The National League is the path for clubs to win their way to that much-wanted Football League status and a chance to go on to bigger things in the English game.
The English fifth tier is a challenging league to win, but many clubs have done it in the competitions in its various guises. Here is a list of some of the former winners:
Barnet won the competition on three occasions
The Bees have been one of the most successful clubs when it has come to winning the English fifth-tier title. Founded in 1888, the club have endured a difficult history, including numerous promotions and relegations.
Their first promotion to the Football League came in 1991 under the management of charismatic boss Barry Fry. Barnet even won promotion to the English third tier in 1993 but lasted just a season before suffering relegation back to the fourth tier once again.
Unfortunately for the club, they once again suffered relegation to the then-Conference in 2001. Their second Conference title was achieved in season 2004/2005. This time Barnet enjoyed an eight-year stint in League Two only to suffer relegation in 2013.
However, not to be deterred, the Bees once again claimed the Conference Premier title in 2015. Their time in the fourth tier didn’t last long, though, as in 2018, they again suffered relegation to the fifth tier.
Macclesfield Town have won on three occasions
Like Barnet, Macclesfield has endured more ups and downs than most teams would want to. The biggest down was in 2020 when the club ceased to exist. The phoenix club Macclesfield F.C. will hope to build on a legacy of a club that was started in 1874.
During its long history, Town won the fifth-tier title on three occasions. Their title came in the season 1993/194 under former Manchester United midfielder Sammy McIlroy. However, their stadium Moss Rose did not meet the Football League’s legal requirements, so they were denied a place in the fourth tier.
The Silkmen didn’t give up on promotion and once again won the Conference title in season 1996/97. This time they were allowed into the fourth tier and even won promotion to the third tier at the first time of asking by finishing as runners-up in the division.
However, their stay in the third tier was short-lived, as Town only spent a season in the third tier before suffering relegation back to the fourth tier. Macclesfield spent from 1999 until 2012 in the English fourth tier, even making the play-off semi-finals in 2005 before suffering another relegation in 2012.
Town was once again crowned as fifth-tier champions in season 2017/18, despite the club being in financial trouble. The following season, Town survived in League Two but was given a points deduction in August 2020 due to their financial problems, which saw them return to the National League. Worse was to come as due to their severe economic crisis, the club was forced to dissolve in September 2020.
Maidstone United have won on two occasions
The club from Kent are another club that unfortunately encountered financial issues and suffered the trauma of dissolution in 1992. However, United was one of the founding members of the Alliance Premier League (Now the National League).
Maidstone United won their first title in 1984. However, they were denied entry to the Football League, as at the time, the election process was still used to elect teams into the Football League, and Maidstone didn’t make it.
The club won the title once again in 1989, and this time, they were not to be denied, as promotion and relegation had been introduced. The club spent heavily to get to the Football League and continued to do so in the fourth tier. The club had to sell their ground and ground share with Dartford United and played their last game on May 2nd 1992, before closure the following summer.
Their phoenix club Maidstone United F.C, which was initially Maidstone Invicta, now features in the National League.
Cheltenham Town have won on two occasions
The Robins are one of the success stories on this list, mainly because, as of writing, they are currently in League One, the third tier of English football.
Steve Cotterill guided Town to their first-ever promotion to the Football League in the season 1998/99 while also being crowned division champions. Cheltenham experienced even higher heights in 2002, as they won promotion to the third tier via winning the play-offs. However, their initial stay in the third tier lasted just a season before they suffered relegation. They again won promotion to the third tier of English football in 2006 through winning the play-offs. Town remained in the third tier for three years before suffering relegation. Worse was to follow in 2015, as they suffered another relegation, this time back to the National League.
Their stay in non-League football didn’t last long, though, as Gary Johnson guided the team to 101 points, and Town were promoted back to the Football League at the first time of asking. They were the first club in 26 years to win immediate promotion from the fifth tier. In 2021, Cheltenham Town claimed their first-ever Football League title, as they were crowned champions of League Two and won promotion to League One.