Outside the Box: Conference curse awaits as Stockport count cost of failure

Almost 25 years after automatic promotion and relegation was introduced between the Football League and what is still generally known as the Conference, the signs are that regaining League status is becoming harder.

Of those demoted in the first 15 seasons from 1987 to 2001, only Scarborough (no longer in existence) and Newport County (wound up and re-formed) have never returned. Once the system changed to two-up and two-down in 2003, however, it paradoxically seemed to become more difficult.

Halifax, York, Kidderminster, Cambridge United, Rushden & Diamonds, Boston, Mansfield, Wrexham, Chester, Grimsby and Darlington have failed to make it since then; Luton will join the list if they fail in the play-offs for the second successive season.

John Moules, who was chief executive of the Conference for eight years, believes the reason is that standards between the two levels have narrowed. "The key thing is that there are now more full-time clubs in the Conference than ever before, about 75 per cent of them," he told OTB.

"It's noticeable this season that all those in the relegation area are the part-timers. Also, as squads in the Football League have diminished in size, there are more players dropping down a level, many of whom have been in academies as professionals for four or five years."

This is all depressing news for Stockport County, whose League membership ends next month after 106 years. And if Northampton Town (elected in 1920) are also relegated, they will join Luton and Oxford United as teams who played in the top flight within the last 50 years, only to drop into non-League football.

Sterling to show his worth

It is rare enough for England to be defending a major title, so it ought to be recorded that the nation's Under-17s go into this week's European Championship in Serbia as holders, taking on France on Tuesday and Denmark on Friday.

The majority of the winning squad have moved up to the Under-18s but last year's coach, John Peacock, remains in charge. The group he has selected appears to confirm Kenny Dalglish's belief that Liverpool have some outstanding young prospects again; there are four, including the much touted Raheem Sterling, who was snatched from Queens Park Rangers aged 15 and scored five goals against Southend in the FA Youth Cup earlier this season.

Pleasingly, the next highest representation is from the production line of talent that is Crewe Alexandra, with three.

Howard's way is a weird one

One of the coaches of the England Under-19s, Bobby Davison, has recounted a story in the Derby County programme that illustrates the idiosyncratic methods of Howard Wilkinson, himself once heavily involved with England (as Under-21 manager, then taking charge of the senior team for one game in Finland after Kevin Keegan had resigned four days earlier).

On the last day of the 1989-90 season, Wilkinson's Leeds, needing victory for promotion back to the top flight, were away to Harry Redknapp's Bournemouth, who had to win to stay up. The day is more widely remembered for what Rothmans Yearbook noted as "rioting, looting and assaults" by Leeds supporters.

Davison recalls that he was carrying a knee injury. "There was no way I could play, but Howard didn't want to tell anyone," he says.

"He thought Carl Shutt would be too nervous if he knew beforehand so he made me start the game. Two minutes in, I collapsed in a heap. Shutty came on and helped make the winner for Lee Chapman so we won promotion."

Seniors await their moment

There is a fine balance between an experienced squad and an ageing one, and Tunstall Town of the Staffordshire County Senior League have probably erred on the wrong side.

The "Senior" is supposed to refer to the League's status, not players' ages, which in Tunstall's case include three septuagenarians and one 60-year-old. That may have contributed to the team not having managed a point for three seasons; the record this campaign, which includes two 19-0 away defeats, is now 24 straight losses, five goals scored and 235 conceded.

It is surely time for an injection of youth. A couple of 40-year-olds, maybe?


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Romelu Lukaku scored twice to add to the hat-trick he registered in the first leg in Switzerland
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower