40 Year Anniversary: The Inaugural Alliance Premier Season

By Sam Elliott

We’re getting ready to celebrate the 40th year in the competition’s history - so we’re revisiting a key season from each decade as we build up to the big day

The inaugural season of the new Alliance Premier League - the forerunner of the current Vanarama National League – was 1979/80 and it created a lot of interest in the national press.

Up to that point, apart from FA Cup giantkillings, little was written in the national papers about Non-League football, although there was plenty in the regional and local papers of which there were certainly more in those days and, like me, many still mourn the passing of the Saturday night Pink `Un or Green `Un as it was in Nottingham.

But the new league drawn from teams from the Southern and Northern Premier League created a lot of interest.

It`s fascinating to look at the league`s first year and its teams.
The power houses were predicted to be the northern outfits, but in the end five of the division`s first top seven were clubs previously rivals in the Southern League.

Of the initial twenty clubs that started that 1979/80 season, five have been re-formed, one is in the Welsh Premier and two are currently plying their trade in the Football League.

Altrincham were the inaugural champions, edging out Weymouth by just two points in the end.

The Robins (pictured above) were a strong, powerful unit with the likes of Stan Allan, John Davison and John Owens at the back, tough-tackling John King in midfield, John Rogers and Jeff Johnson in attack and former Manchester United star Alex Stepney in goal.

The Terras (pictured below) under Stuart Morgan had a very potent attack in Tommy Paterson and Anniello Iannone, but it was a slightly disappointing season for two of the pre-season favourites to do well, Kettering Town, who had been to Wembley in May 1979 for the FA Trophy Final, and Northwich Victoria.

The Poppies, under Mick Jones and with the silky Billy Kellock, Peter Phipps and Roy Clayton, finished seventh with the Vics, who possessed the league`s leading scorer in Graham Smith, ended up a place below the Northamptonshire side.

Another disappointing side that first season were Stafford Rangers, who had surprisingly beaten Kettering at Wembley, as they could only manage second-bottom, four points above Redditch United, who became the first team relegated from the new set-up and found themselves in the Southern League Midland Division.

AP Leamington ended up in third-bottom spot.

They lasted two more seasons before being relegated in 1981/82 and eventually folded in 1987 before resurfacing as Leamington in 2000 and eventually finding their way back to the National League North in 2013.

Maidstone United were another club to disappear and then return under a new guise in 1992 and they have been in and out of the Football League since.

Scarborough, Nuneaton Borough and Telford United are three other of the founder members who have all returned under new names and banners.

Telford experienced severe financial difficulties towards the end of the 2003/04 season following the collapse of the Miras Contracts business of chairman and sole shareholder Andy Shaw.

The club went into administration, and although supporters raised around £50,000 in two months, the club's debts totalled over £4 million, resulting in liquidation in May 2004.

But they quickly re-formed under AFC Telford United and, after spending a couple of years in the Northern Premier League, have been back at the top end of the non-League Pyramid since 2007.

Nuneaton were liquidated in 2008 and were reformed as Nuneaton Town and placed in the Southern League Division One, returning to the Conference (National League) in 2010, winning promotion to the top level of non-League football just two years later.

Scarborough Athletic were formed in 2007 out of the ashes of the old Scarborough club, who were wound-up with debts of over £2.5 million.

They gained promotion to the Football League in 1987 as the first promotees from the Conference but fell back in 1999 and their demise followed soon afterwards.

Bangor City were the only Welsh representatives in the inaugural season of the Alliance Premier.

They were relegated in 1981 but made an immediate return.

But the end of the 1983/84 brought mixed fortunes for the Citizens.

They became the first Welsh club to play at Wembley since Cardiff in 1927, when reaching the FA Trophy Final against Northwich Victoria.

The match finished 1–1 and the replay at Stoke's Victoria Ground saw Bangor lose 2–1 in the last minute.

They were also relegated again, and then in 1991 became one of the reluctant founder members of the Welsh Premier (League of Wales).

The founder members:

AP Leamington
Bangor City
Barrow AFC
Bath City
Boston United
Gravesend & Northfleet
Kettering Town
Maidstone United
Northwich Victoria
Nuneaton Borough
Redditch United
Stafford Rangers
Telford United
Worcester City
Yeovil Town

Words by Steve Whitney

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