The English league pyramid goes something like this….1. Premier League (20 clubs), 2. Championship (24 teams), 3. Division One (24 teams), 4. Division Two (24 teams) – your standard 92 clubs. Below this is:-
5. Blue Square Premier League – 24 teams
6. Blue Square North and South – 44 teams (22 in each)
7. Isthmian Premier League – feeds into Blue Square South -22 teams
7. Southern (Zamaretto League) – feeds into Blue Square North or South depending on location – 22 teams
7. Unibond Northern Premier – feeds into Blue Square North – 21 teams
So in the top 7 levels of English football we have 225 clubs. We are now three full months into the season and there isn’t one team who have a 100% record….or is there?Well actually there is. Although it is not a 100% record that they will have wanted – step forward Unibond Premier League Team Durham City. Last season the club won the Unibond First Division and were thus promoted to the Premier league, a promotion that followed swiftly on the back of the Division Two championship in 2008. So all is well in the state of Durham is it not? Not really because after 17 league games the club have lost every single one.
On Saturday 7th November they played away at Kings Lynn and lost 11-0. This came on the back of defeats against Marine, Bradford Park Avenue, Kendal Town, North Ferriby United and Burscough where they had conceded more than 7. In fact their goals against ratio of 88 from their 17 games is also currently leading the way in the goals against charts. So what exactly has gone wrong for a club who appeared to be on a meteoric rise up the table?
The original club actually played in the Football League in the years between 1921 and 1928. They actually ceased to exist ten years later but were reformed in 1950 and entered the Northern League structure a few years later where they have remained ever since. The momentum the team built up over the past few seasons was carried into the pre-season where they beat the teams they were expected to beat and competed admirably against the likes of Gateshead and Sunderland. So things were looking up for the club, and with a prize at the end of the season a shot at promotion to the Blue Square North optimism was high.
And then came the double whammy. The club’s major financial benefactor and sponsor decided to withdraw their funding. Whilst there may have been other reasons behind this, it appeared that the simple reason was that Durham city could go no higher in the pyramid. The reason for this was that the Conference (the governing body for the Blue Square leagues) would not allow clubs with artificial pitches to play in their leagues. Their logic was based on the FA’s decision to bar any clubs from the FA Cup who had artificial pitches (yet they still allowed them in the FA Trophy?). So should Durham finish in the top five at the end of the season they would not be invited to take part in the play offs or allowed to move up should they gain promotion. Farcical but not surprising based on some of our governing body’s previous decisions.
The players were told of the situation in August that there was simply no money in the kitty to pay them the wages they had been used to in the surge up the leagues. A few agreed to stay, but after a few weeks only one, Marc Riches remained (it should be noted that Marc still plays with pride for the team) and the club were forced to essentially recruit a whole new squad at hours notice to fulfil the fixtures. Unsurprisingly the squad was made up of trialists, youth academy players rejected by other clubs and players who agreed to play for nothing. The average age of the team that played in the game away at Stocksbridge in August was less than 20 years old. Despite all that had been thrown at them the core of fans supported the club irrespective of the quality of players, happy in most instances that they still had a club unlike nearby Newcastle Blue Star who simply ceased to exist after a similar episode. Of course a few fans deserted the team but on the whole like a marriage the core were in it for “sickness and in health”.
The Durham City chairman, Stewart Dawson, believes there is a future for the club, albeit preparing for relegation this season. Whilst a number of the results have seemed like men versus boys, the players are completely committed and the club has actually turned down offers from more experienced players, preferring to try and mould a team that could compete at a lower level next season. The decision of the FA (who have so far refused to comment on their “artificial pitch” rule) has essentially affected not just the team, but the local community. Pride, Passion, Belief my arse.