Phoenix Clubs Are Ruining Non League?

Since the emergence and success of AFC Wimbledon, a phoenix football club set up by fans of former Premier League team Wimbledon FC, there has been a surge of newly formed clubs in recent years. But what does this mean for non league football?

When a club goes into financial trouble or are declared defunct then the new parent company (phoenix club) are normally relocated into a division further down the English football pyramid. This poses real problems for the teams currently in the lower divisions as they simply can’t compete with these big teams dropping down the divisions.

Using AFC Wimbledon as a case study, the Dons have achieved 6 promotions in their fifteen year history, which averages out to around a promotion every 3 years. And they aren’t alone. Other clubs, such as Darlington, have achieved 3 promotions in 5 seasons.

BUST (2)
AFC Wimbledon were formed in 2002. (

The problem with this is that it seems very unfair on the teams who have been building their teams for years, only to be denied a promotion by a team who have entered the division with a big advantage in terms of resources available to them. Many of the lower divisions such as the Northern League Division One (step 5) operate in a one up, one down system – with the occasional second place promotion up for grabs.

This meant that when a team like Darlington, in 2012, were relegated to that division it restricted Spennymoor Town from a possible promotion. Darlington won 40 games out of a possible 46 that season, helped along by top goalscorer Amar Purewal, who was leading scorer for Durham City in the division above the previous season.

Amar Purewal scored 24 goals in the 2012/13 season. (

Admittedly, some teams opt to stay in the division at step 5 level if they don’t have the ground grading or the financial resources to play higher up. But in this case Spennymoor Town won the league the following season and took promotion to the NPL Division One.

My point is that big teams in the lower leagues have the advantage of club status and support from a large fan base. They have the finances to sign these quality players and the pulling power to persuade them to drop a few leagues. Attendance figures play a big part in the finances, for example Chester FC had an average attendance of around 2,500 for the three seasons they were promoted consecutively from the NPL Division One to the National League – this dwarfs many other clubs attendances and revenue.

I think on the other hand, it is important to explore the benefits of phoenix sides in the non league system. Abnormally large attendances can benefit other clubs’ matchday income when they host these big teams at home. It is like an FA Cup game against a Football League side, and brings in some much needed revenue for clubs who may struggle just to break even.

Another valid point would be that it raises the profile of non league football. These big teams will no doubt get a lot of media coverage and this can translate to higher attendances and a larger interest into what is happening in non league – which I am absolutely in favour of.

Merthyr Town, a fellow phoenix side, had a crowd of 2,612 at home to Hereford on Boxing Day.

There are currently a few teams who are rising through the steps of non league, Hereford FC are the latest, after forming in 2015 they have won the league twice and are challenging for promotion to the National League South this year. The Bulls are a club who are a prime example of the points made in this article and are a club many will be watching in the seasons to come.

There is no solution to this problem as such, but in my opinion the blame lands with the FA. There should be an independent body overseeing National League sides’ finances to prevent clubs from having troubles and eventually reforming – or in Hereford’s case a stricter ‘fit and proper’ test for new owners of football clubs.

Just a note that this is not an article slating the phoenix clubs, it’s a discussion article in which I have delved into both sides of the story, from both the small club and reformed team’s perspective.

It’s a debatable subject and I appreciate reading your comments so please let me know your opinions in the comments below or tweet me with the links below.

Dan Simmonite on Twitter | Dan Simmonite on Facebook

Header image via Hereford FC.


  1. What a load of rubbish, what do you want? Teams that fold be unable to reform, or would you prefer that 2,000 Hereford fans turn up at a local park to watch their team play?
    Please think before you post this utter drivel.


    • Appreciate your comment on my website Mark. However, I feel you’ve misinterpreted and missed the fact that I’ve considered both sides of the argument. Personally, I think if anything the FA are at fault for not stopping clubs like Hereford going under. Hereford and their fans have helped promote non league and provided an increase in cash flow with away support at clubs in steps 4 and 5.


  2. Hereford have been on the receiving end of this with sides like Rushden & Diamonds, Boston etc where they missed out on promotion due to high investment in lower league clubs that wasn’t sustainable. Hereford are trying to rebuild in a prudent manner and have the following to provide revenue to lots of other clubs on their journey back. This has a short term disadvantage of one club possibly missing promotion for one year but the 20+ teams all gain financially.

    Would Hereford fans have preferred not to have to start again? Of course but I am enjoying the hospitality provided by clubs we are now visiting and hope the majority understand that this wasn’t our choice.


    • Like you said I think it’s good for clubs to have a second chance with a pheonix side and run their football team properly. But it shouldn’t have to happen in the first place – there should be financial restrictions on clubs which stop them overspending and going into administration.


      • The issue with Hereford was that the new owners didn’t pay any bills, wages etc. (this is why Jarrod Bowen at Hull was able leave for nothing).

        Local opinion was that they wanted the club to fold so they could take advantage of the lease for a very favourable location in the city centre.

        The FA Fit and Proper test is not fit for purpose if a man with so many prior company liquidations can pass it.

        Yes there was prior mistakes but this was what ultimately killed HUFC

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think in fairness there are some valid comments in this article but certainly in the case of Hereford they had no choice but to start again after being taken over and subsequently driven into the ground by some ….lets just call them unsavoury and extremely questionable so called owners.
    There is an agreement that this was when the birth of the new club was created as pretty much 90% of the regular fan base reluctantly boycotted the club because of these individuals and in a vain hope they might get the message and be driven out .
    The irony is that the average attendance is almost higher now then when we were in the football league but the feel good factor is back as like a lot of the other phonix clubs we know that the club is being ran by the right people at the helm .
    As fans we understand that as the club play at Edgar Street, play in Black and White and still have a Bull on the club shirt at the end of the day it’s still Hereford United all be it under a different name


  4. You fail to mention that Spennymoor Town won the league in the previous 3 seasons but did not want promotion, only when Darlington (not a phoenix club) were relegated to the NL did Spennymoor apply for promotion. Spennymoor had, and still have, a higher playing budget than Darlington. I’m not sure what you are expecting from a former league club, do you want them to limit the amount of fans allowed into a match, allow those fans in for free or allow that club to fight to get back to where it was?

    For me as a long term season ticket holder for Darlington, I have found the last few years absolutely exhilarating. From not even knowing much about non league football to actually wanting to watch it more than my childhood team, I still have fond memories of The Dell, shows how good and honest the teams and players are at this level.

    To say it’s unfair on others is way wide of the mark as I know the other teams around Darlington benefitted hugely from the extra revenue. I know many Darlington fans actually still go to watch these teams when Darlington are away as many of us have grown fond of our local non league teams, again boosting revenue. Is this still unfair?


    • Your point that Spennymoor didn’t apply for promotion before 2012 is valid, however the season Darlington were put in that division they could have wanted promotion but ‘put off’ with the presence of a club like Darlington.

      It obviously brings a feel good factor to Darlington if they are winning, but it does have a negative effect lower down stopping the progression of many teams. Not just with finances, phoenix teams have the pulling power to sign higher profile players and have the backing of large attendances which is an advantage like it or not.

      If you read further down I do recognise that phoenix sides do have a positive impact on teams in the 5th step with finances and exposure. This isn’t a pitchfork article against Darlington – they are just the most recent example and I realise that they have to start somewhere.

      I’ll repeat what I’ve said before which is that the FA shouldn’t allow clubs to go bust in the first place. Not by providing rescue packages, but by monitoring accounts and putting in place restrictions.


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