Re-election (Football League)

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The Re-election system of the Football League, in use until 1986, was a process where the worst placed clubs of the league had to reapply for their place in the league while non-league clubs could apply for a league place. It was the only way for a non-league side to enter the Football League until direct promotion and relegation were introduced from the 1986–87 season onwards. The clubs placed on a re-election rank at the end of a season had to face their Football League peers at the Annual General Meeting of the league. At the AGM the league members had the choice to either vote to retain the current league members or allow entry to the league for applying non-league clubs.[1]

Re-election had existed as early as 1890 when Stoke City failed to retain their league status.[2] During the first five seasons of the league, that is, until the season 1893–94, re-election process concerned the clubs which finished in the bottom four of the league. From the 1894–95 season and until the 1920–21 season the re-election process was required of the clubs which finished in the bottom three of the league.[3] From the 1921–22 season on, it was used for the two last placed teams of each of the Third Division North and South. After the formation of the Fourth Division in 1958, it applied to the bottom four clubs of that league.

The club with the largest number of re-election campaigns, Hartlepool United, fourteen between 1924 and 1984, was never actually voted out of the league[1][4] but a number of other clubs were, the last of those being Workington in 1977 and Southport in 1978, who lost their league places to Wimbledon and Wigan Athletic respectively.


Third Division North and South[edit]

The southern group of the Third Division was established in 1920 with the northern group following the next year. The two leagues existed in parallel until 1958 when the Fourth Division was established.[5]

In this era, Walsall faced the most re-election campaigns, seven. Clubs that lost their league place in this time were Aberdare Athletic (1927), Durham City (1928), Ashington (1929), Merthyr Town (1930), Newport County (1931), Nelson (1931), Gillingham (1938) and New Brighton (1951).[2][4]

The following clubs had to face the re-election process during the Third Division North and South era:[4]

Club No Voted out Notes
Walsall 7
Exeter City 6
Halifax Town 6
Newport County 6 1931 Lost league place to Mansfield Town but was re-elected to the league in 1932
Accrington Stanley 5
Barrow 5
Gillingham 5 1938 Lost league place to Ipswich Town but was re-elected to the league in 1950
New Brighton 5 1951 Lost league place to Workington
Southport 5
Rochdale 4
Norwich City 4
Crystal Palace 3
Crewe Alexandra 3
Darlington 3
Hartlepool United 3
Merthyr Town 3 1930 Lost league place to Thames
Swindon Town 3
Aberdare Athletic 2 1927 Lost league place to Torquay United
Aldershot 2
Ashington 2 1929 Lost league place to York City
A.F.C. Bournemouth 2
Brentford 2
Chester City 2
Colchester United 2
Durham City 2 1928 Lost league place to Carlisle United
Millwall 2
Nelson 2 1931 Lost league place to Chester City
Queens Park Rangers 2
Rotherham United 2
Southend United 2
Tranmere Rovers 2
Watford 2
Workington 2
Bradford City 1
Bradford Park Avenue 1
Brighton & Hove Albion 1
Bristol Rovers 1
Cardiff City 1
Carlisle United 1
Charlton Athletic 1
Gateshead 1
Grimsby Town 1
Mansfield Town 1
Shrewsbury Town 1
Torquay United 1
York City 1

Fourth Division[edit]

The north-south shift of Football League clubs during the Fourth Division re-election era: Red dots indicate clubs not re-elected, green dots clubs that were elected in their stead.

The Fourth Division was established in 1958 out of the bottom clubs of the two groups of the Third Division. The bottom four of the Fourth Division had to face re-election on an annual basis.[5]

In this era, 32 clubs had to face the re-election process in 28 seasons. Of those, five failed to gain re-election: Gateshead (1960), Bradford Park Avenue (1970), Barrow (1972), Workington (1977) and Southport (1978). Elected in their stead were Peterborough United, Cambridge United, Hereford United, Wimbledon and Wigan Athletic.[4] Geographically, all newly elected clubs were located further south than the club they replaced, a shift away from the more remote parts of northern England to the south.

Of those, Gateshead was the first to lose its league place, after only two seasons in the Fourth Division. The club had joined the Football League in 1930 and faced a successful re-election campaign in 1937. The club was convinced it would be re-elected, especially with Southport making their third consecutive re-election bid. In the end, on 28 May 1960, Gateshead only achieved 18 votes, with Southport the next lowest at 29. Gateshead lost their league place to Peterborough United who made their 21st attempt at entry into the Football League.[6]

Gateshead was followed ten years later by former First Division side Bradford Park Avenue. The club had been a league member since 1908 and had faced re-election five times before, being successful in 1956, 1958, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Faced with the process for the fourth year running in 1970, the club received only 17 votes and dropped out of the league while Cambridge United was voted in with 31. Unsuccessful, Wigan Athletic even achieved a higher vote then Bradford Park Avenue, reaching 18.[7]

Two seasons later, Barrow was replaced by Hereford United.[4]

A five-year break followed before Workington was voted out of the league in 1977. The club had only joined the league in 1951, being voted in at the expense of New Brighton which they beat by ten votes.[8] Workington faced two successful re-election campaigns in its first two seasons in the league but then did not have to apply again from 1953 to 1974. After three more successful campaigns in 1974, 1975 and 1976 the club's league membership came to an end on 17 June 1977 when Wimbledon received 27 votes and Workington only 21, finishing fifth in the tally.[9]

The last club to lose their Football League status through a vote was Southport, who were voted out in favour of Wigan Athletic in 1978. Southport was tied with Wigan on 26 votes and a second round between the two was necessary which Wigan carried by nine votes.[1]

No club was voted out in the following eight seasons until 1986, after which the system was abandoned in favour of direct promotion between the Football League and the Football Conference.[4] On 23 May 1986, the last time a re-election vote was held, Exeter City, Cambridge United, Preston North End and Torquay United had their league places confirmed while Enfield was denied a place in the league.[10]

The following clubs had to face the re-election process during the Fourth Division era:[4]

Club No Voted out Notes
Hartlepool United 11
Crewe Alexandra 7
Barrow 6 1972 Lost league place to Hereford United
Halifax Town 6
Rochdale 6
Southport 6 1978 Lost league place to Wigan Athletic
York City 6
Chester City 5
Darlington 5
Lincoln City 5
Stockport County 5
Workington 5 1977 Lost league place to Wimbledon
Bradford Park Avenue 4 1970 Lost league place to Cambridge United
Newport County 4
Northampton Town 4
Doncaster Rovers 3
Hereford United 3
Bradford City 2
Exeter City 2
Oldham Athletic 2
Scunthorpe United 2
Torquay United 2
Aldershot 1
Blackpool 1
Cambridge United 1
Colchester United 1
Gateshead 1 1960 Lost league place to Peterborough United
Grimsby Town 1
Preston North End 1
Swansea City 1
Tranmere Rovers 1
Wrexham 1
  • While not voted out, in 1962 Accrington Stanley resigned from the league and in its place Oxford United was elected. In 1968 Port Vale was forced to face the re-election process after having been expelled that season.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Football League Re-Election, accessed: 13 July 2012
  2. ^ a b Promotion to/Relegation from the Football League by year, accessed: 13 July 2012
  3. ^ Ian Laschke: Rothmans Book of Football League Records 1888–89 to 1978–79. MacDonald and Jane’s, London & Sydney, 1980.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Rothmans 2002–03, p. 584
  5. ^ a b Rothmans 2002–03, p. 581
  6. ^ Twydell, p. 160 & 161
  7. ^ Twydell, p. 94
  8. ^ Twydell, p. 273
  9. ^ Twydell, p. 282
  10. ^ Rothmans 1986–87, p. 31


  • Backpass magazine 2013-14 (Ghosts of the League series), Hyder Jawad
  • Rothmans Football Yearbook 1986–87, Editor: Peter Dunk, published: 1986
  • Rothmans Football Yearbook 2002–2003, Editors: Glenda & Jack Rollin, published: 2002
  • Rejected F.C., Volume 1, Dave Twydell, published: 1992

External links[edit]