The National League Is The Least Competitive It Has Been In Years

Despite some people saying that the fifth tier of English football is becoming more and more competitive the calibre of the clubs is going down, so as a result it is not as competitive as it was.

Fans of teams in the lower reaches of League Two are terrified about relegation for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is very difficult to get promoted back but it is not, you could make the argument that teams are spending loads of money to get into the EFL and failing for example Forest Green but their were and still are teams in the league that are better than Forest Green. Also fans who are worried about not getting back into the EFL after relegation here is a stat for you, since relegation to non league was introduced in 1988 only a handful of teams have not gotten back, for every Wrexham that has not returned there has been a Barnet, so fans of the bottom six in the EFL fear not even if you go down you will return at some point.

Now this season you could say that York City are showing the difficulties of life in the fifth tier but what about Dagenham & Redbridge, both York and Dagenham were relegated last season with lacklustre teams and there is only so much you can change over the summer, so why has this happened, well it’s simple York are run terribly and Dagenham are not they face the same competition but Dagenham are better equipped to deal with it, York are not. I am not denying that this league has some level of competition but lets face it we all know that unless a miracle happens Lincoln City will win the league and guess what Lincoln are ex Football League. But I do believe that if Lincoln and Tranmere go up this season the National League next season will be even less competitive, what would you have? Forest Green and Eastleigh trying to buy promotion, the two teams who have come down and some other team, also if it was so competitive how come last season Dover and Braintree managed to qualify for the play-offs ahead of teams like Gateshead, Eastleigh and Wrexham?

Now, it 100% was more competitive a few years ago, the 2012/13 season springs to mind, at that point Forest Green had just come into money and you had a whole host of ex EFL clubs for example, Luton, Mansfield, Cambridge, Wrexham, Stockport, Grimsby and Newport and now four seasons later 85% of those teams are back in the EFL. Also over the past two seasons at least one club who was just relegated made an immediate return to League 2, in 2015, Bristol Rovers won the play-offs and in 2016 Cheltenham Town were crowned National League champions, so the league which four years ago was a convention for former Football League clubs is now a pit stop before you are back on the road in the EFL, so fans of teams in the bottom six of the 92 don’t worry that much, if you are run properly you will return.


By Damon Brimble


One Comment Add yours

  1. Russell Earl says:

    I have to disagree regarding the National League not being competitive.

    Firstly you make reference to Forest Green & Eastleigh trying to buy promotion with no mention of Rushden & Diamonds, Crawley Town or Fleetwood Town who also bought their way out of the Conference as it was named then.

    You rightly mention how ex Football League clubs are finding it easier to go straight back up now but that is still a smaller % than in the early days of automatic promotion from the National League to the Football League, (Lincoln City, Colchester United, Darlington, to name a few), and let’s not also forget back then only one club got Promoted now having two makes the probability of a relegated team gaining promotion more likely an important point that you have failed to mention.

    Regarding clubs being badly run we have seen several clubs, (Newport County, Scarborough, Halifax Town, Chester City, Darlington, Aldershot, Maidstone United,Hereford United, Rushden & Diamonds), get relegated and then run into money troubled but if we look at this more closely Halifax Town, Chester City and Darlington had already been relegated from the Football League previously so with automatic promotion/relegation now in place it just showed they were at that level a bit like Barnet and Cheltenham in yo-yoing between those Leagues like happens in the Premier League with West Bromwich of old and Hull at present.

    Scarborough, Maidstone United, Boston and Rushden & Diamonds were all non-league clubs who won promotion to the Football League but possibly stretched their finances to the limit in trying to compete so when relegation came they no longer had the finances that travelling support from those Football League clubs gave which is no different to both Macclesfield Town & Kidderminster Harriers recently but they have probably profited from the better coverage the National League now has obviously with Rushden it was a case of their money man walking away which has happened at both Crawley Town & Newport County recently and I fear for both these clubs should they find themselves back in non-league football.

    Regarding Hereford United let’s not forget they were a Southern League club originally who were one of the last clubs to be elected to the Football League also of the last five clubs who got elected, (Wigan, Wimbledon, Hereford United, Cambridge United and Oxford United), Hereford, Cambridge and Oxford have all since been relegated back to Non-League football.

    So other than Stockport County who bucked the trend by being relegated from the National League and are still to gain promotion from the National North all clubs relegated from the Football League have stayed in the National League and presently we find Aldershot, Chester, Dagenham & Redbridge, Kidderminster Harriers, Lincoln City, Macclesfield Town, Maidstone United, Southport, Torquay United, Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham and York City, all who have played in the Football League at sometime.

    So regarding who will be relegated this season and what their fate will be could be predicted if look at past history:- Leyton Orient are known to be in financial trouble so could easily be the next Darlington, Halifax or Chester however they also have a bigger fan base than these clubs so more likely will become a Wrexham.

    Newport County have been here before and will either become a Barnet/Cheltenham regularly moving between the Football League and National League or stagnate in the National League like Aldershot seem to have.

    Cheltenham I’m confident if were to be relegated would be at least competing in next season’s Play-Offs in the way Dagenham & Redbridge will this season following relegation.

    Notts County hard to imagine them being relegated but if this were to happen they could quite easily become the next Stockport County or more likely be there or there abouts without gaining promotion much like Tranmere.

    Hartlepool have been struggling for a couple of seasons now and could benefit from a bit of time in the National League in the way Doncaster Rovers and Bristol Rovers have or could find themselves being the next Torquay United who have a similar sized fan base.

    Crawley Town as already mentioned I fear for this club should relegation happen as they bought success and grew their fan base on the back of that success much like Rushden & Diamonds did however they like Rushden when the money was taken away found themselves struggling at the lower end of the Football League and as crowds dwindled the reality sets in that at end of day your a non-League club punching above your weight much like Scarborough and Maidstone in the early days who both got Promoted against the odds and struggled to maintain their Football League status.

    In summary the National League is similar to the Championship with several ex Football League clubs compared to the Championship with its ex Premier League clubs. Some years the quality of those relegated from the League above give clubs in that League a cash cow for example Luton Town, Bristol Rovers and in the early days Lincoln City, who when relegated were the only full time club in the Conference, much like Newcastle, Leeds and West Ham have done for the Championship.

    So to say it’s a less competitive league is a negative statement and if this were the case why do the Football League clubs keep voting against a third team being promoted bringing the National League in line with the Football League that for me proves that no matter who is in the National League it will always be hard to gain promotion back into the Football League as clubs are at different levels some are rebuilding to come back stronger, some are adjusting to life in Non-League with regards finances and support, some are part time, some have a big money backer and some are on the way up from lower down in the football pyramid proving that the National League is as important to the English football structure as much as the four league’s above.


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