Dartford FC are on a crest of a wave and for the third time in six years tasted glory by clinching promotion, this time to the Conference Premier League. Reaching the top flight of non-league for only the third time The Darts will start 2012/13 in their fourth ever season at the pinnacle.
A lot can change in twenty six years, promotion, relegation, reformation and liquidation, even experimentation with the points system. So where are the opponents of 1986 now?
Enfield (now Enfield 1893)
Champions of the Gola League in 1985/86 by seven points amassing 76 of them, the club were at its peak in the mid-eighties.
In the days of three points for an away win, two for a home victory and one for a draw, the Essex club had won the Alliance Premier League (now the Conference Premier) three years earlier and the F.A Trophy, the year when Dartford experienced the top flight for the first and only time before 1986.
The E’s were more successful than the experimental points system which ended the following season after a three year trial. Enfield triumphed in the F.A Trophy again in 1988 defeating Telford United in the final. After a goalless draw at Wembley the two sides battled out a replay at The Hawthorns which ended 3-2. Even though relegation beckoned in 1990, by the end of nineties Enfield were well and truly on the non-league map.
Twice Conference and F.A Trophy winners and after seven Isthmian titles an eighth was added in 1995 but this was to be a turning point in their history. Denied a place back into the top flight because the Conference were not satisfied with their finances the club sold Southbury Road.
Two successive relegations in 2003 and 2004 and liquidation three years later finished the club as Enfield. A new club was reformed in 2007 under the guise of Enfield 1893 and they now ply their trade in the Essex Senior League which they won in 2011.
The E’s need ground improvements before making their way up the ladder again. This season a seventh place finish ensured another season at step 5.
Runners up in 1986, Sean Marshall won Gola’s Manager of the Year. Remarkably the Yorkshire club reached the F.A Cup Third Round for the first and only time, losing to Rotherham United.
The Blues failed to repeat their highest ever position and followed the success up with a disastrous season in 1986/87. Frickley Athletic were relegated to the Northern Premier League in their seventh Alliance Premier campaign only finishing above Gateshead.
Spending most of their Northern Premier League days in the lower regions of the division they did lose a playoff final in 2006.
After relegation in April on goal difference, The Blues will now take part in the First Division.
Top scorers in 1985/86 with 99 goals they are one of a host of clubs that made it into the Football League.
The following season The Harriers experienced F.A Trophy glory by winning against Burton Albion in a replay. After a 0-0 draw at Wembley the Worcestershire club triumphed 2-1 in a replay.
In 1994 Kidderminster Harriers had a tremendous adventure reaching the F.A Cup Fifth Round. After qualification to the First Round they disposed of Kettering Town, the dominant Woking side of the mid-nineties, shocked Division One side Birmingham City and Division Three’s Preston North End.
The non-leaguers bowed out with dignity finally stopped by Premier League’s West Ham United in a 1-0 defeat. Not only that, they went on to take the Conference title but league football had to wait as ground improvements were required.
Enter the new millennium and finally Aggborough hosted league football for five years. The club struggled with life in League Two and with the collapse of ITV Digital relegation became a reality in 2005.
Two years later The Harriers made history becoming the first side to play in an F.A Trophy Final at the new Wembley. A record 53,262 supporters turned out to see Stevenage Borough take the honours in an entertaining game ending 3-2. The defeat came twelve years after losing the F.A Trophy Final 2-1 to Woking.
Now coming up to their eighth successive Conference Premier season, Kidderminster Harriers finished sixth last time out missing out on the playoffs by five points.
Twenty six years ago The Robins had a fine season finishing fourth, it was the third season in a row they ended up in top five. Even better, the Cheshire club were victorious in the F.A Trophy when they beat Runcorn by a solitary goal. It was the second time the club had won the honours and it was to be their last.
The Robins were a strong force in the eighties having been crowned champions in 1979/80 and retaining the title the following season. It wasn’t until 1997 that the northern side fell out of the top flight and into the Northern Premier League.
Two seasons were spent at the second tier but they soon returned. Promotion as champions in 1999 was followed by relegation the season after.
When non league football was restructured The Robins started in the Conference North and in the inaugural season won the playoffs. Altrincham spent five struggling years in the Conference Premier and finished in the drop zone three years in a row between 2005 and 2008, sure it is an unwanted record but thanks to the troubles at Scarborough, Canvey Island, Boston United and Halifax Town the club were reprieved on each occasion.
Finally luck run out and in 2011 when the club finished third from bottom, a position higher would have seen another reprieve due to the demise of Rushden and Diamonds. However, they spent 2011/12 back in the Conference North finishing eighth.
Representing Dorset in 1986, Weymouth were about to bid farewell to the Recreation Ground after 89 years. In the last season at their former home The Terras finished fifth. Ron Greenwood had the honours to open the Wessex Stadium and the club beat Manchester United that same night in a friendly.
Since Weymouth’s new home was opened they have flirted between Southern League divisions. Relegated from the Conference Premier in 1989, another drop in 1991, back up to the Southern League Premier (1992), then straight down to the Southern League South (1993).
Former Dart Graham Carr took charge in May 1995 but resigned in September and three years later The Terras were back up to the Southern League Premier.
Famous journalist and author Ian Ridley took control of the Dorset club and in 2004 finished second to win promotion to the Southern Premier League under Steve Claridge. Chasing the top flight football Ridley’s club went professional after winning the Conference South in 2006. Since then it has been all downhill.
Financial problems struck Weymouth three years ago and they suffered a 9-0 defeat against Rushden and Diamonds. The Terras could only field an under 18’s side and the inevitable slide began. Relegated to the Conference South then back to the Southern Premier in successive seasons, the Dorset side were in another battle to avoid the drop in 2011/12.
Runcorn (then Runcorn Halton)
When The Darts first made it to the top of the non league pyramid for the 1981/82 season Runcorn won the league by seven points. In 1986 the Cheshire club finished sixth and lost in the F.A Trophy Final to fourth place Altrincham.
In fact The Linnets were the bridesmaids in the F.A Trophy again in 1993 and 1994 losing to Wycombe Wanderers and Woking. After their third trophy defeat disaster struck at Canal Street the following season. In a cup match against Hull City the perimeter wall collapsed, a roof blew off one stand and the main stand was damaged by fire. The maintenance was too costly and relegation for the first time in 1996 did not aid matters, the ground was sold in 2000.
The club renamed Runcorn Halton, played at the Halton Stadium in Widnes and in the first Conference North season were relegated to the Northern Premier League. Fans became disgruntled as the club looked to move out of Halton and by 2006 Runcorn Linnets were formed by the disatisfied supporters.
Meanwhile Runcorn Halton suffered a succesive relegation before folding completely.
Promoted to the Gola League the season before Stafford Rangers spent ten seasons in the top flight. During that time they got through six managers in seven seasons and sold Stan Collymore to Crystal Palace.
The Rangers were relegated to the Southern Premier League and then the Southern League (Midland) division a season later.
It took the Staffordshire club four years to return when they won the Southern League (West), then automatic promotion from the Premier League earning them a place in the Conference North.
Stafford Rangers returned to the top flight after eleven years beating Droylsdon in a Playoff Final on penalties.
The brief stint lasted two seasons and club went through more managers and financial problems. Former Wolverhampton Wanderers and England striker Steve Bull spent ten months in the managerial hot seat but could not stop the slide.
In 2011 they headed back to the Northern Premier League where they finished sixteenth last season.
Telford United (now AFC Telford United)
A story all to familiar in recent times, Dartford and more succesfully AFC Wimbledon were saved by the people who cared the most.
Telford United were a famous non league outfit back in the day, known for F.A Trophy successes in 1970/71 and 1982/83 and were runners up in the first ever final back in 1969/70.
The Bucks registered another second place in the trophy in 1987/88 and were successful for a third time in 1988/1989 defeating a Macclesfield Town side who knocked Dartford out of the semi-finals.
For the new milenium the club went full time and four years later Telford United were liquidated. On the same day of the fateful news the Supporters Trust formed AFC Telford United and started again.
As AFC Telford United the club is not adverse to a bit of playoff action. In 2005, their first season, a playoff final victory versus Kendal Town promoted the club to the Northern Premier League. Two years later they were back for more drama beating Witton Albion 3-1 to win a place in the Conference North.
Over the first two seasons The Bucks reached the playoffs again but fell short succumbing to Barrow in the 2008 semi-final and Gateshead in 2009’s final. Finally they triumphed in the final defeating Guiseley 3-2.
Last season was their first back in the Conference Premier and they managed to finish five points above the drop zone.
The Poppies came so close to triumphant seasons in the last 26 years but have been rewarded with two titles. Runners up in the 1979 F.A Trophy losing to Stafford Rangers they returned as the losing side again in 2000 when Kingstonian lifted the trophy. On top of those near misses they ended up second in the top flight on four occasions in 1981, 1989, 1994 and 1998.
After 30 years at the top their reign ended in 2001 with a final day relegation but the club bounced back a year later taking the Southern League title, also on the final day. Kettering Town were demoted to the Isthmian League in 2002/03 season in time to take part in the inaugral Conferernce North.
For thirty nine days Paul Gascoigne managed the Northamptonshire side in 2006 and then they went full time. Defeat in the Conference North Playoff Final against Farsley Celtic was followed up the next year with a league title success.
Three years ago the club reached the F.A Cup Fourth Round for the first time since 1989, the season they knocked out Dartford. A creditable 4-2 defeat at the hands of Premier League Fulham ended the great run.
The demise of neighbours Rushden and Diamonds last season meant Kettering Town were able to move across to Nene Park for the latest Conference Premier season. Financial troubles this season have been well documented as The Poppies will be playing outside of step 2 next campaign in the Southern Premier League.
The Stones entered the 1985/86 season as the defending champions and holders of the F.A Trophy, the first non league club to complete the ‘double’.
A strong force in the mid eighties they applied for election to the Football League but were denied becuase thier ground did not meet the requirements. The club had also produced the talents of Stuart Pearce and Vinnie Jones, the latter playing in the 1986 season.
It was in 1988 when the Middlesex club dropped to the Southern League and when finances were stretched Wealdstone moved out of Lower Mead. Since then they have never been close to replicating the glorious early to mid eighties.
Seventeen years homeless and a voluntary demotion across and down to the Isthmian Division Three saw the club fall down the pyramid. The Stones have been back on the up winning promotion in 1997 and again in 1998. A third succesive jump was denied after a third place finish but the ground at Edgware was not suitable.
Wealdstone returned to the second flight of non league football in 2004 after a playoff win beating Dulwich Hamlet on penalties. Last season they made headlines again in the F.A Trophy causing upsets on the way to the semi-finals, including a win against The Darts.
The season before The Robins were promoted from the Southern League then they spent seven years in the top flight before relegation.
In 1997 fortunes turned, guided by Steve Cotterill Cheltenham found their way back to the Conference at the expense of Gresley Rovers, who did not meet ground requirements.
The Gloucestershire club surprised their opponents in their first season back by finishing runners up and lifting the F.A Trophy defeating Southport 1-0 at Wembley. The club went one step further the following season and won the Conference title.
Since the turn of the millennium the Robins have ‘yo-yo’d’ between what is now League Two and One. Three years in League Two under Cotterill ended in a playoff win and their best F.A Cup run to the fifth round in 2002. The following season they were relegated under Graham Allnar and Bobby Gould.
Three seasons in the last tier of the football league and another playoff victory, this time under John Ward in 2006 earned The Robins a second promotion. Ward then guided them to seventeenth in League One their highest ever finish.
In 2009, after another three seasons the club were relegated again with their worst ever goal difference and win ratio. The Robins have just completed their third season in League Two reaching Wembley in yet another playoff, unfortunately losing out to Crewe Alexandra.
Finishing a position below their fellow West Country rivals the club continued with mid-table finishes until 1988 when they were relegated to the Southern League.
At the second attempt City bounced back and survived relegation the following season. Once again Bath City continued with mid-table finishes until 1997 until they returned to the Southern League.
City reached the Southern League Playoff final in 2006 losing out to Bedford Town but they won the title the following year to reach the Conference South. Success arrived again three years later when this time they won a playoff final defeating Woking to reach the Conference Premier.
Last season Bath City ended fifteen points from safety and so they will return to the Conference South.
The Pilgrims have had a colourful recent history reaching the Football League, bosses causing controversy and then falling back down the non league scene.
Before 1986 Boston United had just finished runners up in the F.A Trophy, losing to Wealdstone in the 1985 final, and three years later finished third in the league. The club were unable to capitalise on their successes and in 1993 dropped down to the Northern Premier League.
The Lincolnshire club moved across to the Southern League and took the title in 2000 then turned professional the following season. The decision to go full time was rewarded with the Conference title and promotion to the Football League under Steve Evans.
Controversy followed when Steve Evans and then Chairman Pat Malkinson were charged by the Football Association for failing to abide by player registration rules. Had the points deduction counted from that season then Dagenham and Redbridge would have gone up.
The Pilgrims dropped back out of the Football League in 2007 on the final day, another ten points were deducted when they entered a Company Voluntary Agreement and Steve Evans departed. To add insult to injury Boston United were then ordered to play in the Conference North because of the financial situation.
The club remain in step 2 of non league finishing mid-table last season. The Pilgrims also lost to Dartford 4-2 in an F.A Trophy match back in January and are managed by former Forest striker Jason Lee.
The Bee’s have had more ups and downs than a roller coaster, out of the class of 86. Barry Fry had left the season before to manage Dartford’s rivals Maidstone United, in came Roger Thompson.
Stan Flashman became Chairman of Barnet and on a number of occasions came close to the Football League before the nineties. Barry Fry returned after a season and incredibly led the team to second place in three of the next four seasons. Finally in 1991 Barnet celebrated the Conference title and two years later were up again into today’s equivalent of League One. Barry Fry left in 1993.
The club returned to the bottom flight of the Football League and after ten years returned back to Conference football in 2001. Four years back in non league was enough for the club and another title was clinched by twelve points.
Barnet have just completed their seventh season back in League Two but are flirting with non league again after three successive seasons facing the drop on the final day but surviving.
Scarborough (now Scarborough Athletic)
One of the oldest football clubs in England finally hung up their boots in 2007. It was in the seventies The Seadogs blossomed winning the F.A Trophy three times in five years. The North Yorkshire club won at Wembley in 1973 beating Wigan Athletic 2-1, in 1976 defeating Stafford Rangers 3-2 and in 1977 triumphing 2-1 over Dagenham.
A fifteenth place finish in 1986 was followed up by a newly appointed manager who led Scarborough to the Conference title and promotion, that man was Neil Warnock.
The Seadogs stayed in the bottom flight of the Football League until an incredible final day in 1999. A point ahead of Carlisle United they just needed to better their score. Scarborough drew 1-1 with Peterborough United and with the scores the same at Plymouth’s Home Park Carlisle were doomed. In injury time Carlisle goalkeeper Jimmy Glass went up for a last ditch corner, he became an instant hero when he scored, relegating Scarborough to the Conference.
With in a space of two seasons between 2005 and 2007 the demise of The Seadogs was all but confirmed. Relegated to the Conference North due to their financial position was one thing but the following season was worse. Ten points were deducted and the club finished third from bottom which would have meant a further drop had they not dissolved after 128 years.
The Seadog Trust were formed in 2006 and decided to form Scarborough Athletic ready for the 2007 season. They now play in the Northern Counties East Premier League after winning the Northern Counties East Division One title in 2009.
Until recently Northwich Victoria were guaranteed fixtures of Conference football. From 1979 to 2005 The Vics spent twenty six uninterrupted seasons at the top of non league and finished runners up in the F.A Trophy back in 1983, losing to Telford United.
Perennial struggler’s to mid-table finishes then into the top half of the table by the mid to late nineties, the Cheshire club became F.A Trophy runners up for a second time in 1996 losing 3-1 to Macclesfield Town.
Since the turn of the millennium The Vics slipped back to troublesome times ending up in the bottom half of the table finally propping up the rest in 2004. Relegation was spared as Telford United and Margate dropped down the ladder instead.
In September 2004 the club entered administration, lost ten points and were relegated to the Conference North. Under new ownership they opened their new Victoria Stadium and won the Conference North championship to bounce straight back. Three years later they were back in the Conference North for a season but at the end of 2010 were expelled from the Conference North for the following campaign.
The Vics now play in the Northern Premier League finishing second last season seventeen points behind Chester and losing in the playoffs.
The Stones were on the brink of reaching their peak but you wouldn’t have guessed it at the end of the 1986 season. Maidstone United’s London Road ground was not suitable if they wanted promotion so they moved in to Dartford’s home at Watling Street and bought the ground.
Maidstone United went on to win the 1989 Conference title reaching the Football League for the first and only time in their history. In their old Division Four début season The Stones reached the playoffs losing to Cambridge United after extra time in a semi-final, thanks to Dion Dublin’s strikes. This was as good as it got for the Kent club when they went on to finish seventeenth and eighteenth thereafter.
Disaster struck in 1992 when the club collapsed. It was the chase of reaching the Football League that turned out to be The Stones downfall. The vast sums of money spent to get to the promise land and maintain their position added to Maidstone’s woe. Watling Street was sold leaving no Maidstone United and no home for Dartford.
Reformed as Maidstone Invicta in 1993 The Stones entered the Kent County League Fourth Division and have been using grounds at Sittingbourne and Ashford ever since. Successive promotions in 1994 and 1995, the Division One title in 1999 and the Kent County Premier League championship in 2001 secured a place in the Kent Premier League.
Another league triumph earned promotion in 2006, followed by the Isthmian League Division One South in 2007 leading to the club reaching their highest position since their collapse. Four years in the Isthmian Premier League ended in 2011.
Despite all the recent successes to climb back up the pyramid the best news for the Kent club is next season’s opening of a brand new home. The Gallagher Stadium will open on 14 July 2012 as The Stones return to Maidstone for the first time in 24 years.
Nuneaton Borough (now Nuneaton Town)
If the phrase ‘back to square one’ could be dedicated to a football club it would be Nuneaton Town. In 1937 the club were disbanded, Nuneaton Borough were formed and were renamed in 1991 as Nuneaton Borough AFC. In 2008, the club were liquidated and the non league scene welcomed Nuneaton Town.
The Boro were runners up the two seasons before 1986 but this time round were unable to continue pressing for the title. The season after they were relegated to the Southern League due to problems off the field. One season in the Southern League and another relegation confirmed the clubs rapid drop.
As Nuneaton Borough AFC they won the Southern League Midland Division in 1993 but returned a year later when they couldn’t stay up. The Warwickshire club came back again with promotion in 1996 and climbed to the top flight three years later to reach the Conference.
Seven years in the Conference ended in 2003 on the final day and just six and half years ago they held the then Premier League club Middlesbrough in the F.A Cup Third Round before losing the replay.
Nuneaton Borough AFC were liquidated in 2008 but were allowed to reform under a different name by the Football Association in addition to a double relegation. Now playing as Nuneaton Town, The Boro have returned to the top flight after two successive playoff wins against Chasetown in 2009 and Chippenham Town in 2010. Last season despite a six point deduction they completed a hat trick of playoff promotions defeating Gainsborough Trinity 1-0.
Dagenham (now Dagenham and Redbridge)
Winners of the 1980 F.A Trophy, The Daggers were hoping for good things in the eighties, by the end of the decade they were playing in the Isthmian Premier League after relegation in 1988.
Four years later everything changed, Dagenham merged with Redbridge Forest who had just been promoted to the Conference. Although suffering an initial setback in 1996 when they were relegated to the Isthmian Premier League, The Daggers have been one of the most successful clubs out of the class of 86.
It was the turn of the millennium where it all started twelve years ago. The Essex side won promotion to the Conference and became a consistent force knocking on the Football League door. In their first three seasons they never finished outside the top five and controversially came runners up in 2002, finishing behind Boston United.
A slight slump in the mid-noughties ended when the club won the Conference five years ago. A year at the bottom end of the table and a campaign of solidity was followed with a 3-2 playoff win at Wembley in 2010. The step was too far and they returned straight back to League Two where they survived a second relegation battle under former Dart John Still.
Out of the class of 86, The Chairboys are the most successful having spent the most amount of time in the Football League.
However, twenty six years ago it was not all plain sailing when in 1983 the club rejected an invitation to the top flight of non league for a third time in four years.
The seven times Isthmian Champions finally joined in 1985 and slugged it out with Dagenham. Finally Wycombe Wanderers were relegated on goal difference. An eighth Isthmian title followed the year after and since then they have never looked back.
In 1990 the Football League dream began, step one appoint Martin O’Neill, step two move to Adams Park, step three start winning competitions. The F.A Trophy was won twice in three attempts, in 1991 The Chairboys beat Kidderminster Harriers 2-1 and in 1993 they breezed past Runcorn 4-1. In between those triumphs they finished runners up on goal difference as Colchester United won the Conference title.
Martin O’Neill used the near miss to spur on his side and became the third club to complete the non league double in 1993, the dream came true with promotion to the Football League. In their début season up they went again, this time with a 4-2 playoff win versus Preson North End. Martin O’Neill left in 1995 but Wycombe Wanderers are now an established football league team.
Ten seasons in the third tier of English football ended in 2004 and during that time the Buckinghamshire club experienced heroics under Lawrie Sanchez. In 2000/2001 Wycombe Wanderers reached the F.A Cup Semi-Finals getting past first division sides such as Grimsby Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wimbledon. In the Quarter-Finals they were paired with Premier League’s Leicester City. The cup tie will be remembered by an injury time winner at Filbert Street by Roy Essandoh. Liverpool ended the fairytale.
Between 2004 and 2009, Wycombe spent time in League Two before winning automatic promotion. Over the last four seasons The Chairboys have become a ‘yo-yo’ club with two promotions and two relegations, now playing in League Two.
A former Football League club until 1972, Barrow were promoted the same season as Dartford also spending two years in the Conference.
Three years later The Bluebirds were back winning the Northern Premier League in 1989. The following year the Cumbrian’s made their way to Wembley and took home the F.A Trophy beating Leek Town 3-0. Inspirational manager Ray Wilkie led the club to success and when he resigned in 1992 the club fell.
Relegation to the Northern Premier League in 1992 was forgotten about by 1998 when they returned to the Conference. However, their success was masked by what was to follow, due to financial backing being withdrawn The Bluebirds were thrown out of the top flight the following season.
The club were pretty much on their deathbed but they battled on in the Northern Premier League and in 2003 the Football Association allowed for membership to be transferred to a new company.
Since then the Cumbrian club became founder members of the Conference North narrowly escaping the drop in 2007. The next campaign looked to be much of the same but David Bayliss and Darren Sheridan guided the club from twentieth when they took over in November 2007 to fifth. Competing in the playoffs, The Bluebirds won the final against Stalybridge Celtic.
Barrow are now entering a fifth consecutive season in the Conference Premier and during that time they reached the third round of the F.A Cup in 2009, losing 2-1 to Middlesbrough then again the next season this time losing 3-0 to Sunderland.
Just two years ago The Bluebirds won the F.A Trophy for the second time in their history winning 2-1 after extra time against Stevenage Borough and last season they finished thirteenth.