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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where are they now - Glossop North End?

Our series on what happened to the clubs who used to ply their trade in the Football League continues with Nobes taking a look at the fortunes of Glossop.

It's the ultimate pub quiz question - which is the smallest town to have ever had a top flight club?

Of course, those under the impression that football began in 1992 - or the Gospel according to Sky, as it's known - would probably latch onto Burnley's season in the Premier League sun last term.

Not even close. Instead, that record belongs to Glossop North End, or simply Glossop, who spent one of their 17 seasons in the Football League among the very best England had to offer.

Indeed, most people are probably unaware the Derbyshire town ever had a Football League club, let alone one which was once among the 18 best teams in the country.

Then again, those days were right at the start of the 20th century - with their last season in the Football League coming in 1914/5.

Glossop's Football League era began with a bang - after being admitted into the Second Division in 1898 - the Hillmen won promotion to the top flight in their very first season.

It was the first season that automatic promotion and relegation had been introduced between the top two tiers, and they took full advantage.

Ultimately, North End pipped third place Leicester Fosse by just a single point to join Champions Manchester City in the First Division.

It was during the summer of 1899, in preparation for their top flight debut, that the club dropped the 'North End' part of their name - and were simply known as Glossop.

Some story for a small town from the High Peak. However, it was an early example of the power a rich and benevolent owner can have on elevating a small club to a platform otherwise beyond its reach.

Surrey Street is the modern day home of Glossop North End

That man was Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, Glossop born and bred, who made his fortune from the cotton industry.

Plowing an estimated £30,000 into the club - a large amount back then - Glossop's money, time, and effort in finding the best professional footballers they could tempt paid off handsomely.

However, making the step-up to the First Division and competing with the likes of Liverpool, Everton and the dominant force of the decade - Aston Villa - proved too much.

Glossop finished their one and only season in the top flight well adrift at the bottom. Relegated, they never returned, spending their remaining 15 years in the Second Division.

They finished 5th in their first season back - a position they never bettered. Indeed, their final league standings gradually worsened with successive finishes of 8th, 11th, and 17th.

A brief revival between 1908 and 1910 saw them post top half finishes of 8th and 6th as well as reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup, but it was not to herald any future assault for promotion.

Hill-Wood's support had dried up, and he would eventually leave the club during the First World War. He later took over as chairman at Arsenal, where his grandson, Peter, remains chairman of the London club today.

The Hillmen - in the all white - faced Whitley Bay at Wembley in 2009

Glossop's decline had set in and, after twice narrowly finishing above bottom place, they ended the 1914/5 season in 20th - and lost a re-election vote before football was suspended due to the Great War.

The era of professional football at North Road was over and, after the end of the War, the club entered the Lancashire Combination League before switching to the Manchester League where they enjoyed relative success.

They remained changing between the two competitions before, in 1978, becoming founder members of the Cheshire County League and later the North West Counties League.

After spending the '80s yo-yoing between the new league's top two tiers, Glossop's very existence came under threat at the start of the '90s because of large debts and having had their Surrey Street ground sold from under them.

However, the club survived and went on to win promotion back to the First Division - prompting the club's new directors to revert back to their original name and restore the 'North End.'

They remain there today, holding their own in the North West Counties Premier - the ninth level of the pyramid.

The Hillmen's most notable success in recent times though was reaching Wembley in the FA Vase final in 2009. Ultimately, they lost out to Whitley Bay, but it had propelled Glossop back into the limelight.

Barring those pub quizzes, it had been a while. Next time, they'll hope it won't be quite as long.

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