York wary of unwanted record as tide starts to turn against Football League new boys

Twelve months ago, York City were making history for the right reasons. A week after defeating Newport County 2-0 at Wembley to lift the FA Trophy for the first time, the Minstermen came from behind to beat Luton Town under the arch to seal their return to the Football League after an eight-year absence.

Under Gary Mills’ guidance, City became only the sixth club ever to play at Wembley on consecutive weekends, following Port Vale (1993), Stockport County (1992), Tranmere Rovers (1991) and Ealing Association, who used the iconic venue as their home ground in 1928.

Yet York are now potentially 90 minutes away from becoming the first club to be relegated from the Football League in their first season after promotion.

Workington, Newport, Torquay United, Boscombe, Rochdale, Halifax Town, Brentford and Gillingham have all had to rely on re-election a year after entering the Football League since the creation of a ‘third division’ in 1920. 

But since the system of election and re-election was scrapped ahead of the 1986/87 campaign, no side promoted to the Football League has plummeted straight back down. Invariably, the forward momentum gathered from promotion to ‘the promised land’ has stood the newcomers in good stead for the immediate years ahead.

York celebrate promotion last season - could the joy be short lived?

Darlington, Macclesfield Town, Doncaster Rovers, Carlisle United and Exeter City all celebrated automatic promotion 12 months after exiting the Conference, while Yeovil Town and Hereford United matched it within two seasons.

In fact, since the introduction of a second promotion place from non-league in 2002/03, 13 of the 20 clubs coming up have either moved up into League 1 or reached the League 2 play-offs – most recently Crawley Town in 2012.

But there are signs the tide is starting to turn. As the economic climate continues to bite and clubs with bigger fan-bases – and budgets - drop into the fourth tier, it is becoming tougher for the underdog to have its day.

Defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge could make York the first promoted club to suffer an immediate return to the fifth tier, although the Daggers themselves may be in danger of seeing their six-year spell in the Football League come to an end should they lose the crunch clash in East London.

That result will be irrelevant should two other clubs frequently facing an uphill battle financially– AFC Wimbledon and Aldershot Town – fail to win.

Second time unlucky? Wimbledon must win to avoid returning to non-league

Relegation for the Dons would come in only their second season in the Football League having rocketed through the non-league system. While Aldershot’s stay in the fourth tier seems set to end after five years back among the elite.

After Hereford also lost their place among the 92 last term after six years, clubs coming up from non-league are being given less time to cut their teeth.

A division split between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is nothing new in English football. But the odds on seeing a repeat of the 2009/10 League 2 play-offs where three of the four clubs – Dagenham, Morecambe and Aldershot – had been promoted from the Conference within the previous three years, are drifting.

Survival is the name of the game, as Barnet continue to champion. For a fourth season in succession, they go into their final game threatened with relegation from League 2.

But they are Barnet. They never go down.