THE POPULAR VIEW is that the jump from Southern and Ryman Premier to step two is a big one. Too many supporters wring their hands in anguish at the prospect of their team not being equipped to survive elevation to the executive suite of non-league football. But there’s good news for aspiring play-off candidates. The promoted clubs’ records over the past five years go a long way to disproving the theory that an ordeal awaits the victors.
Take the Ryman League. Over the past half decade, and not including last season’s promoted clubs, just two of the 10 have been relegated at the first attempt – Billericay Town and AFC Hornchurch.
In 2009-10, Dartford and Boreham Wood were both promoted to Conference South. Dartford are now back in that division after relegation from the Conference National last season, and Boreham Wood are enjoying their first campaign at step one.
Some teams have lasted more than one season but eventually suffered relegation. Tonbridge Angels went down after three seasons at step two and are now in the Ryman Premier. But two of the emerging clubs, Whitehawk and Concord Rangers are still in the National South after winning promotion in 2013.
Wealdstone and Lowestoft did enough to stay at step two last season, but both are caught up in [possible] relegation discussions this year. Maidstone and Margate went up in 2014-15 and are enjoying good runs this year. Indeed, Maidstone may yet enjoy a second successive promotion.
It’s a similar story in the Southern League. Not a single team has been relegated at the first attempt over the last five seasons. After winning promotion in 2010, Farnborough had five years at the next level before being relegated back to the Ryman in 2015.
Nuneaton went up and up to the Conference National but are now in National League North. Truro, promoted in 2011, came back down in 2013 but were promoted again in 2015 and are in National League South. Salisbury, after flying close to the sun, are in the Wessex League.
Brackley have not looked back since winning promotion in 2012 and Oxford City are still at step two. Leamington, however, had two seasons at that level before falling back to the Southern Premier in 2015. Gosport are in their third season in National South.
In 2014, Hemel Hempstead Town looked very competent when they went up and they finished ninth in 2014-15 at step two.
The two teams that went up last season, Truro and Corby are experiencing contrasting fortunes. Truro are riding high in National South while Corby could be making a swift return to the Southern League.
The message is clear, however – in most cases, teams with positive momentum adapt well to a higher level. In some cases, promotion is just the first stage of a longer-term programme of progress. There’s every reason to be optimistic if you’re chasing promotion from step three.
And even if you’re not able to compete and do find yourself falling down the snake that is relegation, enjoy the moment. Whatever a club does, it should not bankrupt itself by just trying to survive beyond its financial reach – there are too many clubs that go up and up and slide down just as quickly. Crowds and income are often higher if a club is successful at a lower level. Failure is definitely an orphan!
In the frame at the moment (February 19, 2016)
Southern League Premier
Champions elect: Poole Town
Play-offs: Chippenham v Hungerford; Redditch v Hitchin Town
This weekend’s top matches: Hitchin (4th) v Hungerford (5th);
Isthmian League Premier
Champions elect: East Thurrock United
Play-offs: Hampton v Billericay; Dulwich v Tonbridge
This weekend’s top matches: East Thurrock (1st) v Bognor (6th); Kingstonian (7th) v Tonbridge (4th)
Champions elect: Blyth Spartans
Play-offs: Workington v Barwell; Darlington v Salford