-game season.  Staffordshire’s Burton Albion currently lead the Conference, by 13 points. The Brewers seem destined for their first promotion to the League. However, Burton just lost their manager, Nigel Clough, to struggling 2nd Level club Derby County (a club Nigel’s legendary father Brian managed four decades ago).

Currently in the four playoff places are…2nd place: Histon, a tiny club from just outside of Cambridge, in just their second season in the 5th Level. The Stutes made it to the FA Cup Third Round this season, beating fallen giants Leeds United in the Second Round, before bowing out to Swansea City. Histon and newcomers Lewes have the two smallest grounds in the Conference, both have capacities under 4,000. 3rd place: Kidderminster Harriers (from Worcester, about 15 miles south-west of Birmingham). The Harriers recently had a 5-season spell in the League, which ended in 2005. 4th place: Torquay United, a former Third and Fourth Division club (with a 73-consecutive seasons spell in the League,  ending in 2007).  Torquay are also still alive in the FA Cup Fourth Round (as is Kettering Town). Torquay hail from the Dorset coast, on ‘England’s Riviera’ (a pretentious phrase, I know, but palm trees do grow there, and it is a bit posh and touristy). 5th place: Cambridge United. A sizable club, for his level, with the third highest average gate this season (Oxford United gets the biggest crowds by far, and another former League club,  Wrexham, gets the second largest gates). Cambridge United had a 17-season spell in the League (including 8 seasons in the 2nd Level). The club figured prominently, circa 1980′s-1990′s, in the genre-defining book “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby.

[ Note: Crawley Town were deducted 4 points recently for fielding an unregistered player.  The decision might be appealed, so some sites still have CTFC in 4th place, not 6th place. {see this (BBC) }.  But it will almost certainly stand, as the Blue Square has been very stringent about these things lately {See this (twohundredpercent site: 'Little Rays of Sunshine',  from  Jan. 12th, 2009) } . ]

Within touching distance of the playoff places, currently,  are Crawley Town (of Surrey), Wrexham (of North Wales),  and Stevenage Borough (just north of London, in Hertfordshire).

Wikipedia’s page on The Conference National, {Click here}.

My favorite site for lower league and Non-League football news…

Note: on the map, I have added two small rectangular boxes, above (if applicable) and below each club’s kits. The upper box lists if and when the club was ever in the League. The lower box lists when and how the club became a current member of the Conference, whether by promotion from the Conference-North or Conference-South (the 6th Level)…depicted with a blue-edged box, or relegated from the League…depicted with a red-edged box. There is no club that has been in the Conference throughout it’s whole 29-season history.  Northwich Victoria, from Cheshire, have been in the Conference for the most seasons: 28 (voluntary relegation in 2005/ promotion back to the Conference in 2006). Altrincham, from Greater Manchester, have been in the Conference for a total of 24 seasons. Kidderminster have been in the Conference for 23 seasons (and are the only one of the 7 founding members of the Alliance/current members of the Conference to have since gained a promotion to the League, for a 5-season span ending in 2005). These three clubs were founding members of the Alliance Premier League (now called the Conference) in 1979. Four more clubs currently in the Conference were also founding members…Barrow, Gravesend and Northfleet (now called Ebbsfleet United), Kettering Town, and Weymouth.

Thanks to Tony’s English Football Site  {Click here}.   Thanks to  {Click here}.

Thanks to the family of sites, for their invaluable League History sections on each club  {Click here…set at clubs in the Conference}. And thanks to the Football Conference History Database for having the list of the first 7 seasons in the Alliance/ Conference {Click here}.

Finally, thanks to those anonymous persons who have taken the time to contibute to Wikipedia’s pages on Conference clubs…this was the only place I could find a full set of kits for the 2008-09 Conference season.  

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