THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Seb White looks back over the season where Gary Johnson's insatiable Yeovil Town strolled to succes

The long-term significance
In the summer of 2002 the Football League finally approved an extra promotion/relegation place between the top tier of non-League football and Division Three. In 1987 the controversial election process had been replaced with one promotion and relegation spot between the two. Strict ground regulations saw three clubs in the mid-1990s being denied promotion, this and the increasing good fortune of non-League sides in the FA Cup saw a clamour for change.
 The decision to increase movement between the divisions has been vindicated with all the teams that finished in the top six this season now members of the Football League. Three other sides – Barnet, Stevenage Borough and Burton Albion – have also made the step up. The extra promotion place has also done those relegated from the Football League a favour with Shrewsbury Town, Carlisle Utd, Exeter City and Torquay Utd all returning via the play-offs.

Story of the season
The league line-up was only confirmed in the weeks leading up to its start. The previous season's champions, Boston Utd, had received a four-point deduction for various "contract irregularities" but this was not applied retrospectively. Dagenham & Redbridge, who were runners-up on goal difference, would have to do it all again.

 Yeovil Town, managed by Gary Johnson, were the pre-season favourites. Johnson's success in winning the FA Trophy in his first season convinced the board to splash out on a new playing surface to assist the Glovers' swift passing style. While this was being constructed, a handful of "home" fixtures were played at Dorchester Town's ground.

Despite losing star striker Adam Stansfield to a broken leg in the first 45 minutes of the campaign, Yeovil quickly justified the pre-season optimism. They reached the summit at the end of September, overtaking Doncaster Rovers who had won six of their first seven games. Yeovil didn't look back and sealed promotion with three games to go in a televised win at Doncaster after their nearest rivals Chester could only draw at home to Woking.

The other main story of the season in the Conference centred on Farnborough Town's manager and owner Graham Westley when he controversially switched an FA Cup third round home tie with Arsenal to Highbury. Shortly after the match, Westley left Cherrywood Road, taking the majority of players with him to Stevenage Borough, ripping the heart out of the club and leaving a trail of unpaid debts. Farnborough never truly recovered and were liquidated in 2007, leading fans to set up Farnborough FC.

Dagenham & Redbridge narrowly missed out on promotion again by losing to Doncaster in the first ever Conference play-off final, Francis Tierney scoring a "golden goal" in a 3-2 win. The Daggers would eventually gain promotion in 2007, replacing Boston Utd.

For the record books
The 17-point gap between Yeovil and second-placed Morecambe still stands as a Conference record, as does the champions' 100 goals and only three defeats.

Same place today
In 2004, as part of a general restructuring of non-League football, the Conference increased the relegation places from three to four. As a result of this and the extra promotion place, seven years later only three teams remain at this level – Forest Green, Kettering Town and Southport. The latter two only recently returned to the Conference after relegation.

Moved furthest away
Doncaster Rovers continued to rise up the leagues, winning a League One play-off final against Leeds, and have since consolidated a place in the Championship under Sean O'Driscoll. Yeovil Town won League Two in 2005 before Gary Johnson moved to Bristol City. His successor, Russell Slade, would take them to within 90 minutes of the Championship in 2007 before losing the League One play-off final to Blackpool. Five of this season's Conference clubs would later fold. But they have all since been reformed by fans as Scarborough Athletic, FC Halifax Town, Farnborough FC, AFC Telford and Nuneaton Town.

Went onto greater things
Junior Agogo:
The striker scored 19 goals in 39 games with Barnet and played for the England C team. In 2006 he would represent the country of his birth, Ghana, in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Paul Parry: Hereford's leading goalscorer this season later played for Cardiff in an FA Cup final and has won 12 caps for Wales. He moved to Preston in 2009.
Nigel Clough: Burton Albion's manager (right) was in his first season in the Conference. After setting the Brewers on the road to promotion he would follow in his father's footsteps, taking over at Derby in early 2009.

Disappearing from view
Nuneaton Borough: After dropping into the relegation zone on the final day the club never returned and went into liquidation in 2008. Nuneaton Town are now in the Conference North.
Mark Stein: The former England striker (right) scored 17 for Dagenham and saw his record of scoring in seven successive top-flight games beaten by Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Don Goodman: The veteran forward had a short loan spell at Doncaster Rovers. After retiring a year later in 2004, Goodman would go on to make a name for himself as a football pundit.

From WSC 285 November 2010

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