Altrincham FC: A team destined for the Football League?

Altrincham FC are considered a staple of Non-league in English football – but is it a matter of time before they finally achieve the feat they were denied 42 years ago?

The story of The Robins started in 1891, where a local Sunday school formed Broadheath Football Club, who would then soon become Altrincham FC.

The club became founders of the Cheshire Counties League in 1919 and remained there until 1965 when Freddie Pye was appointed manager of the club.

The club’s most successful spell came in the 1970’s where they won the FA Trophy for the first time in a 3-1 win over Leatherhead at Wembley in 1978.

Altrincham’s 3-1 win over Leatherhead to secure their first FA Trophy title

Before promotion and relegation to and from the Football League and Non-League was introduced, the teams were determined by a ballot.

This was a vote in which would be carried out to determine whether a team should be allowed to join the Football League.

This vote would involve four teams being either elected or re-elected into the Football League and were made up of 206 votes.

Four votes went to Premier League clubs, four from Championship clubs with each team in the third and fourth division having four votes each.

The president of the Football League would also get four votes.

Altrincham’s first application to join the Football League was made in 1977 where they missed out to Wimbledon who gathered 15 more votes.

1977 Football League election results

This didn’t faze them as two years later they would apply again, this time missing out by 25 votes to Halifax Town who finished bottom of the fourth tier.

It was in 1980 that Altrincham’s best chance of election came.

Altrincham FC team photo 1980/81 season

Having been promised votes from Grimsby Town and Luton Town, the club believed they had a chance of election.

However, in order to be elected the club would need more than 26 votes which were given to Rochdale who would be re-elected if Altrincham could not gather more votes.

The Grimsby Town representative could not vote due to being in the wrong part of the meeting room and the Luton Town representative turned up late due to a mix-up with timing and therefore was unable to vote.

The Robins ended up with 25 votes which would not be enough to see them elected into the Football League.

1980 Football League election results

In an interview with FourFourTwo in 2004 Altrincham midfielder Graham Heathcote claimed that the Grimsby rep allegedly ‘had one too many beverages and fallen asleep’.

This became tough for the Cheshire-based side with manager at the time Tony Sanders struggling to understand what had occurred.

“Five years work was blown up this afternoon. Despite our achievements in cup competitions, they decided we were not good enough. It is bad enough not getting in, but then to hear you might have made it if everyone had voted is really sickening,” said Sanders.

To add insult to injury, Rochdale’s manager at the time Bob Stokoe who was previously manager of Sunderland, left 20 days after the election, with many believing that the club would not have received as many votes if he had stayed.

Only one more application would be made the year after, in which the club stood no chance coming 26 votes short of Halifax Town.

The election process was disbanded in 1986 which came a few years too late for Altrincham as their period of Non-League dominance was coming to an end.

The main problem that came with the election process was the so-called ‘old pals act’ which would involve clubs calling in favours to stay in the league as well as underperforming teams always remaining in the league.

A prime example of this would be Hartlepool who managed to avoid ejection from the league 14 times between 1924 and 1984.

Some may say, their claim to fame may involve their impressive FA Cup victory over Birmingham City in 1986, who were in the first division at the time.

Altrincham’s famous FA Cup win over Birmingham in 1986

Since the election drama, Altrincham have been in and out of the Conference Premier and faced consecutive relegations into the Northern Premier League.

However, with the club cementing a National League position in the last few years, the next step is promotion to the Football League after deciding to go full-time for 2022/23.

Altrincham currently sit 13th in the table only three points away from the lottery, which is the playoffs.

National League Table 2022/23 as of January 30