As we head closer towards the re-start of non-league football, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a look at the things I’m looking to forward to seeing, smelling and enjoying in what we hope is the return for spectators in September, but also to places I didn’t get to last season and catch up’s I’ve promised with people as well. Also within this will be an exciting new project I’m putting together which will be a first for me so read on.
March to September is a long time in footballing terms for us folk, deprived of six weeks then and potentially of another six or so weeks to begin this coming season but we all also appreciate the reasons why and that is not in dispute. But, at the same time I can’t wait to be back and seeing government approval with dates set out and leagues/FA’s sending out divisional constitutions this week must have raised more than a few smiles.
This weekend I am back at The Hive to watch Barnet in the National League play-offs semi-final, its not of course occurring inside the stadium but instead on the screens in the bar, and after going last Saturday as well it’s two small steps back to normality, or as normal as we can get for the foreseeable future. Saturday was safe enough as far as I was concerned, but then having worked all through the pandemic, my reaction to things might have been different to yours but a matter of opinion (I’m a delivery driver, not a keyworker in my eyes but classed as one).
Clubs are of course aware of what they need to do to be Covid-19 ready even for pre-season games, whether we get to see those is another matter. And I don’t doubt they will be ready, if not then no income until they are will hurt most clubs at all levels below Step 3. Some will be incredibly innovative and will prosper even further, after all income needs to be coming in as soon as possible.
So when everything is up and running whats the first thing you’re going to notice first? The ground improvements which have been tirelessly worked upon since football was suspended might be the first thing to notice, if its a midweek match the glare and glisten of the floodlights sometimes from miles away and of course the smell in the air from the food outlets, the burgers sizzling away nicely, the onions on the fry, hot dogs cooking slowly and for those of a generation, the bovril smell is one to fill the air. Personally, I’m ready for a football burger or two, not because it tastes any better than anywhere else but it’s staple diet for me going to a game and always has been.
What’s going to be so important to every one of these clubs over the next twelve months is every piece of food sold, every cup of tea, every pint and programme will be crucial to all, so when you go and if you didn’t do it before have a think about dipping into your pocket and grabbing one of these. I’m not saying you have to do it every week, but having done a stint as a Secretary and Treasurer at a Step 5 club I know how important any small profit is within a grassroots club.
Someone gave me an idea for a new feature to use for this year, something new and something I think will benefit the club and its personnel in question. I have chosen this year to see what effect new boss Terry Dodd has at East Preston FC who play in the Southern Combination Premier Division. It has no affiliation to the club itself, but more for me to try something new and with the lack of local newspaper coverage now going on up and down the country and especially across West Sussex and for both Terry and EP it’s free coverage for themselves with next to no work. definitely for the club anyway and for clubs at that level its priceless, while I’m currently averaging over 1000 visitors per month from all around the world who knows the club might find a few new fans in deepest Canada or Brazil!
I also have a list of clubs and people I want to get around to that I didn’t manage last season and also a few managers who have been good enough to supply me with interviews during the lockdown period. Just before lockdown was invoked I had pretty much planned to head to Norfolk and take in Wroxham, who of course have appeared in this blog a few times. The day after I was hoping to get to see Needham Market Ladies, managed by the impressive Freya Louis. Neither happened so thats on the list to be done.
More trips to The Hive for next season, lockdown taught me a lot of things and gave me a change in my personal circumstances, a trip to watch Barnet is five hours minimum on the road, being inside made me realise I shouldn’t hate the journey and I’ve vowed never to, whether it’s driving or going by train, the difference in time is minimal.
Locally I want to take in a few more teams and games, not being tied to any club gives me more scope and also more blogs too, plus it gives everyone who reads insights all over the place rather than concentrating too much on one thing.
I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of club personnel keeping me busy by doing interviews since March, the first one being Lee Robson chairman of Wroxham who I will catch up with on my trip to Norfolk, fingers crossed I will get around to see Barnet’s Darren Currie, no idea yet which division they will be in it could well be a final non-league piece for him, Eastleigh’s Ben Strevens and Bromley’s Neil Smith, both have been very accommodating and guys at the top level of the non-league game.
But as with Lee, it’s not just been the top end of the game I’ve been in touch with, dropping down just under that with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm, and then to Step 4 with Worthing manager Adam Hinshelwood, Step 5 and Richard Styles at Tunbridge Wells along with Simon Colbran at Langney Wanderers and of course Dodd at East Preston, finishing up with Simon Hull at Step 6 Arundel.
Plenty going on and plenty to be going to see if all goes to plan, there’s bound to be a few spanners thrown in the works as well to keep things interesting, but it wouldn’t be fun without a few additions for amendments throughout the season………