England played a friendly last night, apparently. To be honest, I had better things to do, like reading up on the history of New Brighton FC, who graced the Football League for thirty years until 1951, before falling away and into obscurity. I have to say that this will be the last one of these for a while, because the information on the clubs is becoming more and more difficult to find without lengthy trips to the library, which I sadly don’t have the time for, and also because there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of interest in them. In case you happened to be wondering, New Brighton isn’t a second club from the coastal town in East Sussex that I call home. New Brighton is a small resort on the Wirral peninsular, opposite Liverpool. Popular with tourists (in the way that British seaside resorts were in the nineteenth century), the local authorities built an 80,000 capacity stadium called The Tower Grounds, and formed a football club called New Brighton Tower FC to play in it. Having been elected into the Football League just year after they’d been formed in 1898, the club was successful on the pitch, finishing just short of the promotion places twice, but they had over-stretched themselves financially, paying for international players to play for them whilst subsisting on crowds that barely stretched into four figures, and folded in 1901.
It took two decades for football to come back to this particular corner of the Wirral peninsular, but a new club was formed as New Brighton FC, in 1921, and was elected into the Football League two years later. The club chose not to play at The Tower Grounds, moving into a new stadium at Rakes Lane, whereupon they embarked upon one of the least distinguished football histories of any Football League club. They finished third on goal average behind Nelson in the newly formed Division Three North in their second season, narrowly missing out on promotion, but failed to trouble the top of the table in the rest of their League career. They finished in tenth place for two seasons in a row in 1927 and 1928, but that was the best that they could manage in the rest of their time in the Football League. Their lack of League success was mirrored in the FA Cup, though they did embark on a run to the Fourth Round in 1938, where they held Tottenham Hotspur to a draw at home before losing the replay 5-2 at White Hart Lane.
The outbreak of war in 1939 obviously had a drastic effect on the finances of football clubs, as the League programme was suspended, but New Brighton were affected worse than most. Their Rake Lane ground was destroyed by German bombs during the war, and the club was forced to move into the (by now crumbling) Tower Grounds in 1945. They struggled on until 1951, when they were voted out by the League in favour of Workington. They joined the Lancashire Combination, and it looked for a while as if they would be capable of holding their own as a successful non-league team. In 1957, they beat three Football League clubs (Stockport County, Derby County and Torquay United) in the FA Cup before losing 9-0 to Burnley in the Fourth Round, and two years later they won the Lancashire Combination – the old club’s only championship win. After this, however, the club declined slowly, before folding in 1981. The lure of the name, however, remained too strong to resist – a new New Brighton FC was formed in 1996, and they still play at the very bottom of the game, in the West Cheshire League.
There are plenty of other teams that failed to keep hold of their place in the Football League – Thames FC, Aberdare Athletic, Nelson, Darwen, Glossop North End and more. The reasons for their removal and replacement were many and varied, but they serve as a reminder to anyone that supports a Football League club that their place at the top table can never be considered perpetual. Automatic promotion between the League and the Conference was introduced in 1987, and in the two decades since then, the non-league game, after decades in decline, has started to grow part of the way back towards the popularity that it once enjoyed. Crowds are up, while they continue to slide in the Premier League, and relegation from League Two, although still an anathema to clubs that have never suffered it before, is no longer the death knell that it once was. Some clubs, such as Doncaster Rovers, Chester City and Carlisle United, endured years of agony rattling around at the foot of the League before slipping through the trapdoor, only to re-emerge at a later date in considerably better health as a result of their time away. The English game is more meritocratic as a result of this, and its strength in depth is possibly the only thing that we can justifiably proud of about it these days – we can hardly hold the England national team with any affection any more, can we?