Non-League Rich - Ebbsfleet experiment ends in tears
With the promotion and play-off slots all sewn up heading into the final day of the Blue Square Premier season, non-league enthusiasts braced themselves for what promised to be an exhilarating fight for survival at the bottom end of the table last weekend.
The spectacle lived up to its billing. A series of twists and turns eventually saw Forest Green Rovers, servants to the top flight of Non-League football for 12 seasons, and Ebbsfleet United, eventually confirmed as the two clubs joining the already relegated Grays Athletic.
Before kick-off, it appeared that the chance of Liam Daish's Ebbsfleet miraculously escaping the bottom three would be minimal, solely due to the fact they were extremely reliant upon other results going their way. And despite claiming a 4-3 victory against Tamworth at The Lamb, the Kent-based side were expectedly sent tumbling out of the division.
Ebbsfleet's demise can be attributed to the day when website MyFootballClub took control of the club in 2007, with 27,000 members paying £35 each to own an equal share. Allowing so-called 'supporters' to vote on team selection and transfer deals was always going to be a recipe for disaster.
Admittedly, The Fleet did win the FA Trophy in their first season under new ownership, but the success was destined to be short-lived. It was never realistic that all of the original members would renew, not even half in fact. The club’s finances have dwindled in a very short period of time, and it was confirmed in March just gone only 800 people had continued to pay membership fees.
With Ebbsfleet's demotion easier to forecast, the departure of Forest Green was somewhat unexpected. Needing just a single point away at Grays, who had exited the league at the beginning of April, a draw was all Dave Hockaday's men required, regardless of other results.
But after Gateshead and Eastbourne Borough secured 1-0 home victories over AFC Wimbledon and Oxford United respectively, Forest Green waved goodbye to the Blue Square Premier having suffered a late 2-1 defeat in Essex.
Histon, for the briefest moment, were preparing themselves for the upset of falling out of the Conference as they trailed Barrow, but after Alsseny Cissoko's 86th minute header put Grays in front, The Green were agonisingly consigned.
It is a cruel blow for the Gloucestershire side to suffer, as relegation means more than just dropping a league. Chairman Trevor Horsley has already admitted that large amounts of money owed threaten the future of the club, with the collapse of the Setanta TV deal, moving into a new stadium four years ago and unnecessary playing staff expenses responsible for the crippling debt.
Now they must rebuild on a part-time budget, with all of the New Lawn Inn staff, both players and club secretary alike, accepting that their full-time contracts were cancelled after Saturday's confirmation. And as Grays Athletic now become homeless due to their lease on the New Recreation Ground running out, while the club's owners continue to contemplate dropping down to the Ryman Premier Division, don't expect to see any of the three relegated clubs return to Conference football any time soon.
READ RICHARD BATES ON NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALL EXCLUSIVELY AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK
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