In February, I wrote about the rash of clubs which had withdrawn from non-League football over the course of this season. In that piece, I observed that “I’ve never known so many clubs to be struggling so publicly as is the case right now”. Just before Easter, two clubs with similar backgrounds announced that they’re calling it a day, one doing so with immediate effect.

On 19th March, Isthmian League New Salamis issued a statement published in Parikiaki, a newspaper published in London which serves the Greek and Cypriot diaspora:

“It is with great sadness that we announce that this will be our last season in the Isthmian League and our over 18’s team will cease playing at the end of the season. Over the years, thanks to our players, supporters, members and sponsors we have achieved success beyond our wildest dreams. Unfortunately due to increasing financial constraints we are unable to maintain the high standards that we have set for ourselves and 2024 will be our last season. The club will not end, we will still continue to run our youth teams and this will be our focus in the coming years.”

The North London club was formed in 1971 by fans of Cypriot club Nea Salamis Famagusta, with the Cyprus-based club acting as a parent club. As a Sunday League outfit, New Salamis won the KOPA League (a competition for the London Cypriot community) eleven times and the London FA’s Sunday Challenge Cup eight times; they even lifted The FA Sunday Cup before switching to Saturday football and rapidly moving through the levels, eventually reaching the Isthmian League North Division, which is at the same ‘step’ as the Northern Premier League West Division. However, the Salamina’s First Team is no longer predominantly Anglo-Cypriot, which may have discouraged the people supporting the club financially. Another issue is that, for all their success, New Salamis haven’t been able to encourage many people through the turnstiles; New Salamis average crowd this season is just 105 and one match, against Bowers & Pitsea, attracted just 43 spectators.

In 2015, St. Panteleimon FC were admitted to the KOPA League. The club was named after the church in Harrow, Middlesex which was attended by the founders of the club. The Saints won the title at the first attempt and switched to Saturday football before New Salamis, racing through the Middlesex County League and winning promotion to the Spartan South Midlands League. Initially, St Panteleimon shared with North Greenford United, whose ground is only four and a half miles from the church. In more recent seasons, the Saints have been playing further away from their roots, sharing first with Enfield Town and this season playing at Potters Bar Town. The club was also denied the championship of the Spartan South Midlands League Division One by the curtailment of the 2019-20 due to COVID-19. Elevated to the Combined Counties League Premier Division North, St. Panteleimon won seven out of ten matches before the 2020-21 season was abandoned. Moved back into the Spartan South Midlands League, the Saints finished sixth in the Premier Division last season and were sitting in fifth place in this season’s table until last week. On 28th March, George Frangeskou of the club made an announcement via Facebook confirming that the Saints would not be completing the season:

“At this level and with no home ground to call our own, the financial demands required to meet with the criteria are unattainable, unsustainable and beyond our scope. It is with great sadness therefore that we announce that St Panteleimon FC will fold with immediate effect and have informed the SSML and our groundshare hosts of this decision.”

A couple of things stand out here. It’s unusual for a club to withdraw from a League with only a month and eight League matches remaining in the season. Even odder is the fact that, at the time the club folded, St Panteleimon were fifth in their division and were due to play a cup quarter-final two days later. Although their form in the matches leading up to the club’s closure hadn’t been great, the Saints were still in a promotion play-off place. However, playing at Potters Bar, some 14 miles from their original base, made it even harder for the club to attract people to watch matches than it was for New Salamis. Their last three home attendances were 15, 23 and 18; a Premier Division Cup tie against Potton United got a crowd of just four. Clearly, it’s not possible to cover matchday costs when you’ve got fewer than two dozen people paying to watch games.

Both New Salamis and St. Panteleimon had strong squads, but neither club had deep enough roots to survive in non-League football. For example, there were more than 1,200 at the Prescot Cables vs Runcorn Linnets match pictured above. The average League attendance at Prescot Cables this season is 763, despite being 19th in the same division as Cables, Hednesford Town have a remarkably similar average (758). Why do the Pesky Bulls and the Pitmen attract so many more fans than New Salamis, who play at the same level, just in a different region?

Part of the reason is history. Both Prescot Cables and Hednesford Town trace their roots back to the 1880s. Hednesford Town have also enjoyed significant success; the club has played at National League level, won the FA Trophy in 2004 and reached the FA Cup Fourth Round in 1996-97. However, for me, the biggest factor is local identity; Cables represent a town with a long, proud history and are also the highest-ranking club from the borough of Knowsley, meaning they attract support from nearby towns including Huyton and Kirkby. For all their success on the pitch, neither New Salamis nor St. Panteleimon had an identity which corresponded to the places where they played, but the other clubs we have lost from the Pyramid – Nuneaton Borough, Marske United, East Thurrock United, Hamworthy United and Norwich United, all did, so clearly that’s not enough on it’s own.

Hopefully, the trickle of clubs we have lost this season isn’t about to become a flood.