THE BLOG

One More Story From Non-League to Add to This Season's Amazing Compilation

12/05/2016 15:52

As we careen headlong into the final days of this extraordinary season, it is time to take stock of just how many incredible stories there have been at every level of English football.

At the very top, Leicester City, and the most unlikely title win since Nottingham Forest in the mid-1970s. In the Championship, Middlesbrough securing promotion against closest rivals Brighton on the last day, despite the manager having walked out halfway through the season before returning 48 hours later. In League One, a second successive promotion for Burton Albion, who will play in the second tier in 2016 having not played league football until 2009. And in League Two, Northampton securing the largest points tally of any of the 92 clubs, at the end of a season which started with the threat of liquidation.

All stories which deserve to be told and remembered. There have also been plenty of tales worth knowing in level five, the National League.

Cheltenham Town are already back in the Football League having won the title a year after being relegated, amassing 101 points, 12 more than their nearest rivals.

They are managed by Gary Johnson, who not too long ago was one came away from guiding Bristol City to the Premier League. No offence to Cheltenham, and Johnson has had a couple of dodgy spells since, but that does appear to be a man punching under his managerial weight.

The play-offs, meanwhile have been fought out between Forest Green and Dover, Grimsby and Braintree. It will be Grimsby and Forest Green who compete in the final, but Braintree are worth a word.

They are one of only a handful of semi-professional clubs in the National League, can seat only 550 fans in their ground and often have crowds of fewer. Manager Danny Cowley is a PE teacher as his main job, with his brother Nicky, also a teacher, as his assistant.

Yet they came third in the league, and won at Grimsby 1-0, before losing 2-0 at home in the second leg after extra time and having a man sent off.

Whether they can repeat anything like this success next season is highly debatable, but having never come lower than 14th since initially being promoted to this level for the first time ever in 2010, it would be churlish to call this a flash in the pan, for what is a very well run and admirable club.

So, the play-off finalists. On one hand Grimsby, who spent 106 years in the Football League, who are the only current non-league club to have previously played in English football's top tier. They have history on their side.

On the other hand Forest Green, a team named after a place that does not exist and who play on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, who have never played in the Football League and are the world's only vegan club. They have the future on their side.

Whichever team joins Cheltenham in League Two next season, it will be yet another great story to add to this season's book, the greatest compilation since Aesop's Fables.

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