This weekend, The National League celebrates its 40th anniversary, since the first fixtures took place in the then-called Alliance Premier League.
An allocation of 20 Clubs made up the fifth tier, with Altrincham claiming the title in the inaugural season.
The Noel Kelly trophy- named after the former Nuneaton Borough Chairman- remained at Moss Lane at the end of the first two campaigns.
The pyramid-shaped trophy represented a transition to the structure of Non-League football, which has been integral in shaping the game in this country.
With automatic promotion introduced from 1987, even the smallest Clubs could dream of a meteoric rise into the Football League and beyond.
Football power-brokers Jim Thompson and Noel White, who sadly passed away recently, were just two of a number of key people who influenced this ground-breaking change – and many others, like the influential Bill King, Peter Hunter and current President Brian Lee, have tirelessly steered the League through its many adventures over the past four decades.
The addition of the play-offs in 2003, then the North and South divisions a year later, added a new dimension to the competition and created more wonderful memories.
Not only has the league had three titles, with the Football Conference in use for nearly 30 years, there has also been a total of six title sponsors. All of which have helped create an identity for the competition as we know it today.
From a football perspective, there has been a huge number of significant moments throughout The National League’s history.
Wealdstone became the first Club to win the “Non-League double” of league title and FA Trophy success back in 1985. Colchester United matched this achievement in 1992, then Martin O’Neill’s Wycombe Wanderers the following season.
Many managers and players have gone on to have hugely successful careers in the game. Similar to O’Neill, the likes of Neil Warnock, Jamie Vardy and Joe Hart have made their mark at the top level.
And who can forget the more recent FA Cup runs of Lincoln City and Sutton United just over two years ago? Managers Danny Cowley and Paul Doswell performed heroics with their respective sides, showcasing their efforts in front of global audiences.
Our current commercial partnerships with Vanarama, LV Bet and BT Sport are flourishing, and the estimated money generated by the season-long competition is now at over £80 million.
From small acorns, the National League has become a well-established part of English football – and its profile is growing season-by-season. Extensive live matchday TV coverage on BT Sport and a greater awareness of our three divisions across the breadth of both traditional and modern media continues to grow.
Last season, over two million spectators attended our matches. It’s incredibly encouraging to see so many people coming through the turnstiles at our Football Clubs, the heartbeats of their communities. The figure is substantially larger than a decade ago.
Most importantly our competition remains friendly, welcoming and open to all. It is a National League but with wonderful Local Values.
Happy Birthday! And here’s to the next forty years.
BRIAN BARWICK, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL LEAGUE