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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where are they now - Nelson?

Our series looking at what happened to clubs who used to be members of the Football League continues as Nobes reflects on the history of Nelson.

It was in the mill towns of Lancashire that the Football League was rooted.

Half of the original 12 members were based around the county's towns and cities.

The names of Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley, Preston, and Everton were around in the very first season in 1888 and continue to compete in the top two divisions today.

The sixth side, and poorer relation, Accrington, were to go out of business after five years before twice re-forming.

Another of Lancashire's smaller sides, and one that had been in existence for seven years before the inception of the League, were Nelson.

A small Pennine town just north of Burnley, Nelson was never going to be able to produce a team able to compete with their more illustrious neighbours. However, they enjoyed success in local Lancashire leagues prior to the First World War.

After football resumed following the Great War, the Admirals spent two years in the Central League before being admitted into the Football League in 1921 as founder members of the Third Division North.

After struggling to make the transition in their first campaign, Nelson won their one and only promotion as Third Division North champions in 1923.

Some of the names they finished above includes current League One outfits Walsall, Tranmere, and Rochdale, as well as established names like Lincoln, Crewe, and Chesterfield.

It had been a surprise success story, the summer had seen a big turnover in playing staff and an opening day 6-2 defeat to Bradford Park Avenue had proved a false indication of Nelson's prospects.

Their form at their Seedhill ground was the key to their success. They won 15 of their 19 games as David Wilson's side finished top - four points clear of, ironically, Park Avenue.

Promotion to a national division was celebrated with a pre season tour of Spain, where they toppled Real Madrid in a friendly - becoming the first ever English side to beat them away.

The Nelson team who won the clubs sole Football League promotion

Their spell in the Second Division - competing against far more illustrious opponents - was to prove short lived though.

Despite wins at home over the likes of Leeds United and Derby and a sensational 1-0 victory at Manchester United, the Blues ended the season second bottom and were relegated.

Back in the Third Division North for the 1924/5 campaign, they challenged to instantly bounce back, but ended up second behind Champions Darlington.

As it turned out, they would never come as close again - 8th and 5th placed finishes followed before Nelson finished bottom of the entire division. However, despite their financial debts, they earned a reprieve through the re-election process.

The rot had set in though and three years later, in 1931, Nelson finished bottom again. This time they lost their re-election vote, being replaced by Chester City.

Relegation hit the club hard, and debts saw them fold in 1936 before being re-established as Nelson Town playing a local district league before being accepted back into the Lancashire Combination before the Second World War.

Post-1945, and having dropped the 'Town' from their name, they found themselves as strong contenders in the Combination. They ended up winners in 1950 and 1952 and runners-up in 1951.

The 52' title was under the management of Joe Fagan - who would go on to win the European Cup with Liverpool in 1984.

Seedhill and Victoria Park - the two homes of the Admirals

Despite this consistent form though, the Admirals were unsuccessful in their attempts to get back into the Football League.

Things took a turn for the worse for the club in the '60s when they ended up relegated to the Second Division of the Lancashire Combination.

There they remained until the restructuring of the pyramid during the early '80s saw them moved into the
Third Division of the North West Counties League and then the Second Division.

They remained there for the next 20 years, but for a brief spell in the West Lancashire league because of the state of their home - now Victoria Park.

However, in 2006, Nelson secured their first promotion in over 80 years when they made it into the First Division.

The step-up proved difficult, however, with financial issues off the field continuing to dog them. Despite talk, a return to their old home at Seedhill never materialised, and things finally caught up with the Blues this July.

Debts and a lack of sponsorship saw Nelson resign from the North West Counties League and end football in the town after almost 130 years.

It was the familiar story that had blighted them throughout their existence - struggling to compete for support surrounded by much bigger fish.

However, with youth teams still continuing under the town's name, perhaps it's not the end of the story for Nelson, simply the beginning of a new chapter.

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