Non-League Football

Taking the contrarian view – the cult clubs that defy the odds

Clapton FCThere are successful clubs, monied clubs, ambitious clubs and those that are always down on their luck. But there are also clubs that have some cachet because of their name. Some are, relatively speaking, well supported considering their status. And there’s those that have enjoyed better days, moments when they have been in the sun, won trophies and been at the top of the game.

In non-league football, there’s been a lot of teams that have fallen [dramatically] from grace, but often this has inspired great loyalty among their fans. It’s not exclusive to non-league football. Cult clubs in the Football League include Accrington Stanley and Crewe Alexandra, mostly because of their names. And in continental Europe, teams like St.Pauli of Hamburg, Genoa, Dukla Prague and Frem Copenhagen have loyal and passionate followings that sometimes exceed their status.

Here’s some of the clubs that can be classed, for one reason or another, as “cult clubs” in English non-league football:

Clapton
Their ground, the Old Spotted Dog, has legendary status, but its future is uncertain and it has certainly enjoyed better times. The club, which won the FA Amateur Cup five times (1907, 1909, 1915, 1924, 1925), now plays in the humble surroundings of the Essex Senior League, but they have a following that is noisy, raucous and very fond of leaving stickers around London Underground stations. Clapton was the first English club to play outside the UK – in 1890.

Hitchin Town
The Canaries’ ground is another time warp and is steeped in controversy as the ongoing battle with their landlords continues. Hitchin are unique in that their forerunner played in the very first FA Cup. The club is also consistently supported and was the home of Britain’s first football museum. Their fans are incredibly loyal and patient – away support down the years has been remarkable.

Bishop Auckland
One of the most successful amateur teams ever – winning the FA Amateur Cup 10 times including three triumphs in the 1950s. Currently in Northern League Division One, they wear very distinctive two-blue halved shirts. One notable item from their history tells you how good they were in the 1950s – they lent Manchester United some players after the Munich air disaster in 1958.

P1040207 (350x263)Dulwich Hamlet
One of the great old names from amateur football, Dulwich Hamlet’s pink and blue is one of the more identifiable strips in the non-league game. Dulwich is a club that has been written off on a number of occasions but their support seems to have grown in recent years. It’s not easy to survive as a London-based non-league outfit, but Dulwich are doing more than that. Great fans, great strip, great history.

Crook Town
Another of the north-east’s heritage clubs, also from the Northern League Division One. Crook flew the flag for England by travelling to Spain in 1913 and actually played Barcelona. They won the FA Amateur Cup five times, including four between 1954 and 1964.

Corinthian Casuals
A name that evokes the old amateur days of Corinthians and The Casuals, formed in 1939 as a merger of the two clubs. They have also been written off, but they now play in Tolworth and are members of the Isthmian League Division One South. Another notable kit: pink and chocolate!

sheffieldSheffield FC
A club trading off its status as the world’s oldest football club. Sheffield have had a renaissance in recent years and have a cult following that has been exported overseas. It’s good to see a club using its history as a door-opener.

LewesLewes
With their iconic ground, The Dripping Pan, and their ground-breaking match posters, fan-owned Lewes have come back from troubled times. Now playing in the Isthmian Premier, Lewes have kept us entertained with their imaginative art-work. They also host the Bonfire Cup, a tournament between eight local Bonfire Societies (Lewes and November 5 is big business).

Blyth Spartans
One-time FA Cup experts with a string of giant-killings, their notable name and green strip has made Blyth Spartans a cult club outside the north-east of England. They’ve played at Croft Park for over a century.

Slough Town
Once a mighty club, Slough are still tenants at Beaconsfield SYCOB, but they are a big club waiting to happen again. After a series of near-misses, they finally won promotion in 2014 and are back in the Southern League Premier. Voiciferous fans, most of whom probably don’t remember Slough as a big club.

Wealdstone
A club that has stared into the abyss after selling its Lower Mead ground in the 1990s, but happily has found its way back and is now in the Conference South. It’s still a far cry from the days when Wealdstone were the top non-league outfit, winning the double in 1994-95, but it’s good to see they have survived bad times.

This list is in no way exhaustive and no doubt anyone could add a team or two to the article. It’s also not a tribute to success, because some of these teams have long since seen any silverware, and some have never won anything major. But they are all clubs worth a visit!

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