A gradual geographic shift has accelerated this year, and the division looks more northern than ever. Of the six sides which have left the division only one is northern, albeit a convenient neighbour in Chester. Of the other five, four are from the south-eastern heartland of the Conference Premier in Grays, Ebbsfleet, Stevenage and Oxford, Forest Green being the others. If, as many predict, they are reprieved by Salisbury dropping out, our petrol bills will be slashed even further.
Despite any understandable sympathy we might feel for York City, with Mike Ingham, Levi Mackin and Martin Foyle in their ranks, it was undoubtedly a good thing for us that they lost in the play-off final, and not only because a weekend in York’s an attractive prospect.
Oxford are one of the powerhouses of the Conference, a club which has marshalled its resources and used its size and earning potential to create a side capable of bullying the division. With Luton cottoning on under Richard Money in the latter half of the season, a York win would have left the prospect of next season turning into a two-horse race, with The Hatters and The Us pulling away from the rest of us. York have done well, but they aren’t likely to dominate the division like that.
The other impact on the Conference is the number of basket cases dropping out of the Football League. Hard as it might be to believe, we’re one of the more stable set-ups to drop into the Conference, as the financial backing the club gave Brian Little and Dean Saunders in our attempt to bounce back up showed. Contrast that with Chester, who failed to last the season, or Darlington, who come down with all sorts of endemic problems accumulated over the years.
The process of churning up the sediment of the Conference, as healthy clubs like Stevenage are replaced by diseased ones dropping off the backside of the Football League, must surely be a good thing for us. With plenty of small clubs who aren’t really equipped to sustain a promotion push to add to those who are limping down to our level, there should be only so many clubs capable of compiling a side capable of going for promotion. That ought to be in our favour, as long as we can get organised ourselves!