Brighton escape from the bottom division as Barnet drop out of the league. Peter Evans reports
The long-term significance
Fresh from an £11.5 million takeover by Sam Hammam, Cardiff City spent £1.9m – an unparalleled amount for the fourth tier. However, this season, when each Division Three club were guaranteed a healthy £150,000 in TV revenue, was the beginning of the end for such heavy investment in wages and transfers. The following year ITV Digital went under, leaving many clubs facing the prospect of financial meltdown. Carlton and Granada, the channel’s owners, had paid £315m for the Nationwide League TV rights in June 2000, but, when the company was declared bankrupt in March 2002, Third Division clubs lost roughly £400,000 in earnings.
Story of the season
Cardiff City were expected to lead the way. But three wins from their first 14 matches led to manager Bobby Gould being replaced by Alan Cork. He had an instant impact, as the team lost just one of his first 15 games and scored 43 goals in the process. In their second season at the Withdean Stadium, Micky Adams’ Brighton began a ten-game unbeaten run with a 6-2 home win against Torquay. By the time Danny Cullip scored the only goal against Chesterfield in May, the title was destined for Sussex, the club eventually finishing ten points clear. Blackpool joined Albion in Division Two, their play-off success assisted by up-and-coming striker Brett Ormerod, who scored 23 goals, including two in each leg of the play-off semis and one in the final.
Brian Little’s Hull City still managed to achieve a play-off place despite severe financial worries that led to their being locked out of their ground for one game before new owner Adam Pearson took over. Off-the-pitch developments could also have ruined Chesterfield’s chances, as the club were docked nine points for financial irregularities involving the transfer of striker Luke Beckett. Despite this, they claimed the third automatic promotion spot and were taken over by a supporters’ trust as the season ended. Cardiff took the other automatic place, but not without a few scares. In November, the team found themselves 2-1 down after 90 minutes twice in one week, against Hartlepool and Lincoln, but on both occasions pulled off stunning 3-2 wins.
At the bottom, relegation seemed a distinct possibility for Exeter City until late January, but their ten-game winless run, including a 6-1 drubbing at Cardiff, came to an end at home to Brighton. This result, and the arrival of Steve Perryman, back after several years coaching in Japan, as an advisor to boss Noel Blake, transformed the Grecians’ season and they finished 19th.
The campaign’s most dramatic match took place on the final day. Barnet hosted Torquay knowing that only a win would be good enough for survival, but the visitors led 3-0 at half time. With five strikers on the pitch in the second half, Barnet poured forward down the slope. They managed to get two goals back but it wasn’t enough and they duly returned to the Conference after ten years in the League.
For the record books
Bobby Zamora top-scored with 28 goals. Barnet’s 7-0 victory against Blackpool, in manager Tony Cottee’s first game, was the biggest win. Cardiff were the only team in all four divisions unbeaten at home and were the best-supported club in the basement with an average of just under 8,000.
Same place today
Eight of these clubs are playing in League Two this season. Five – Lincoln, Darlington, Macclesfield, Mansfield and Rochdale – have not left the fourth tier of English football in the years since 2000‑01. Barnet, Shrewsbury and Chesterfield have had promotions and relegations, but are now back in League Two.
Moved furthest away
Cardiff, Plymouth and Hull have been joined in the Championship this season by Blackpool and Scunthorpe, while five sides will be playing non-League football.
Went on to greater things
Nicky Shorey The Reading and England full-back joined his current club from Leyton Orient in the February of this season for £25,000.
Bobby Zamora Revived his career at Brighton having been released by Bristol Rovers, for whom he made only four appearances as a substitute. Moved on to Spurs in 2003 and West Ham a year later.
Robert Earnshaw With his hat-trick against Torquay in December, the 19-year-old Cardiff striker took his first step towards becoming the only player to hit trebles in all four divisions and internationally.
Disappearing from view
Tony Ford The 42-year-old Rochdale midfielder played his last full season – he retired in November 2001 after 931 League matches, a record for an outfielder.
Wes Saunders Dismissed as Torquay manager in March after defeat to Carlisle left them bottom of the League, Saunders became an agent. Paul Gascoigne was to be one of his clients.
Tony Cottee The striker’s only managerial job, at Barnet, started well, but he resigned in March after a run of one point from seven games. He left for Division Two Millwall and played in all four divisions in one season, having earlier played for Leicester and Norwich.
From WSC 249 November 2007