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Battle For Promotion To The Vanarama National League Hotting-Up

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With Easter fast approaching – and hopefully rather warmer weather – the battle for promotion into the Vanarama National League is really hotting up.

We could see three of the original founder members back in the competition.

Altrincham currently lead the Evo-Stik League Premier table, having suffered back-to-back relegations from the National League and then National League North.

But they look to be heading straight back up at the first attempt, although they did have a hiccup on Saturday when they were beaten 2-1 at home by the team who came down with them at the end of last season, Stalybridge Celtic.

Kettering Town, like Alty, were founder members of the Alliance Premier League in 1979 and stayed at the top level until 2001 when they were relegated.

Since then they have been in and out on more than one occasion before going down to the Southern League in 2015.

They have lost their old Rockingham Road home and now play at Latimer Park.

Weymouth were also founder members and held top grade football on the Dorset coast until 1989.

They were back again in 2004 and had three seasons back at the top level of non-League football between 2006 and 2009, but back-to-back relegations saw them return to the Southern Premier in 2010.

Three other former members of the National League, Ashton United, Witton Albion and Farsley Celtic (under its new guise) are also pushing for a place amongst the top of the non-League Pyramid from the Northern Premier League.

Ashton had just one season as a member of the National League North in 2004/05 before being relegated straight back down, while Witton were members back in 1991 until 1994 when they also enjoyed a Wembley visit in the FA Trophy Final.

Farsley came up in 2006 via the play-offs and achieved a second successive promotion the following season when a fifth-place finish in the Conference North saw them again qualify for the play-offs.

They beat Hinckley United 4–3 in the final at the Pirelli Stadium but the club’s first season in the Conference National ended in relegation back to the Conference North and financial problems led to the club being expelled from the league prior to the 2009/10 season, although they were re-admitted shortly afterwards.

However, they subsequently went into Administration and were expelled from the Conference in March 2010 after being unable to fulfil their fixtures before being disbanded later that month.

The club was re-formed as Farsley AFC and joined the Premier Division of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League for the 2010/11 season.

Since then, and after returning to their former iconic name of Farsley Celtic, they have made it back to the Evo-Stik Northern Premier and are in line for at least a play-off place.

Slough Town plied their trade in the Conference from 1990 until 1994 and again from 1995 until 1998 but have been in the Isthmian and Southern leagues ever since.

They have a smart new home at Arbour Park and are battling for at least a play-off spot in the Evo-Stik League South Premier, as are Hereford FC, who are currently favourites to take the title – a year after winning the South West division.

This is a brand-new club, however, and although it plays at the former home of Hereford United, Edgar Street, it has no connection with the club that spent from 1997 to 2006 and from 2012 to 2015 in the National League and then folded.

King`s Lynn Town are battling with the Bulls for the Evo-Stik League South Premier title and, like Hereford, are also a `new` club, having been re-formed in 2010 when they joined the ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League.

They won promotion to the Evo-Stik North in 2012 and went up to the Premier in 2013 after which they were switched south where they have since finished ninth and thirteenth before being serious title contenders this term under former Norwich City favourite Ian Culverhouse.

The Bostik League Premier title race sees only two clubs who have experienced the top end of the non-League Pyramid – Margate and Staines Town.

Margate spent four seasons in the Conference between 2001 and 2005, while the Swans were members of the Conference South from 2009 until 2015, but their only route back will be via the play-offs as the title race looks to be between Billericay Town, Dulwich Hamlet, Folkestone Invicta and Margate.

Billericay`s ambitions have been well-documented and they have created a great deal of interest through owner/manager Glenn Tamplin bringing in former pros such as Jermaine Pennant, who has since left, Jamie O`Hara, Jake Robinson, Kevin Foley etc., and has also improved their New Lodge stadium and they are now attracting big crowds.

The stadium issue is currently clouding Dulwich`s hopes of getting in amongst the top echelons of the non-League game.

There`s no doubting the support off the field is there for Hamlet and manager Gavin Rose has done a marvellous job on the pitch, but they are currently having to play at Tooting & Mitcham United whilst the row over their current Champion Hill lease goes on.

It`s been quite a rise for Folkestone, who were only promoted from the Kent League in 1998.

Since then, switching between the Southern and Isthmian leagues, they won a place in the Bostik Premier last season and Neil Cugley`s side have surprised many by maintaining a title challenge.

Hendon are one of the biggest names in non-League football never to have tasted life in the National League.

An iconic name from amateur days, they have remained members of the Isthmian Premier since 1977 and have a new stadium at Silver Jubilee Park but, like Staines, look to the play-offs as their best chance of going up.

Outsiders in the top five challenge are Leiston, arguably the smallest club in the race.

The Suffolk outfit only made it into the Eastern Counties (Thurlow Nunn) League in 2001 after winning promotion from the Suffolk & Ipswich League and after winning promotion from Division One in 2004, became Premier Division champions in 2011 and went straight through the Bostik North in 2011/12 to win promotion to the Premier.

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