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We have, in recent years, become rather too accustomed to a boom and bust culture in football, particularly at clubs in the lower divisions. Few clubs, however, have ever boomed and busted with the speed of Colne Dynamoes, and it is the man that was responsible for this, Graham White, who takes the number ninety-seven position on our list. Dynamoes filled almost every stereotype that we have come to expect from this genre of club, but they did it more lavishly than any other. There was, however, one small problem with the money that was poured into a former Sunday League club from a tiny town in East Lancashire. None of it was spent on the boring stuff – the infrastructure required to ensure that a club can propel its way up through the divisions of the non-league pyramid. Rather than this, White blew money on wages, wages and more wages, and when the inconvenience of ground-grading raised what should have been an easily predictable problem, he pulled the plug and the club went down the drain.
White himself had founded the club in 1963 for himself and some old school-friends. For the first two decades of its existence, it bounced inconsequentially around the amateur leagues in Lancashire but in 1982 it became one of the founder members of the North West Counties League. The club was promoted from its Division Three at the end of its first season and after four seasons reorganisation of the league saw it placed into Division One. Another league championship followed – albeit only on goal difference – in 1988, leading to a place in Division One of the Northern Premier League, just two divisions below the Football Conference. That same season saw the club hit something approaching the big time for the first time, with a run in the FA Vase that saw them beat, amongst others, local rivals Glossop and Nelson, Fleetwood Town, Atherstone United, Farsley Celtic and Sudbury Town before beating Emley by a goal to nil at Wembley.
The 1980s had been kind to Graham White, who had business interests in property and the timber industry, and he had begun spending money on the team in the middle of the decade. But with promotion to the Northern Premier League came a sudden increase in spending, and it all went on players. Emley got their revenge in the FA Vase at the first stage of the 1988/89 competition, but the league title was won with room to spare – they lost just once in forty-two matches – and racked up ninety-eight points including a three point deduction. The following season saw the spending hit new heights. Although Colne was a town with a population of just twenty thousand people, crowds had risen to an average of well over 1,000 and the team again rose to the top of the table, this time with a place in the Football Conference on the horizon. As if to demonstrate the teams suitability to play at a higher level, Dynamoes also embarked on a run in the FA Trophy which saw them beat Accrington Stanley, Stockton, North Shields, Altrincham, Northwich Victoria, Farnborough Town and Kidderminster Harriers before losing narrowly to Barrow over two legs in the semi-final.
The Northern Premier League title was sewn up with time to spare, but by this time dark clouds were starting to gather on the horizon. While money had been poured into the team, the clubs Holt House ground didn’t come up to the rigorous standards of the Football Conference. The league had issued warnings throughout the season that considerable work needed to be carried out in order to ensure that promotion would be allowed at the end of the 1989/90 season. It hadn’t, though. Graham White had been rebuffed in an attempt to buy the club that he supported as a boy, Burnley, at the start of 1989 (he had also proposed a merger between the Dynamoes and Burnley had the latter been relegated from the Football League in 1990 – they escaped relegation on the final day of that season), and he returned to the club to try and bail Dynamoes out at the start of the summer of 1990, offering £500,000 to share Turf Moor for two years. He was turned down, as he was with similar approaches made to Blackburn Rovers and Preston North End and, with the Football Conference’s patience having run out after extending the deadline for them on three occasions, the club’s hopes of promotion to the Football Conference were dashed.
What happened next, however, would send shock-waves throughout the whole of non-league football. After a pre-season friendly against Newcastle Blue Star in July 1990, White called the players into a meeting at which they were told that there was no more money and that Colne Dynamoes was to fold. There was no desperate rallying around to save the club. There wasn’t any time. On the thirty-first of July 1990, with Graham White having claimed to have received death threats – a claim that will become a familiar trope throughout the remainder of this series – and amid rumours that crowd trouble at high profile matches had disillusioned him, Colne Dynamoes folded. A new club, Colne FC, was founded in 1996 and continues to play in the North West Counties League, from whence its predecessor had been promoted almost a decade earlier. This club even reached the semi-final of the FA Vase itself in 2004, but without the financial steroids that a millionaire owner can provide, they have otherwise largely failed to replicate the “success” of the club that lived so large and imploded so spectacularly in the summer of 1990. They have plans for a new stadium of their own, though, so perhaps the most important lesson of the Dynamoes debacle has been learned. This time, if the club is to be successful, at least the most fundamental building blocks should be in place for the club to progress.
By 1990, it was being reported that White was pouring £10,000 per week into the club, which would be a colossal sum by today’s standards, never mind twenty-two years ago when there were practically no other full-time professional non-league clubs. In some respects, Graham White’s folly has acted as a first-rate cautionary tale for those with some cash to burn, an ego to feed and the belief that they can get a football club to the top by merely throwing money at it. We may never know the exact circumstances surrounding the very sudden closure of Colne Dynamoes – rumours, both plausible and implausible, some hinting that all may not have been what it seemed behind the scenes at this club, have been circulating for years – but there are many questions about this story which remain unanswered. Why did White close the club down so quickly, as soon as promotion was denied to his club in the summer of 1990? Why did Burnley turn down a very large amount of money to share Turf Moor with the club? Why were the repeated warnings of the Football Conference about the importance of ground-grading apparently ignored? At least, we might conclude, Colne still has a club and it still has Holt House and that, perhaps, is something.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Nice article, and you’re right to highlight the mysterious unanswered questions. But it was of course three years earlier – 9 May 1987 in fact – when Burnley escaped relegation from Division Four on the final day at the Orient Game. I well remember the unwelcome prospect of our “noisy neighbours” (though of course they weren’t called that then) threatening to pass us on our way down the leagues even before their Conference promotion debacle.
This takes me back. I was an innocent 15 year old at the time the whole rise started and it was truly a rollercoaster. The crowds suddenly shot up, the team was winning and the whole thing took on an enormously surreal air. 1800 people, perched right next to a pitch up in the freezing hills, no wonder they had such a home record.
From memory, and from a good friend being closely involved with the Council and the club, the warnings about ground grading were not ignored. They did, however, run into local politics at its most small minded and petty. The club couldn’t upgrade Holt House as it was a council owned ground. Talks with the council regarding upgrading didn’t go far and would have been difficult. There was talk of a stadium, but the Labour controlled council wanted it in Nelson (heavily Labour), rather than Colne (heavily Lib Dem). One phrase that will always live with me “She won’t be ****ing happy until we name part of it the Susan Nike Stand.” (Note for lawyers: I have no idea how true that accusation was!)
The other thing was that the Conference, having fought hard to get their precious promotion place to the Football League were terrified of Colne coming through the division like a hot knife through butter. In that last fateful season, Altrincham came to Holt House in the FA Trophy, and were leading the Conference at the time. They departed after a 5-0 thrashing. Dynamoes went through three qualification rounds, then 4 “proper” rounds, knocking off Conference clubs Northwich Victoria, Farnborough, Kidderminster Harriers before falling to Barrow in the two-legged semi-final. The Conference just didn’t want Colne in it – IIRC, when it looked likely that Dynamoes would ground share, a byelaw suddenly appeared that said the deadline for registering ground shares had passed two months earlier.
The end, coming as suddenly as it did, knocked the town for six. Yes, there are plenty of questions that will never be answered, but I think everyone from Graham White downwards just got carried away. But what a bloody ride it was.