8 July ~ When is relegation not relegation? The news that Rushden & Diamonds have withdrawn their appeal against demotion ends another protracted Blue Square Premier League relegation battle. This uncertainty is becoming something of a regular occurrence – only three times in the last ten years have all the teams occupying the bottom-four positions in this division gone down. The final tables regularly feature asterisks denoting clubs being demoted, docked points or sanctioned due to financial/administrative issues.
The final relegation place was seemingly settled on the last day of the season when Southport went down to a 3-1 defeat against Kettering. Southport are no doubt happy to have won a reprieve from relegation to the Blue Square North, but now face a race to get their squad up to standard having released a number of players due to a potentially reduced budget for 2011-12.
The other clubs involved in the relegation scrap have found themselves in similar positions previously. Forest Green, who narrowly avoided finishing fourth from bottom with a slightly better goal difference to Southport, have twice escaped the trap door in similar circumstances. In 2009-10 they stayed up because of Salisbury's demotion. This season they finished third from bottom – only three relegation places existed due to Chester City having to have their record expunged. They had similar good fortune in 2003-04 when Northwich Victoria went down despite finishing higher up the league.
Altrincham, who finished third from bottom this year, did go down. But on three consecutive occasions between 2005 and 2008 they occupied the designated relegation place only to be spared by off-the-field issues. In 2005-06 they finished bottom of the league when only two relegation places were available – the reduced number due to the formation of North and South Conference feeder leagues. They were spared due to the resignation of Canvey Island and the demotion of Scarborough, who were subsequently wound up. Financial crises for Boston United the next year and Halifax Town in 2007-08 then saved Altrincham again who finished fourth from bottom on both occasions.
The issues that have hampered Southport's summer have created a butterfly effect throughout the pyramid. The league's fixtures have only just been released and the FA competition draws have been delayed. Given the regularity with which this has happened, teams who are reckoned to be relegation certainties from the outset may be advised to simply aim not to finish bottom. Any higher and a reprieve could in the offing. Paul Clark