Buidling Dreams Together


Five ex-Football League clubs who have fallen into Non-League

The majority of football clubs have existed without issues over the years and continue to grow in sustainable fashion. However, others have not been so fortunate. Some have grown into stars while others have diminished and tumbled down the leagues. Whether it be financial mismanagement, accidental or otherwise, these are some of the clubs that have not been as lucky as the likes of Bournemouth, Luton Town, or Lincoln City, and have fallen out of the Football League completely.

Oldham Athletic

Oldham are probably one of the most well-known teams in this particular situation as they were, and still are, the only former Premier League team to have dropped into non-league. They finished 23rd in League Two in the 21/22 season to seal their fate, but what went wrong for the Latics?

After winning Division 3 (now known as League One) in 1974, they spent the next 17 years in the Championship equivalent and were generally on an upward trajectory. After missing out in the playoff semi-finals in the late 80’s, they continued on and won the league in 1991, a year before the Premier League was formed. They stayed in the top-flight and formed part of the initial 24-team league to compete in the Premier League.

However, they never finished higher than 17th place and were eventually relegated in the 1993-94 season. They were then relegated from the second tier three seasons later and remained in the League One equivalent for the next 21 years.

In that time, they had plenty of chances to get back up to the second tier, including two attempts in the playoffs, but both were lost in the semi-finals. In the 2012/13 season, they recorded a historic upset as they beat Liverpool 3-2 in the FA Cup at Boundary Park, eventually reaching the fifth round. This was their best FA Cup performance since reaching the semi-final at Old Trafford, where they lost 4-1.

As Oldham fans were getting to understand their League One status, their glory days of the Premier League looked as if they would be drifting further apart from their current situation.

They faced a winding-up petition from HMRC in 2019 and 2020 following years of ownership and management struggles, and found themselves in League Two.

With various off-pitch troubles still causing problems, owner Abdallah Lemsagam stated that he wanted to sell the club in 2021. This followed many concerns such as administration and late payments. The club was eventually sold in 2022 to Frank Rothwell, but by this time it was already too late to save their EFL status, as they had been relegated in April.

As of March 2024, Oldham sit 8th in the National League and are chasing the playoffs.

Scunthorpe United

Scunthorpe have had a similar fall to Oldham as they were a well-established League One side around 2009 with spells in the Championship. However, they haven’t finished outside of the top 20 in any league in the last five seasons, so why have they been in such a freefall?

At the end of the 2012/13 season, the Iron were relegated to League Two and Peter Swann became chairman of the club in May 2013. After instant promotion back to League One, the club enjoyed what would be their best run of finishes for a while, finishing in the top ten three years in a row and reaching the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

However, an uninspiring season in 2018-19 saw the club finish in 23rd place and relegated to League Two. Problems then continued in the following season as they were placed 20th on a PPG-basis due to COVID.

The fallout continued the following season and Scunthorpe finished 22nd in League Two after playing behind closed doors. Off the playing field, things weren’t much better either as it was announced that Chairman Peter Swann had transferred the ownership of the stadium, Gladford Park, to his own company.

Swann resigned one season later. After a 72 year stay in the Football League, Scunthorpe were relegated with just 26 points and plenty of off-pitch issues to follow them.

And follow they did. They finished 23rd in the National League, picking up their first ever double relegation.

The club was taken over in January 2023 by former Ilkeston Town chairman David Hilton, who cleared the club’s tax debt and therefore no winding-up petition was required. However, the ownership of the ground was still being debated, and with the club in the National North, Hilton put the club up for sale. Fan groups had also found out details about Hilton formerly being convicted of fraud, which did not help matters.

After years of struggle, local businesswoman Michelle Harness purchased the club in October 2023. Scunthorpe fans have something to look forward to once again as they sit second in the National North.

Southend United

Southend were in dire straits at a very similar time to Scunthorpe, with businessman Ron Martin in charge from 1998. However, during his tenure, the club slipped from the Championship in 2007 and find themselves in the National League.

The club had faced various financial issues throughout Martin’s time at the club, the first of which came in the 09-10 season when the club were in League One. They faced unpaid tax bills and wind-up orders as well as lack of payments from the club, which were covered by the PFA. An indefinite transfer embargo was placed upon the club shortly after, and then they were relegated to League Two.

The club found themselves in a similar situation in 2020, but this looked to be a much longer situation.

It turned out that (before COVID) players and staff were unpaid at the end of 2019, and the club was facing a winding-up petition. Following all of the debts being cleared, Ron Martin said: “I’ve assured them [the players] that it won’t happen again.”

Southend fans will have likely learned a quick lesson to avoid taking things at face value, as players were not paid on time two months later and were hit with another transfer embargo. A winding-up petition was heard in October 2020.

Former footballer Stan Collymore offered to buy the club in 2021 with the club now in the National League and bringing in three managers in 12 months.

However, Martin stayed and debt spiralled, allegedly totalling over £17million. This led to fan protests, but unfortunately there was still more to unfold at the club.

In December 2021, as well as September 2022, the club was placed under an embargo due to HMRC issues and a winding-up petition was heard in 2023. Players and staff continued to be unpaid for certain months and initial medical staff were unable to be provided for a game due to fees yet to be paid.

£1.4m was then paid to HMRC one day before the winding-up hearing, and was dismissed as a result. Ron Martin insisted that he would not let the club die.

As staff continued, unpaid, the club was put up for sale in 2023, but financial difficulties still continued, and affected issues such as unpaid staff, no medical cover and even water supply at the training ground.

In October, the same day as Scunthorpe’s takeover, a Judge said to Ron Martin:

“If this was not a football club with the attachment of its fans I would be winding you up today. You will be wound up on the next date if it’s not sorted.”

The club were also deducted ten points and agreed a deal one month later in October 2023 to sell to a consortium led by Justin Rees. However, as of March 2024, the final takeover is still not complete due to the approval of Southend Council over “certain property transactions that are required to facilitate the club staying at Roots Hall.”

Southend currently sit 10th in the National League, eight points away from the playoffs.

Yeovil Town

Yeovil have risen from non-league football, and their story is a testament to their character and spirit. They were promoted from the Conference in 2002-03 after winning the league over teams such as Morecambe and Doncaster Rovers.

The Glovers have not had as many bad financial issues as the other clubs on this list, but their fall of four leagues in 11 seasons is concerning. A club competing well in League One are now pitting their wits (rather comfortably) against National League South sides such as Chippenham Town and Welling United, but how has it come to this?

Yeovil suffered back-to-back relegations in 2015 after they finished bottom in consecutive leagues and spent four years in League Two before finishing bottom there too.

In 2019, just after Darren Sarll was announced as manager, the club announced a takeover led by a duo, Scott Priestnell and Errol Pope. In 2022 the local council purchased Huish Park.

News of a takeover from SU Glovers LTD was beginning to bear fruit in early 2023 and Priestnell left the club. A takeover was then completed by Hellier Group in May, ending multiple years of confusion with takeovers while the club braced for life in the sixth tier.

As it turned out, it would be very comfortable for them. As of March 2024, they lead the league by nine points over Chelmsford City.


Bury are arguably one of the most well-known examples of a football club who have tumbled down the leagues due to financial mismanagement. Contrary to popular belief, they have not been liquidated and their original club still remains. They play in the ninth tier of English football with almost 140 years of very extensive history behind them.

In 2018, businessman Steve Dale purchased the club for £1, and found the club with an unpaid tax bill two months later. There was a winding-up petition in May of 2019, three weeks after Dale had admitted that the problems were worse than he had expected.

The winding-up petition was eventually dismissed in July following an approved CVA. However, the club faced explusion from the football league if they could not provide proof of how they estimated the club would stay afloat.

In August, four parties were interested in a takeover, which was allowed by the EFL if completed before a certain timescale. However, despite advanced talks, a company pulled out and Bury were expelled from the Football League.

Two months later the club had another winding-up petition, but once again, this was dismissed due to debt being paid.

A group of supporters formed together and decided to form a phoenix club called Bury AFC, which entered into the tenth tier of English Football to begin playing in the 20/21 season.

Meanwhile, as Bury AFC were enjoying success, the initial club was still around and had not been wound-up, despite the danger of that being the case. Dale placed the club into administration in 2020, and was almost taken over by David Hilton, who was mentioned previously in this post.

Gigg Lane, the home ground, was also put up for sale. In October 2022, Peter Alexander, a businessman and lifelong Bury fan, had agreed a deal to buy both the club and the stadium.

Bury and Bury AFC merged ahead of the 23/24 season as they took on Glossop North End and beat them 5-1 in the first game of the season. 5,500 spectators were in attendance for the ninth-tier game.

Bury currently sit top of the North West Counties League and are on the verge of becoming Champions at the first attempt.

So, what have we learnt?

All of these stories give hope to football fans around the world that, no matter how difficult things are, it is possible to pull through. Your club, no matter how big or small, might be next. Luton Town are one of the biggest stories, along with Bournemouth. Luton went from Non-League to the Premier League in ten years. Bournemouth went from the brink of relegation from League Two to the Premier League in seven years with the same manager, and it’s all about hope and support, and ensuring these clubs can never die.

Some clubs are fan-owned, using a similar model to Germany with the 50+1 rule, where fans have the majority of voting rights, which can help towards a sustainable future for these clubs.

It’s important to realise what has happened to these clubs and everyone needs to learn from it, otherwise it may happen again. See Reading at the moment, for example. Your club could be next.

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