6 April ~ It's the time of the season when fans of failing clubs nervously practise their three-times-tables, repeatedly calculating out how close they are to reaching a state of nirvana, to feeling utterly secure, to being mathematically safe from relegation for another year. In most leagues finishing below the dotted line and in the relegation zone means just that – a drop in division. But not in the Conference. Financial mismanagement is widespread among this collection of former League greats and overindulged village clubs. As a result, year-in, year-out supposedly relegated teams are reprieved after clubs that met with more success on the pitch are demoted for financial irregularities or ground issues.
Each of the the past seven seasons (with the exception of 2008-09) has seen at least one supposedly "relegated" team performing a Lazarus manoeuvre, saved after a bureaucratic decision made during the off-season. Altrincham even managed this feat in three consecutive seasons, consistently doing their best to get relegated but each time being rescued by another club's bankruptcy or inability to conform to off-the-pitch rules.
This year is unlikely to break the pattern. Here are the runners and riders in the Football Conference's parallel competition – the 2010-11 AGM Cup. The winners and losers are announced in mid-June.
Wrexham All but guaranteed a play-off spot, the Welsh team are nowhere near as healthy off the field. Now tenants at their own ground and operating under a transfer embargo, they have spent most of the season up for sale. The current club owners cut all contact with potential suitor Stephanie Booth after she claimed that the club was “days away from administration”.
Histon Triply doomed. Already deducted five points this season for breaching League finance rules and only just emerged from a transfer embargo following a VAT dispute. Almost certain to finish in a relegation spot – but should they escape then there are long-term concerns over viability following the defection of major backer Gareth Baldwin to Cambridge United.
Kidderminster Also hit with a five-point penalty for the same accounting reasons as Histon. Spent six months of the season up for sale and at one point attempted to offload their best players to balance the books. Finally sourced new investment and future now looks secure. Despite all the chaos, manager Steve Burr has kept them in the play-off positions.
Kettering The lease on their Rockingham Road ground has two years to run. Ambitious chairman Imraan Ladak has stepped back since a planning application for an out-of-town stadium was turned down by the local council but has continued to fund a substantially reduced playing budget. With little progress on an alternative venue and a chairman who has little incentive to invest there is the prospect of the club being homeless by 2013. The Conference has a history of expelling teams with ground problems.
Rushden & Diamonds A succession of journeymen chairmen have passed through Nene Park in the last few seasons and performances have dropped accordingly. The Max Griggs era of League One football in front of packed crowds is gone; instead full-time football is being maintained on sub-1,000 attendances in a stadium with one stand closed due to financial constraints. Gary Calder, the club's third boardroom boss this season, was in charge of Weymouth and Hornchurch when they plummeted after overspending. Have been charged with submitting inaccurate financial information to the Conference board.
Darlington Stuck playing in a 20,000-seat stadium they don't need, don't want and can't afford to maintain. Hardworking chairman Raj Singh rescued them from administration in 2009 but new holding company DFC Investments went into administration in February. Manager Mark Cooper told the BBC that the financial uncertainty helped the squad push through to the FA Trophy final: “It's galvanised the players a little bit, because it's maybe made them realise that there might not be anything for them next year.” James Waterson