WILL Plymouth Albion be able to bounce straight back to the Championship following their relegation on Saturday?
That is the question most supporters of the historic club are asking right now as they contemplate long trips to Darlington, Blaydon, Wharfedale and possibly Hull Ionians next season.
The record of recent teams dropping out of the Championship does give them hope.
Up until a few years ago it was quite common for clubs to cascade down the leagues, like Newbury, Manchester and Waterloo did.
But since the Championship was introduced in 2009, only one team – Birmingham – have suffered back-to-back relegations, while the last two sides demoted – Ealing and Doncaster – have both bounced straight back (Ealing were confirmed as National One champions on Saturday). It was very nearly three out of three as Esher finished second to Ealing in National One after they had been relegated in 2012.
Coventry were the first club to drop out of the 12-team Championship in 2010. They had gone into administration but still managed to finish eighth in their first year in National One.
Coventry and Esher will be the most familiar of Albion’s opponents next season.
But there are still many teams in National One that Plymouth have visited in the last 15 years, like Fylde, Rosslyn Park, Blackheath, Wharfedale and Henley (who have just been promoted).
Many Albion supporters will remember the club’s last trip to Wharfedale, where famously their National League record-breaking 41-match winning run came to an end under a stunning Yorkshire sunset.
National One is packed with teams with long proud histories who were very successful in the amateur days but have not been able to quite hit the same heights in the professional era.
However, they are few ‘new’ league climbers like ambitious Darlington Mowden Park, who play at the 25,000-all seater stadium initially built for the town’s football team, Hartpury College and Loughborough Students, who have all progressed rapidly through the divisions in recent years.
There are three places yet to be decided in the league for 2015/16.
The final relegation spot has not yet been confirmed with Cinderford battling it out with Old Albanian, while two of the three promotion places have still to be decided.
Hull Ionians sit top of National Two North but Ampthill are only three points behind with one match to play. Whichever team does not win that title will face either Bishop’s Stortford or Taunton in the play-offs.
Bishop’s Stortford are two points ahead of Taunton with one game to go in the race for runners-up spot in National Two South.
Albion would no doubt prefer Taunton to go up and for Cinderford to survive in terms of travelling.
The worst case scenario in terms of distances would be Hull and Amphill winning promotion and Old Albanians staying up instead of Gloucestershire side Cinderford. If that happens then Hartpury College will be their closest match, which would still be more than a 300-mile round-up.
However, the last time Albion were in the third tier (2001-02) their nearest opponents were Newbury, but they still had the largest travelling support in the division and claimed promotion.
With no central funding at National One the teams will large crowds and good sponsorship are at an advantage, like they used to be in tier two.
The introduction of the Championship and central funding meant all teams could afford full-time players or offer others enough money for them not to want to move to the other side of the country.
At one time in tier two the West Country sides like Albion, Bristol, Exeter and the Pirates were dominant forces because they got the biggest crowds and sponsors and so could afford to have full-time players, unlike to some of their rivals.
If Albion can pull in some big attendances in National One and sponsors stick by the club then there is no reason why they can’t mount a challenge to return to the Championship, but the key is going to be getting the right players.
The club will have a major rebuilding job on their hands this summer and they just have to make sure they do it better than last year.
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