Local football is everywhere, from county leagues down to park pitches where you have to pay for the pleasure of gracing the grass in front of you. But is it and can it be where the future lies for football supporters?
Some areas of the country are pure hot-beds for football, many teams that manage to keep going week in, week out far detached from the money laden Premier League where each and every member is there for the love of the club and the game, hours that will never be given back in monetary terms.
The Non-League Paper gives unrivalled coverage of the game from the National Leagues down to County League level, but every week we see another club in trouble, struggling to stay afloat. Dreams chased, turning into nightmares, cup run money spent unwisely whilst the only boiler for hot water breaks down, it’s an endless list that never seems to improve but somehow in most cases, these clubs survive and down to those hardy volunteers.
But even those ranks are diminishing year after year, with all clubs finding it hard to entice the next generation of volunteers to ensure that these 100-year-old plus clubs see another 100 years. In some cases the pure amount of clubs in a 10 mile radius is now more harmful than helpful, people and players spread evermore thinly as those coming through the gate with no club affiliation have a choice of where to spend their money.
At the higher levels of the pyramid, the ‘sugar daddies’ have had mixed success and those that have enjoyed the good times in most cases have seen the bad times engulf the club sometimes resulting in said club going to the wall and reforming leagues below, a ‘millionaires play-toy’ now discarded and once more the volunteers left to pick up whatever pieces are left on the floor.
So far this hasn’t happened further up the tree, but if it did, can you imagine 40,000 watching Chelsea in the Combined Counties League? The answer to that would be no in an instant I’m sure! The same can be said of those travelling away to games, which to me suggests there is spare time knocking around, time that would be invaluable to non league clubs and the jobs needing to be done around the ground, sometimes just to keep things ticking over from one week to the next.
But it isn’t just help that’s needed, it’s also getting people through the gate. Of course a winning team helps with that and there is always a hard-core no matter how big or small who will support through thick and thin. From offering those with Premier League season tickets free entry to Non League Day every October on the international break and ‘pay what you want’ campaigns, clubs are trying to entice people in and keep them coming back.
Down at this level, you can go home with change in your pocket having seen 90 minutes of honest endeavour (in most cases!), mix with the players after the game in the bar and even engage in conversation, next time there’s a chance, seek out your local club and take in a game, you might be pleasantly surprised.