The smallest town in England to have a Football League side is the legacy Glossop FC have given football in this country. Sitting on the A57 running between Manchester and Sheffield, the Derbyshire town has a population of just over 32,000, less than the population of Clacton-On-Sea, Craigavon, Whitstable and Barry. Yet for seventeen years the town supported a Football League side.
Founded in 1886 as a recreational side for the local mills, the club soon became one of the most feared in the Midland League. In 1897, with the backing of local cotton mill owner, Samuel Hill-Wood (he of the Arsenal family fame – more of that later) the club applied to join the Football League, after finishing as runners up in the Midland League to another small little side – Ardwick. Both clubs were duly elected into the Football League for the start of the 1897/98 season. Hill-Wood’s investment in the club, the ground at North Road and in the playing budget enabled Glossop to gain promotion in their first season. It is worth noting that the club also dropped the “North End” tag on gaining promotion to the Football League in honour of Preston North End.
Their stay in the top tier of English football was brief. Four wins was their return from that single season and they were relegated long before Aston Villa won the title. Hill-Wood’s involvement in the club slowly wained as his interest in politics grew, and the local businessman was elected as MP for the town in 1910. Whilst his ambitions were on the rise, the football club’s were slowly sliding down the snake pass. By the time war broke out in 1914 the club were short of funds and struggling to hold their own. In May 1915 the club finished in last spot in the Second Division. Whilst in normal situations the club would apply for re-election, the Football League suspended the competition until 1919.
Whilst Glossop argued that they should be allowed to stay in the league, their case was ultimately unsuccessful and they were not re-elected, with their place in an expanded Second Division taken by South Shields, amongst others. Hill-Wood severed ties with the club soon after, concentrating on his political career until 1929 when he joined the board at Highbury.
Today, the club are known as Glossop North End, plying their trade in the North West Counties Premier League. In May 2009 they reached the final of the FA Vase at Wembley Stadium, losing to Whitby Bay 2-0.
It is incredibly hard to imagine the club ever managing to rise to the levels they hit a century ago, but they will always have a place in the history of the game. They will, at least for a few more months, be the smallest town to have hosted League football – that is unless Nailsworth earn the honour with Forest Green Rovers.
Next up – South Shields.