The North West Counties Football League was formed in 1982 with the amalgamation of the Cheshire County League and the Lancashire Combination. Initially there were three divisions, but at the end of 1986-87 season, this was reduced to two as a result of ongoing ground grading and the formation of a First Division of the Northern Premier League, now the Evo-Stik League.
This year also saw the implementation of an automatic promotion and relegation arrangement between the two competitions with the Champions or second placed club being entitled to promotion, subject to receiving a satisfactory ground-grading.
Our sister leagues, the Northern Counties (East) League and the Northern League, both now enjoy similar arrangements, and all four competitions are members of the Joint Liaison Council which administers the Northern arm of the National Football System in England.
The North West Counties Football League covers a geographical area stretching from Cumbria in the North, through Lancashire, Cheshire, Liverpool, Manchester and parts of Derbyshire, down to Staffordshire in the South, but the League has also welcomed clubs from North Wales and the West Riding in the past. Altogether, almost 100 clubs have enjoyed membership of the NWCFL, with 16 of our current constitution being founder members.
The League operates Premier (First Division until 2008/2009) and First Division (Second Division until 2009/2010) competitions plus the North West Counties League Challenge Cup open to all clubs and a First Division Trophy. In addition the league also operates a Reserve League and Cup competitions.
We also have formal promotion/relegation arrangements with the Liverpool Premier League, the Manchester League, the Mid-Cheshire League, the Midland League, the West Cheshire League and the West Lancashire League. The formation of the North West Joint Liaison Council in 1999, the first of its kind in the country at this level of the National League System, drawing together all our feeder leagues, will hopefully play a major role in promoting amateur football in the region and stimulate interest in non-league football across the North West.
The League gained it's first commercial sponsor in 1986 when major brewing concern Bass came on board, supporting the League until 1995, the longest running sponsorship in non-league football at that time. In 1998, the regional rail operator First North Western Trains became the competition's sponsor in a two year deal. Previous sponsors Vodkat became sponsors in 2007 and the deal lasted four season's before it came to an end in 2011.
The League is administered by a committee of unpaid officers and members, drawing on a wealth of experience and skills. Canon Reg Smith (famous after dinner speaker and Vice-Chairman at Bury FC) was our President until April 1997 when he sadly passed away. Our next President was Eric Hinchcliffe TD, our founder Chairman and a model servant to the League, until April 1999 when he died, to be replaced by Bill King.
In the short history of the League, many clubs have excelled in our own, and national, competitions, particularly the FA Vase where we have provided a host of finalists and four winners; St Helens Town, Colne Dynamoes, Nantwich Town and Kirkham & Wesham claiming the prestigious silverware. Fleetwood Town was our first finalist in 1985, losing to Halesowen Town, before the all-North West Counties Final between St Helens Town and Warrington Town in 1987. Next were Colne Dynamoes who beat Emley in 1988 and then Clitheroe, who were beaten by Brigg Town in 1996.
The league waited ten years before producing their next winner in 2006, when Nantwich Town lifted the trophy after beating Hillingdon Borough 3-1 in the final at Birmingham City's St Andrews ground.
The league has continued to deliver a steady stream of teams in the final rounds of the Vase competition over recent years, with member clubs reaching the final in 2008 and 2009. Kirkham & Wesham (now AFC Fylde) became the first of our clubs to grace the hallowed turf at the New Wembley when they defeated Lowestoft Town 2-1 in front of 19,537 spectators. In 2009 Glossop North End reached the final only to lose 2-0 against Northern League opponents Whitley Bay in front of a crowd of 12,212.
In the FA Cup, the League is regularly represented in the latter qualifying rounds, and Newcastle Town became the last of our clubs to reach the First Round Proper in 1997, bowing out to Notts County at the Victoria Ground, but ex-member clubs Horwich RMI, Penrith, Colwyn Bay and Stalybridge Celtic have also reached this stage.
In domestic action, the fiercely competitive nature of the League is reflected in the fact that only three clubs have ever completed a League and Challenge Cup double, Ashton United in 1992, Kidsgrove Athletic in 1998, and FC United of Manchester in 2007. Atherton LR are the only club to claim consecutive Championships, in 1992 and 1993, whilst Workington became the first club to regain NPL status at the first attempt in 1999.
The outstanding achievement of Clitheroe in the 1980's, collecting each divisional Championship in successive seasons between 1984 and 1986 is one that will probably remain without peer. Only St Helens Town have competed in the First Division in every season since the League's formation.
In county cup competitions, our clubs figure prominently across the whole region, regularly accounting for clubs from higher leagues. Outside the top flight, our First Division continues to prove a very healthy competition, producing a steady stream of ambitious clubs looking to progress onwards and upwards, and a clutch of our reserve teams have made the headlines through the years, claiming county cup silverware.
The record attendance for a North West Counties League fixture stood at 1,353 for sixteen years, Radcliffe Borough's First Division Championship decider with Caernarfon Town attracting this gate in 1982-83 season. Workington's pulling power saw them exceed this in their 1998-99 Championship season, the deciding fixture with Mossley seeing 2,281 spectators through the turnstiles at Borough Park. In season 2005-06 the "phenomenal popularity" of new club FC United of Manchester's Division Two championship winning team set a new record with 6,023 spectators at their Saturday home game versus Great Harwood Town.
FC United's successful side of season 2006-07 continued to cause attendances to soar, both in the Challenge Cup and League competitions, with 4,058 spectators at Salford City for their NWCFL Premier Division fixture - the best ever attendance for a "night match". This season saw them become the only club since the league's inception to win all four league competitions they competed in during one season - First Division Championship, Reserve Division Championship, League Challenge Cup, and Reserve Division Cup.
The league continues to provide a stepping stone for ambitious clubs, and this was highlighted with the arrival of AFC Fylde (formerly Kirkham & Wesham) in the league for the 2007/2008 season. As well as lifting the F.A Carlsberg Vase they also gained promotion, finishing runners-up to New Mills after a close fought battle.
Both sides rekindled their rivalry for the Premier Division Championship title the following season in 2008-09. The title race went to the wire, with AFC Fylde taking the crown on goal difference, after a final day 5-0 victory over New Mills in front of over 1500 spectators. Both sides amassed an amazing 104 points each, scoring 214 goals between them! New Mills' disappointment at missing out on the title and promotion was quelled somewhat when they lifted the North West Counties League Challenge Cup two day's later with a 2-0 victory over Runcorn Linnets.
The 2009-10 season will be remembered for Newcastle Town's record breaking Premier Division championship campaign, which will go down as one of the best ever in league history. The records they achieved were:
Biggest winning margin of points (24), beating the previous record of 23 by Atherton LR in 1992-93.
Most consecutive league wins from the start of the season (27), easily beating the previous record of 13.
Highest number of points in a season (114), beating the FC United record of 113 achieved in 2006-07.
Most wins in a season (37) beating the FC United record of 36, also achieved in 2006-07.
Taken from www.nwcfl.com