Within the non-league game there is always something to catch your eye and if you miss it then almost as sure as night follows day someone has and it’s found your attention as well.
I’ve had a few days off from blogging so I opened up the floor for some ideas amongst my Twitter followers and believe me they haven’t disappointed, so far in as much I might have to do two or three over the next few days, some have caught my eye to have an opinion on.
So, tonight we’ll start with the growing numbers of fans watching non-league football. It’s something we covered on the podcast I am part of, The Premier Non-League Podcast (the PNLP) a few weeks back and it’s numbers up and down the country at all step levels that have some fantastic growth in their figures.
And as if by magic as I checked Twitter right now up pops an example but there’s more to come than just this one. Step 4 Isthmian League South East and just along the coast from me Hastings Utd, close to promotion and growing in size once again 1,303 for a midweek home game is fantastic, well it’s more than fantastic.
We’re talking one division above County League level here too, and no disrespect to clubs in their division but when you see 78, 98, 214 and 85 around them in the results list then you know something is right there. Those numbers for the other clubs might well represent a good return for themselves for the evening, I’m not judging them as poor or anything like that, but over one thousand fans wouldn’t put them out of place a league above or even one more.
We’re also seeing levels rising in the County Leagues as well, locally to me Littlehampton Town have had a storming start to the new season currently top of the Southern Combination Premier Division and seeing crowds in excess of 200 is becoming a common occurrence.
Below Step 5 clubs in Steps 6 and 7 they have also seen an increase in people coming through the gates to watch a game. Take the north of England just a few weeks ago and Newcastle Blue Star attracting almost 1,000 to a Friday night game at said Step 7 level, that’s the amount of league levels below the National League and there’s one or two in that division that struggle to attract that many people, that’s the level of improvement we’re seeing week in, week out.
When you jump back up to Step 3 and those gunning for the National League North and South this year clubs are being backed by their supporters. I know full well Worthing are constantly attracting 1,000 per game or as near to and back in August over 2,000 were inside Woodside Road for the derby against Bognor Regis.
The Rocks themselves are seeing around an average increase of 200 supporters per home game, Folkestone and Lewes from the same division are also on the up. Head to the Northern Premier Division and South Shields are looking at 2,000 plus for every home game, it’s amazing, it’s brilliant and a joy to see such numbers on a consistent basis.
Even the top three divisions of the National League aren’t being left behind. Granted there are some clubs in the top division with big fan bases but you still have to get them in the ground all the same. When you look at the weekend and midweek numbers they look very impressive and put a lot of Football League clubs to shame.
There are five clubs currently averaging over 5,000 supporters per home game, I’m very sure clubs a league or two above them would kill for those figures for half their games at the very least. In the North division just over half are averaging more than 1,000 while in the South there are six clubs over the 1,000 marker and with two of those over 2,000 per game, the South however are a few games behind the northern sides so that figure might improve a little as games catch up, the question is though why are the levels rising?
I believe a number of reasons which I’ll endeavour to go through here. The first I’ll pick out is the sense of a return to some kind of normal for people able to get out and watch their football as they always have done. I like probably so many others had a period of reflection after the first lockdown to not take so much for granted and a 5 and half hour round trip to The Hive to watch Barnet was one of those.
Getting back to seeing familiar faces and mates you’ve stood or sat with for years was relished and possibly ignited the hunger again for some who maybe had seen it become a chore rather than a pleasure.
The staleness and lack of competition especially in the Premier League I think has driven some away from that level of the game and down to where it’s more honest, there is no VAR and you can drink your pint beside the pitch unless it’s an FA competition match!
The pricing in most areas of non-league is spot on, get’s a bit ropey at the top but overall generally it’s right. The offers I’ve seen clubs put out so far are brilliant, catchy and attracting more people in, that can only be good and while some don’t feel they need to buy into that those who do are getting rewarded with increased numbers.
One of the biggest reasons is the mental health side of things. Being able to get back to doing what you enjoy and what can make you smile, can disappoint but also make you feel a part of something is absolutely massive in my opinion and does so much to get people from one week to the next, that was evident before covid and much more now, people can struggle through seven days but smile when Saturday comes and sometimes regardless of the result.
I’m sure there are a few more other reasons as well besides those above and please feel free to add a comment to the post itself, especially as a few of you requested this one.
I’ve had offers to get around to quite a few clubs and hopefully I’ll make them all this season, remember 90% of clubs if not higher are run by volunteers who put together something over seven days or less if there are midweek games all for your enjoyment. For those of you who like a crowd stat or two, then head to Twitter and follow @NonLeagueCrowd, amazing stats and figures after every round of non-league games and if you’re looking to get involved in a club give @nonleaguevol a follow and a shout, he’ll do his best via his website nonleaguevolunteers.co.uk