The League Two relegation battle has been going in one direction for some time now. So, what can we expect when all’s finally said and done? The form is stacked against us. The betting market is bearing down on us. And who knows if the season will be completed. In staring down the barrel of relegation, there’s one school of thought that suggests taking a gap year in non-league could “do us good”.
But, almost a perfect 10 years on from that incredible day at Kiddy, the National League abyss looms large. Is there any possible good likely to come from relegation?
Our instinct is “no”.
First, we have to go back to Woking.
Second, there are some lessons for us to learn from the 20 clubs to go before us since 2010 too. Some are harsh, others appear encouraging. But, should our increasingly likely demise be made official, might we rise straight back up? Are we maybe in for a few seasons getting used to being back in non-league ranks? Or could worse be to follow? Anything’s possible.
Let’s see what the experience of those other clubs has to share…
League Two Relegation: Pride Before A Fall?
Bristol Rovers (2014)
If you look at Rovers’ record on paper, it’s hard to work out how they found themselves in the Conference for the 2014-5 season. The West Country side wasted no time in coming straight back up via the playoffs. And they weren’t hanging around, either. Coming third in the 2015-6 League Two table meant instant promotion to League One. That’s where they still are too. Mind you, they did manage to lose to us this season. Not many can say that.
Lincoln City (2011)
The side that gave us our first-ever away win in the Football League tumbled down at the end of that same campaign. For the first time since 1921, the Imps found themselves out of the club and endured five years slogging it out in the bottom half of the Conference. In 2017, though, the club lifted the title and came back up. They’ve since had a crack at the League Two playoffs and then, last term, won the title to earn promotion to League One.
Tranmere Rovers (2015)
Tranmere Rovers made a decent fist of life in the Conference after their 2015 relegation. But it still took them three attempts to come back up; first missing out on the playoffs by two points and then losing to Forest Green the next season. We can only guess this experience did some good for them. After coming up in 2018 via the playoffs, Rovers marched on and secured promotion to League One last season – through the playoffs.
Cheltenham Town (2015)
To be fair, there are a good few sides who dropped out of the Football League and have since come back. Not that it’s a template we want to be following if we can avoid it. If we do end up going down when all is said and done this season, it’d be nice if we can do a Cheltenham Town. The Robins romped to the Conference title at the first time of asking; racking up 101 points in the process. After a rocky first season back in League Two, the club have edged their way up the table and are well in with a shot at promotion this term.
Grimsby Town (2010)
After passing us on the stairs, it took Grimsby Town five seasons to get back to the Football League; settling for mid-table in both of their first two terms in the Conference. After that, the Mariners had three unsuccessful cracks at the playoffs before the fourth saw them back in 2016.
Leyton Orient (2017)
The Os didn’t have such a bad time of things after finishing bottom of the 2016-7 League Two table. Sure, it took ’em a season to get used to things in the Conference – but it laid foundations for their title-winning campaign in 2018-9 that saw ’em come back up within two seasons. And it’s been comfortable enough for them in the lower half of the table this season. That, however, is partly due to our poor run.
Macclesfield Town (2012)
The Silkmen had their ups and downs back in the Conference after 15 years of Football League status came to an end in 2012. It wasn’t until their sixth season when it all came together; their third Conference title securing a return to the League. It’s not been pretty since, with Macclesfield only just surviving last season. It now looks as if they’re the side for us to catch if we’re save our bacon. But we’ve got quite a long way to go…
Yeovil Town (2019)
None of the 20 teams to go down into the Conference over the last 10 years had soared as high as the Glovers. Well, not in recent times anyway. It’s only six years ago that they were playing in the second tier. Two straight relegations brought them down into League Two; climbing no higher than 19th in three successive seasons before the fourth saw ’em finish rock bottom. Like Notts County who came down with them, however, they’re in the frame for an instant return – although a run of six without a win saw them drift away from the title chase.
Notts County (2019)
The World’s Oldest League Club (TM) became the world’s oldest ex-League club in 2019; relegation to the National League ending 130-odd years of being a Football League team. But things don’t look too bad right now. The Magpies are fighting hard for a playoff spot – the chance of an instant return very much on the cards. Much is still to happen this term, however; County one of a few clubs currently jostling for a playoff place.
Barnet (2013, 2018)
To lose your Football League status once is careless. To do it twice is farcical. But to have done it as often as Barnet have, well – who knows? In our time up in the League, the Bees have gone down twice. Looking back, the first time (2013) is only a blip; Barnet taking just two seasons to return. But it seems the Conference might be a tougher proposition now – the Bees languishing in mid-table at the end of the 2018-9 campaign and looking set for a similar finish this time round too.
Hartlepool United (2017)
Pools aren’t finding life in the Conference easy after their relegation three years ago. The club ended the 2017-8 season in 15th and the following campaign in 17th. It’s starting to look a bit better for them this season, however; Hartlepool currently 11th and still in with a shot of the playoffs as things stand. Mind you, fans might be just glad of having a club; a summer 2018 takeover by Raj Singh protecting the club’s future amid talks of liquidation.
Dagenham & Redbridge (2016)
The Daggers nearly came straight back up to the Football League after relegation. But they lost out to Forest Green in the 2016-7 playoffs and have failed to come close since. Things could still get a lot worse this season too; the Daggers only one point above the National League drop zone as we write. Then again, there are about half a dozen clubs separated by not many points down there. So, it could be anyone who drops.
From sixth in League One to the bottom half of the National League in just five campaigns, the Spireites’ fortunes have imploded in recent times. Going from the 2014-5 League One playoffs to rock bottom of the table in 2016-7 was bad enough. But the club followed it up with instant relegation from League Two in 2017-8. Chesterfield’s first season down in the Conference was a tough one; 15th their final resting spot. And how they wish for that sort of finish this term, with the club currently in the National League drop zone.
Aldershot Town (2013)
Just after relegation from the Football League, the Shots went into administration with a fair bit of debt to their name. It meant starting out in the Conference with 10 points taken off them. And it was tough to start with. But, after three long seasons hauling themselves away from relegation battles, two campaigns – 2016-7 and 2017-8 – saw them go close in the playoffs. But twice they were denied and the 2018-9 season was a lot less happier. In fact, the Shots should’ve been relegated to National League South. They were spared, however, after Gateshead fell foul of the rules and were shunted down a division instead.
Torquay United (2014)
The Gulls’ return to the League after promotion in 2009 lasted just six seasons. While the club took the Conference by storm after relegation in 2007, this time was different. Three seasons of mid-table struggles is what greeted them, followed by another relegation; this time down into National League South for the 2018-9 campaign. Torquay didn’t linger on things; lifting the title to go back up to the National League at the first attempt – and back into mid-table this season.
Stockport County (2011)
County became members of the Football League in 1905. But that all came to an abrupt end in 2011; ending the 2010-1 League Two campaign at the foot of the table. This was probably made worse by the fact it was their first season after dropping out from League One. Off-field issues didn’t help, of course. And, while they did just steer clear of a third straight relegation in 2012, they couldn’t keep their heads above water.
In 2013, County dropped once more and ended in in National League North. After a few near-misses with promotion, they won the 2018-9 title to return to the National League. And now the playoffs are in view too.
York City (2016)
The Minstermen’s time in the Football League dated back to 1929 at the point they were first relegated to the Conference in 2004. But, after coming back up in 2012, their second spell was much shorter; lasting four seasons before returning to non-league. And it didn’t go well, with York going straight through the National League in 2016-7 and down into the National League North. Three years on, the Minstermen have escaped mid-table and are battling hard for the title.
As we write, they’re top of the table – although Kings Lynn Town do have games in hand.
The Shakers got off to an encouraging start back in non-league, finishing seventh in their first campaign. Sure, it wasn’t quite good enough for the playoffs. But it gave hope for the next season. Things quickly went wrong and money ran out, however. In 2012, they were relegated and then wound up. A new club was set up right away and started again in the Northern League. They’ve since made it back into the National League North.
Hereford United (2012)
After dropping out of the Football League at the end of the 2011-2 season, the Bulls did finish a credible sixth in their first season back in non-league. They even finished above Luton. But it wasn’t good enough for the playoffs. And it wouldn’t get any better. In fact, things got a lot worse. At the end of a tough 2013-4 campaign, cash problems saw them chucked out of the Conference. Joining the Southern League, their issues continued to mount until the club was wound up in December 2014.
A new club has since formed in United’s place.