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A View From The South Coast

Happy 125 year anniversary – but is there much to celebrate with second season syndrome looming?

It’s great to be back, new players, new teams, new optimism, and new start. Welcome to the 2013/14 Conference Premier season and Dartford’s 125th year as a club. Only time will tell if the Darts can set a record third successive year in the top non-league division but what chances do we have?

Twenty seven years ago, Evertonians cursed their rivals Liverpool who pipped them to the league and F.A Cup, England were cheated by Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ and Dartford suffered the dreaded second season syndrome.

In the Watling Street days, John Still led the Darts to the Southern League Championship. Momentum took the club to third in the Alliance Premier League, today’s equivalent of the Conference Premier. The following year relegation back to the Southern League was confirmed. John Still departed in February 1986 and will meet the Darts again next month.

The thing is, second season syndrome just seems to be a coined phrase and is really nothing to fear. Since the beginning of the Conference Premier, North and South leagues eight years ago, just under one in four clubs have returned to their former division two years later. In fact, if you want numbers then that’s 22% of the promoted teams returning to the North or South after a couple of seasons.

Amongst those is our local rivals Ebbsfleet United, who along with AFC Telford United were the latest clubs to suffer the three S’s. Southport were the first since the Conference reconstruction with Stafford Rangers, St Albans City and Bath City in between.

Okay, so what if second season syndrome is defined slightly differently, to mean a club who finishes higher in their first campaign than their second season?

With the exception of the Conference South play-off winners, sorry readers, it’s pretty much a 50/50 split. Overall eleven clubs improved their final standings in season number two and a dozen finished lower.

Only Hayes and Yeading United negotiated the Conference South play-offs to promotion then bettered their first season’s position, albeit by one. Salisbury City and Eastbourne Borough declined whilst the last two winners Bath City and Ebbsfleet United perished and were sent packing back to the Conference South.

Positive cases from North and South include Fleetwood Town who are the only club to take the championship and enter the Football League, it helps when money talks. AFC Wimbledon moved from eighth to second, but the biggest mover was Southport who improved a whopping fourteen places. The Sandgrounders finished in the bottom four when they returned to the Conference Premier, surviving thanks to the decline of Rushden and Diamonds, then followed up with a seventh place placing.

On average clubs that make improvements gain four positions, whilst going in the other direction costs an average of seven places. At least that makes Dartford safe based on these statistics.

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