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Home   /   National League: Third Promotion Place Overdue

Written by Noah Mitchell Sub-edited by William Munt

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The National League, or as most traditionalists like to refer to it as ‘The Conference’, has never been under a brighter spotlight. The dramatic takeover of Wrexham by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney has ignited a dramatic spark in worldwide interest in the fifth tier of the English football pyramid.  

This culminated in April of this year when Wrexham took on Notts County to decide who would claim the only automatic promotion spot up to the Football League. Both poised on 100 points, the winner was destined to claim the title whilst the opposition would be faced with the lottery of the play-offs.  

Famously, former Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster saved a late penalty in a 3-2 win for the Red Dragons as they went on to seal a spot in League Two after a 15-year absence, condemning Notts to be one of six teams to contest the play-offs.  

Fortunately for County, they would join Wrexham in their promotion celebrations a month later, although this looked unlikely at first during their play-off final match against Chesterfield at Wembley. Trailing 0-1, they relied on an 87th minute equaliser to force extra-time before dramatically winning the game on penalties.  

It seems a travesty that Notts County could have failed to secure promotion after amassing 107 points so why, after both achieving record breaking seasons, were just one out of them and Wrexham guaranteed promotion whereas in League Two three teams automatically go up?  

Perhaps it’s down to the reputation of the league. The fifth tier has often been associated with being ‘non-league’, where many of the clubs are semi-professional. However, heading into this season, just three out of the 24 teams who participate play part-time. This allows players and management to solely focus on their football careers, rather than juggling it with a regular job.  

And the statistics show that the bridge in quality between the fourth and fifth tiers is very minimal. This is perfectly demonstrated by the successful starts that both Notts County and Wrexham have seen, with the latter sitting second in the table after a 6-0 thrashing of Morecambe on Saturday.  

A third spot is long overdue because this is no anomaly. Seven teams in history have secured back-to-back promotions to League One, most recently Bristol Rovers in 2016. Infact, no side has ever been relegated from League Two having been promoted the previous season.  

Gab Sutton, pundit on BBC Squad Goals, exclusively told Overtime: “I think there’s no question that there’s three to four teams in the National League who don’t get promoted who are better than at least five or six in League Two.” 

However, he also admits there is a prestige associated with the Football League, and that an extra promotion spot shouldn’t be given lightly. 

“Being a Football League club is a prized status for many… and I’d understand why you’d allow it to change hands less, giving more clubs a better opportunity to preserve that, and make it harder for others to attain it.” 

Despite this, surely it is time to acknowledge the National League’s standard and competitiveness in relation to League Two. Not only does it reward those teams successful in the fifth tier, but also prevents stagnation at the bottom of the Football League as relegation is always an unlikely prospect.  

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June 2024