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Monday, March 15, 2010

The Rise of Phoenixes

After the demise of Chester City and Farsley Celtic last week, Nobes reflects upon the success of the group of phoenix clubs that offer hope for the future.

Phoenix club AFC Wimbledon's rise up the pyramid has been driven by their fans

The summer of 2007 was unlike any other I've experienced as a football fan.

There's a saying in the game that, even when your team is struggling and perhaps on course to get relegated, that "there's always next season."

Three summers ago, I wasn't sure there was going to be.

My team, Boston United, had just been relegated from the Football League and had entered into a CVA - Company Voluntary Arrangement - or effectively administration.

We were heavily in debt - to both football creditors and Revenues and Customs - and the existence of the club was in severe doubt.

It was around that time that, in conversations with other lower league supporters, they suggested that the only future was for Pilgrims fans to form a phoenix club - AFC Boston or the like - and start afresh with a new club.

Some made the suggestion in sympathy, others did so gloatingly, holding past sins of employees against the club's fans. Who was in each party has not been forgotten by us United fans.

However, we were lucky. We found buyers who saved the club and are now beginning to turn our fortunes around on and off the pitch. Others, in the past, and in the last week, have not been so fortunate.

The sad demise of Chester City and Farsley Celtic last Wednesday were not unexpected events - both clubs have had serious problems on and off the pitch in recent months.

It didn't make the final confirmation of the death of their clubs any easier to digest though. One Chester fan commented that it really began to hit home when City were discussed in the past tense on the club's Wikipedia entry.

Sadly, they aren't the first fans to see their club suffer this fate. I also doubt they will be the last. However, they can at least draw some comfort and inspiration from those who have gone before them.

Indeed, the Non Leagues are becoming commonplace with the re-incarnation, or phoenix teams, of former Football League and Conference clubs.

One of the most famous of them all are AFC Wimbledon. Established in the aftermath of the original Wimbledon's move to Milton Keynes and the creation of the MK Dons, the new Crazy Gang are a model phoenix side.

Since 2002, Wimbledon have been promoted four times in seven seasons and have risen from the depths of the Non League game to the Conference Premier.

Their current challenge for the play-offs suggests a return to the Football League is not too far off. It would complete a rise every bit as meteoric as the original club's during the 1980s.

Aldershot supporters saw their Football League status return to their town after 16 years

Aldershot Town are another successful example of the re-birth of the club. The original Aldershot FC were members of the basement tier when they went out of business in 1992.

Town began their life five levels below, but have now worked their way back to the same division their ancestor used to reside at. Promotion in 2008 was an emotional moment for all involved at the Hampshire club.

This season too, Newport County's runaway success at the top of the Conference South means the Welsh side's new incarnation are back at the level the original club was when it went bust.

It's those kinds of fairy tales which now serve to inspire many phoenix clubs across the Non Leagues. Scarborough and Halifax Town, two sides relegated from the Football League around the Millennium have both since gone to the wall.

However, now under the guise of Scarborough Athletic and FC Halifax Town the pair are steadily making their way up the divisions.

Another great success story has been AFC Telford United. The Shropshire outfit were formed after the original Conference side Telford went bust in 2004.

The Bucks have won two promotions and narrowly missed out on a return to the top level of the Non League game in the last two seasons.

Interest in the 'new' Telford United has seen them attract gates that, despite the club being at a lower level, surpass those of the original side.

It is evidence that a strong support and dedicated fans can help resurrect a town or city's footballing presence and that phoenix clubs can go on to have a future just as bright as their forefather.

It is that hope which fans of Chester and Farsley must hold on to and cultivate over the coming months as they set about forming new clubs of their own. This is not the end, just a new beginning.

1 comment:

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