Note: This weekly series will look for teams outside of the top flights of European football to find true underdog stories of clubs well below the radar. Clubs will be featured based on performance in the various tournaments that happen concurrently with the league seasons, or even strong runs in some of the leagues that dot the European football landscape. Chances are, these clubs will be years away from finding a home at the top flights of football – if they are ever able to get there – but it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve attention from time to time. If you happen upon a team that you think might qualify, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @GuruEbby or @SportMuseNet!
Bath City F.C.
Nickname: The Romans
Founded: 1889; 129 years ago as Bath AFC
Location: Bath, England
Team Colors: Black & White
Ground: Twerton Park
Capacity: 8,840 (1,006 seated)
Current League: National League South (Tier 6)
Reason For Notice
Usually, I try to identify a club here that won a surprising game, usually in one of the non-league competitions that occur all over Europe during the season. With the international break last week, however, this decision is not based on on-field performance over the past week. Instead, I wanted to find a club that has a nice story that may not be known to folks outside of the local area for the club. I chose Bath City this week because of their unique ownership structure as a community-owned organization.
Bath City was formed in 1889, and started playing competitive league football in 1908. They have primarily stayed in the lower tiers of English football, never moving higher than Tier 5 (now known as the National League), where they last played during the 2011-2012 season, which resulted in a 23rd place finish.
They have had some success in non-league competitions, reaching the First Round in the FA Cup as recently as 2011, and getting as far as the Third Round, which last happened in 1994. In the FA Trophy, which is a competition among the football clubs in Tier 5-8, they reached the semifinals in 2015, losing on penalties to eventual champion North Ferriby United.
But I wanted to feature the Romans this week, primarily because of their transition to community ownership. In 2015, filmmaker Ken Loach launched a bid to turn the club into a community-owned club after years of below-average performance led to some financial difficulties. Later that year, former Manchester United strike Eric Cantona joined the effort, adding some cachet to the bid, which was ultimately successful, leading to the successful purchase of the club for £300,000 and conversion to a community-owned asset.
As a community-owned asset, the “community of Bath and wider community now hold a majority stake in Bath City Football Club,” according to Chairman Nick Blofeld. During their first season of community ownership, the club finished the season in ninth place in the National League South, six points outside of the playoff. After nine matches this season, the Romans find themselves currently in 7th place in the league, one of five teams with 15 points in the league (Woking leads the league with 22 points). If they are able to maintain this position throughout the rest of the season, they would qualify for the playoffs, and could potentially reach the National League for the first time since 2012.
Unlike the upper tiers of English football, the National League South did not take an international break last week. Bath City is coming off of a 4-1 victory at home against Hungerford Town, and return to the road this weekend against Oxford City. They haven’t found much success on the road this season, however, so they hope that they can reverse the trend and find some success on the road, and Oxford City’s position in the table seems to indicate that Bath City should earn at least one point from the match
Aside from league play, Bath City enters the qualification for the FA Cup in this round, facing off on September 22 against the winner of Tier 7 clubs Weymouth and Banbury United (on the road). The FA Trophy won’t start for them until November, so as we follow the club over the next few months, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on that as well.
Update on Last Week’s Club
Last week, I profiled Red Star Belgrade after they fought through four qualification rounds to reach the UEFA Champions League Group stage. They play their first Champions League match on September 18th against Napoli. They took an international break this week as well, so they return to Serbian SuperLiga play this weekend against Radnik Surulica, and are expected to pull out the victory against the lower table club. We’re keeping an eye on Red Star Belgrade, as well as all of our other “Small Clubs,” and will be publishing a review monthly on these clubs beginning next month.
Until next time…
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