It was another season of ups and downs for supporter owned clubs on the pitch, with plenty of notable achievements off it as years of challenging work saw supporters of Darlington, Scarborough Athletic and Fisher FC watching matches back in their home area. At clubs like AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City and Wythenshawe Amateurs their dream homes also got a step closer.
Portsmouth were the best-performing EFL supporter-owned club, being crowned champions of League Two on goal difference from Plymouth Argyle by thrashing Cheltenham Town 6-1 in their last game of the season. Argyle could only draw on the final day as the other challenger, Doncaster Rovers, were defeated at Hartlepool United. By becoming League Two champions, Portsmouth became only the fifth club to win all four of the top divisions ofEnglish football.
Exeter City’s fantastic run to the League Two play-offsended in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Blackpool at Wembley. Having overcome Carlisle United in a high-scoring two-legged semi-final, Exeter succumbed at the final hurdle to a second half goal from Blackpool’s Mark Cullen. The plus side from the journey to the play-offs is that, despite the disappointment of missing out on promotion to League One, the club is likely to have made between £150,000-£200,000 from the run. With a new state-of-the-art 3G training pitch completed and stadium renovations due to start this summer the club has had a successful season off the pitch too.
Of all our supporter-owned clubs, it was Newport County who pulled off the “Greatest of Great Escapes” when they left it dramatically late to ensure their place in the EFL next season. Needing a win from their final game of the season at Rodney Parade against Notts County, Newport went ahead but then conceded a goal to place matters in the balance as results elsewhere started to conspire against them. It wasn’t until the 89th minute of the game that centre back Mark O’Brien, who’d never previously scored a league goal, volleyed in a winner to ensure Newport’s survival in the Football League.
Elsewhere in the EFL, AFC Wimbledon finished the season comfortably placed in 15th position in League One but with the added bonus of a move back into the Borough of Merton to look forward to. In September 2016, the club was given the go-ahead to construct a new stadium on the site of Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium in Plough Lane. Wycombe Wanderers, however, missed out on the play-off places in League Two by just one point despite a last day win over Cambridge United.
In the National League, Wrexham finished in the safety of mid-table but perhaps more importantly signed a 99-year lease to take over the Racecourse stadium, whilst near neighbours Chester finished two points clear of the relegation places.
Off the pitch, we were delighted to see both Darlington1883 (back to Darlington from the start of 2017/18) and Scarborough Athletic get back to their home towns. Unfortunately, Darlington missed out on the play-offs due to ground grading issues which will hopefully now be resolved moving forward and Scarborough Athletic lost out to Ossett Town in the Northern Premier League Division One North play-off semi-finals in their final season in Bridlington, played out in front of over 1,000 fans.
FC United of Manchester in their second season at Broadhurst Park, consolidated their position in the National League North with a second consecutive thirteenth place finish whilst Bradford Park Avenue finished three places below FC United. We look forward to tracking the progress of Bath City in the National league South next season who are now majority owned by supporters thanks to a monumental effort by those involved in the Big Bath Bid.
In the Ryman Premier League, Enfield Town were beaten in the semi-final of the play-offs by Dulwich Hamlet whilst Tonbridge Angels missed the same play-offs by one point in a closely fought battle for the final places that went to the final day. Also in the Ryman Premier League, Hendon, who moved to their new ground at Silver Jubilee Park in July 2016, secured their place in the division with three wins and a draw in their final four games.
Merthyr Town were defeated in the Southern League Premier Division play-offs by Hitchin Town. Banbury United in their first season back at this level under supporter ownership performed admirably narrowly missing out on the play-offs and Dorchester Town finished in eighteenth place in the same division. Grays Athletic will take encouragement from Banbury United bouncing back as they begin their first full season as a supporter-owned club one step below.
After relegation from the Ryman Premier League in 2015-16, Lewes enjoyed a much-improved season that saw their hopes of appearing in the Ryman South play-offs only dashed in the final week of the season.
Hyde United finished the Northern League Division One season in 10th place, a place above Bamber Bridge and six above Prescot Cables.
In the North West Counties League Premier Division, Runcorn Linnets finished the season in third place and 1874 Northwich in fifth. AFC Liverpool reached 12th place whilst Congleton Town finished the season in sixteenth position.
In the First Division, City of Liverpool FC,in their first ever season, were promoted to the Premier Division via a 3-0 victory at fellow supporter owned club Litherland REMYCA and also won the League Challenge Cup beating Barnoldswick Town on penalties and the Trophy Final against Sandbach United.
Fisher FC unfortunately suffered relegation from the Southern Counties East Premier Division but are now firmly established back in their home borough of Bermondsey and finished the season with a record-breaking 10-1 win against Erith Town.
Elsewhere, Saffron Walden Town finished in ninth position in the Eastern Counties Premier Division, Hinckley AFC finished second in the Midland League Division One and enjoyed a run to the fifth round of the FA Vase where they lost in extra time to Buckland Athletic. They were also defeated by Alvechurch in the final of the League Cup.
Newport (IOW) finished 15th in the Wessex Football League Premier Division, Wythenshawe Amateurs were second in the Manchester League Premier Division and Newark Town finished seventh in the Central Midlands League North
Successful supporter takeovers were completed at Bath City, Grays Athletic and Peacehaven and Telscombe.