Modern Non-League History
1978-79 Non-League Season
What a year for Non-League football !
The introduction of The Alliance Premier League made this season particularly memorable as the whole structure of the non-league game now had an official top to ‘its pyramid’. Supporters were looking forward to comparing the relative success of the clubs from The Northern Premier League with those from The Southern League but how would they cope with the extra traveling?
It was also hoped that automatic promotion to the Football League could be negotiated for at least their champions, especially as recently accepted clubs had proved their quality. Wimbledon had just won promotion in their second year in Division Four and Wigan Athletic had enjoyed a successful first year as a Football League club, finishing sixth.
Meetings between The Southern League and The Northern Premier League officials had been held for some years, but in April 1979 plans were finally agreed with the initial criteria used for membership being:-
1 Suitable grading of the club regarding facilities and administrative organization.
Promotion on merit, using a points system for league positions over the 1977-1978 and 1978-1979 seasons, with one point for champions, two for runners up and three for third place and so on.
The original clubs to qualify were:
Southern League (13): A.P. Leamington, Barnet, Bath City, Gravesend & Northfleet, Kettering Town, Maidstone United, Nuneaton Borough, Redditch United, Telford United, Wealdstone, Weymouth, Worcester City and Yeovil Town
Northern Premier League (7): Altrincham , Bangor City, Barrow, Boston United, Northwich Victoria, Scarborough and Stafford Rangers.
While The Southern and Northern Premier Leagues considered their long established semi-professional clubs as the strongest non-league outfits, the ex-Amateurs in The Isthmian League took up the challenge. Two places were left to bring the total up to the traditional twenty two and the ex amateurs in the Isthmian League were expected to eventually join the top clubs. Three of their members, Dagenham, Enfield and Wycombe Wanders were all considered consistently good enough and just to confuse matters new champions Barking, under the expert guidance of their manager Eddie McCluskie, had also won the London Senior Cup and reached the Second Round Proper of the FA Cup.
Of those original clubs, Northwich Victoria was the last to lose membership of the Alliance. The financial pressures of modern professional football have been seen to have effected the development of the vast majority of these famous clubs. Many of whom have been forced into changes of name and comparatively few gained promotion to become Football League clubs.
However, The Alliance itself has been a great success and with its three well administered divisions, The Conference commands the highest respect in the modern football world.
The winter of 1978-779 was one of the most severe experienced in recent years, causing many postponements and disruptions for The FA Trophy and FA Vase but both competitions attracted record attendances for their respective Finals.
Stafford Rangers beat Kettering Town 3-0 in front of 32,000 and 17,500 watched Billericay Town beat rank outsiders Almondsbury Greenway from Bristol 4-1, for their their third Vase success in four years.
It wasn’t a memorable year for FA Cup heroics but Altrincham supporters will always remember their club’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. and Maidstone United,Worcester City and Droylsden claimed Football league scalps in the First Round.
The first Semi-Professional International tournament was played in the Midlands at the end of season, and after a 5-3 semi-final victory over Holland a much tougher game eventually finished 1-0, as England beat Holland 1-0 with a goal from Eamon O’Keefe.
An England team representing the non-league world was welcomed and hopefully the competition would grow and become an annual challenge for the best semi-professional players in the country.
Our little Non-League Annual had been well received and the football world certainly appeared to be supporting the new Football Alliance and their very own English International squad.
Through our Annual and our involvement with the Football Association’s publications we had the chance to encourage Non-League clubs to travel down to The Capital for the Wembley Trophy and Vase Finals.
So with the sponsorship of Peter Grove’s ‘ All Sports International ‘ newspaper we encouraged non-league clubs to make it an end of season cup week-end, by playing a South v North Challenge game on the Friday evening before the Wembley Final.
Lancaster City the club achieving the biggest victory, won the ‘All Sports International Trophy’ in 1979
Addlestone v Marine 0-0
Harrow Borough v Burscough 1-1
Maidstone United v Lancaster City 1-2
Wycombe Wanderers v Altrincham 0-1
We also promoted our ‘Non-League Football Fellowship to encourage more general interest in all levels and aspects of the game outside The Football League. There was no doubt that non-league football was attracting support from all age groups, but it was important that supporters enjoyed their involvement and clubs also did their best to entertain within improving facilities.
THE FA CUP
Its always a disappointment when a non-league club battles their way into the draw for The First Round Proper of the FA Cup and then gets paired with another non-league club.
Seven non-league clubs lost their chance of giant killing in this way.
In the 1978-1979 Altrincham (NPL ) beat Southport (NPL) 4-3
Barnet (S.Lg) v Woking (I.Lg) 3-3
Woking v Barnet 3-3
Woking beat Barnet 3-0
Maidstone U(S Lg) beat Wycombe W(I.LG) 1-0
Enfield (I.Lg) beat Wealdstone (S Lg) 5-0
Barking (I.Lg) beat Yeovil Town (S.Lg) 1-0
AP Leamington(S.Lg) beat Dartford (S.Lg) 2-1
Leatherhead (I.Lg) beat Merthyr Tydfil (S.Lg) 2-1
The outstanding victory was achieved by Enfield who beat Wealdstone 5-0 away and of course Isthmian Champions Barking must have been thrilled with their away victory over ‘non-league giants’ Yeovil Town
Two clubs who did take advantage of a tie against Football league opposition were:-
Rochdale (Division 4) 0 Droyslden (Cheshire County League) 1
Worcester City (Southern League) 2 Plymouth Argyle (Division 3) 0
In the Second Round, Altrincham once again avoided League opposition but were probably relieved as they faced and beat local rivals in Droylsden 2-0. Barking and AP Leamington lost in close games against Aldershot and Torquay United respectively. and Leatherhead lost a replay at Colchester United.
Maidstone United did manage to reach the Third Round with an exciting 1-0 home victory
over Exeter City from Division Three, but Worcester CIty lost to Newport County after a replay and Woking battled heroically against Swansea City, drawing 2-2 away and losing 3-5 after extra time at home.
So just two non-league clubs featured in the Third Round draw with all the big names and both were given trips to London, where Maidstone United were to meet Charlton Athletic and Altrincham had to face Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane.
What odds would have been available for both clubs to avoid defeat in the capital ?
Both teams drew 1-1!
But not surprisingly, Maidstone lost 1-2 and Altrincham 0-3 in the replays but gained great publicity and a boost to their finances. Another FA Cup campaign had brought some special memories for non-league clubs and there’s no doubt there is special magic in a cup run at any level.
THE FA TROPHY
The tenth FA Trophy competition, featuring two Midland clubs, attracted over 30,00 for the Final at Wembley for the first time. Once again clubs from the South of England were outnumbered in the later rounds with Dagenham, the last representative going out to Kettering in the Semi-Final.
One traditional cup name, relatively new to the Trophy was Bishop Auckland of FA Amateur Cup fame, who took Stafford Rangers to a replay in the Fourth Round. However, great sympathy was felt for Runcorn who had failed at the semi-final stage for the third time in four years.
Giant killing is not so prevalent in the FA Trophy, but Isthmian neighbours Wembley and Harrow Borough beat Barnet and Leamington, while Barking enjoyed an early competition goal spree, winning 7-0 against Clacton Town and 10-1 v Chelmsford City.
Yeovil Town also enjoyed a big win with eight goals against Merthyr Tydfil but the biggest surprise was perhaps Cheltenham Town’s victory at Altrincham, despite a forward taking over from their injured goalkeeper.
The Northern Premier League’s tradition of dominating the later rounds of the FA Trophy was not continued in this campaign, as just three member clubs survived to compete in the last sixteen. But the draw for the quarter finals brought the traditionally professional clubs against the ex Amateurs, with the pros succeeding 3-1. Runcorn, Stafford Rangers and Kettering Town being joined by Dagenham who had beaten Yeovil Town.
The Northern Premier League had the last laugh once again in the Trophy Final, as Stafford Rangers celebrated a solid 2-0 victory over their Southern League opponents but 32,000 supported the occasion, which for the first time was played a week after The FA Cup Final.
THE FA VASE
The fifth FA Vase competition certainly attracted an impressive entry but sadly the freezing mid winter weather caused chaos with the fixtures and disjointed competition only settled down late in the campaign.
By reaching the final for the third time in five years it will be hoped by the rest of the country that Billericay Town will gain promotion and soon qualify for the FA Trophy. A real outsider in Almondsbury Greenway from the Gloucester County League qualified to meet the Essex side in the fInal having only conceded two goals in five games before the semi -final.
The Bristol club lost the toss for choice of venue for their semi-final replay against Shepshed Charterhouse. They had already lost 0-2 in their first meeting in the Midlands but showed great character and determination to reverse the score in their play-off.
The competition had welcomed clubs from The Channel Islands for the first time and First Tower United (Jersey) and St Martins (Guernsey) both won two Vase matches before being drawn against each other in the Second Round. An away draw at Gosprt proved too much but the experience was enjoyed by all despite paying for all their match expeneses.
Forest Green Rovers hit the headlines with twelve goals against Avon Bradford but then lost by five goals to Almondsbury Greenway while Halesowen Town, who had beaten Telford United away in the FA Cup.
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