It’s been awhile since we’ve focused on the clubs that used to be members of the Football League but going into the new decade with one club short already in the Football League, it is a topical subject for what happens when a team is forced out of the league for whatever reason.
The town of Ashington in Northumberland has a famous footballing pedigree. The Milburn (Jackie played briefly for the club) and Charlton brothers were born in the town as well as Steve Harmison (and his brother Ben), who whilst became a cricketing legend (and earned him an MBE) went on to manage Ashington AFC for a couple of seasons.
The club was formed in 1883 under the name of Ashington Rising Star, wearing a distinctive all black kit with a white star on the breast. They entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1887 entering the Ashington AFC was formed in 1883 making it one of the oldest Clubs in Northumberland. Despite it’s minor status it entered the FA Cup as early as 1887. After joining the Northern Alliance in 1892, the club soon switched to the East Northumberland League where it remained until 1902 when it returned to the Northern Alliance. The Colliers played in this league until 1914, winning the League Title in 1913/14, as well as the Northumberland Challenge Bowl in 1913. They switched to the North-Eastern League in 1914/15, finishing the season in ninth place. The outbreak of World War One brought an end to football as we knew it for five seasons.
After one more season in the North-Eastern League following the Great War, Ashington became founder members of the new Third Division (North) in 1921 as the Football League expanded. The club’s first game in the Football League was at home to Grimsby Town. A crowd of approximately 10,000 crammed into Portland Park, their ground at the time which was owned by the Duke of Portland. Thanks to a share issue the club were able to double the capacity of Portland Park, with grand ambitions for progress up the Football Leagues.
In their first season in Football League 3 North they finished in tenth place, above clubs such as Tranmere Rovers and Lincoln City who have gone on to greater things (although both have spent time outside of the Football League). The following season they finished in the bottom two but remained after being re-elected by their fellow clubs. However, fortunes returned and they recorded their best ever finish in 8th place the following season.
At the end of their 8th season in the Football League they finished bottom of the league for the first time and for the first time since that first season faced re-election. Unfortunately, on this occasion they were voted out with York City voted in in their place. Whilst many other clubs in the division had strengthened, Ashington’s local community and supporter base was hit heavily by the General Strike of 1926 which had a long term impact on the industry. Their last Football League game was at Portland Park against Halifax Town where only 706 were in attendance. They did attempt to regain their place in the Football League, applying for election again in 1950 when they failed to dislodge York City, gaining no votes at all.
The club started the following season in the North Eastern Football League where they remained until the outbreak of the Second World War, still taking part in the FA Cup rounds proper including hosting a game against Aston Villa in front of what was the biggest ever attendance, 13,199, at Portland Park. After hostilities ended the club decided to transfer their membership to the Midland League in 1958, along with a host of other clubs based in the North-East as the previous league folded. They finished runners-up to Peterborough United in their first season, then third in the next season before the Midland League folded and they returned to the North-East, moving between leagues until they found their spot in the Northern League.
Ashington’s League form was hardly superb, by their own admission, and since 1968 they have only enjoyed two promotions, one in 2001 and again back to the Northern League Division 1 in 2004 where they have been playing ever since. Their finest moment during the last fifty years came in the old FA Amateur Cup when they reached the semi-finals in 1974, eventually losing after a replay to Bishop’s Stortford at Brentford’s Griffin Park., back in , but the Colliers did reach the FA Amateur Cup Semi-Final in 1974 (the last ever one before it was replaced by the FA Trophy), before losing to eventual winners Bishops Stortford in a replay at Brentford.
In 2008 the club left Portland Park as it was sold to ASDA to move to Woodhorn Lane. The final match was played at the the old ground in February 2008 against Seaham Red Star, attracting a crowd of 1,954. The club moved across town to the Hirst Welfare complex until the end of the season. The first game at Woodhorn Lane took place on 30 August 2008 against Ossett Albion, with 341 spectators watching a 2–1 win for Ashington in an FA Cup preliminary round game.
The club today play at the eleventh level of English football, with a long climb ahead of them if they are to get back into the Football League. With so much local competition from clubs with significantly bigger budgets it would seem we will have to wait a few more years before we see the name Ashington back in the professional game.