Pie and a pint for your money

Sunday’s Non-League paper has pulled up a great debate via the Tony Incenzo column and one that has a lot of mileage. If you haven’t heard of Tony he has an incredible record of non-league games attended at many levels all whilst working for talkSPORT covering his beloved QPR.

His column at the weekend centred on ways to get some new fans into non-league football and keeping them there. Of course, there will always be those who have a side they go and watch or follow when their Premier League or Football League are away, I don’t think some of those are for converting.

But, there are over the next few months and possibly years many who will start to find themselves priced out of the top end of the game as personal finances get squeezed even tighter. I found that years ago although I’ve been watching non-league football since before the age of ten, that affording a day out at the top level was rising more than my wages and so sometimes you have to make a choice.

Non-league won, I was still watching football and I wasn’t burning a hole in my finances every week. This pandemic will hit the average person hard for a while and as Tony remarked it’s a good time to get people into our clubs and spending what to them would be less money, but to some clubs a small fortune per person.

At non-league level, you get remembered, respected more and in a lot of ways thought of. Most inside the grounds and clubs are volunteers, doing it for the love of the game and the club inside their community and that community is so much more important now to ensure we don’t lose any more clubs whilst we come out the other end of this tough time.

The debate comes in the form of how to market clubs to see how attractive they are to watch a game of football. A pricing structure was proposed for Step 5 and 6 of £10 based upon entry of £5 or £6 to include a drink and a pie. Now I’ve been to Step 5 games twice this side of lockdown where the admission was £8 and £7, Step 6 £6 entry for the games at that level.

So, you add in a pint £3 and a pie (best guess here) £2, possibly more and clubs at Step 6 would be losing £1 on each person who comes in for that so that would need tweaking. Step 5 would be losing £4 or £5 per person so in principle the idea is good but the logistics of the finances needs some work.

Could the admission price be reduced as part of the deal? Well, that is an option, but does the person who only wants to watch, pays his admission and then decides at half time he does want some food or a drink will they feel they are getting as good a deal?

National League at £25 is a great price for this deal, take for example last season a seat at Barnet was £24 in the Legends Stand so to get a drink and food for £25 makes a bargain for the supporter, but a loss for the club unless they source their materials at much lower prices and I feel that across the pyramid all clubs charge differently and throw in their own incentives that maybe work better for them.

What if you prefer a burger or a hotdog instead of a pie? Will that make things a bit messy trying to do changes pricewise? Is a drink classified as a soft drink or alcoholic?

I might be picking holes a bit in this, but clubs need to make a profit on it not a loss and at all levels there are huge differences. I do however think it’s an idea on the right lines but needs more work doing to make it attractive to both the supporter and the club. It might to hard to work it across all steps at the same price with different admission pricing quite evident at grounds but it’s a project to get behind and I think that once fans are allowed in at all levels of non-league football it’s something that can be put together and out to the public in double quick time, another campaign brewing?

Styles: The local community and our fans will be extremely vital

Late last week, I caught up with Tunbridge Wells FC boss Richard Styles to find out what had been happening for him over the last three months and a look ahead to a new season:

TK: I think it’s fair to say before football was suspended in March Tunbridge Wells were enjoying their best season for many a year?

RS: Yes, last season had a lot of positives. I think if I had been offered the way the season had unfolded before it stopped, I would’ve been happy with that for a first year at a new club and a new set-up. We were ultimately disappointed when the season came to an end because we felt we would finish the season strong and still had lots to play for in both the league and cup competitions.

TK: How did you view the lockdown period, a chance to reflect or to take stock and plan to improve further?

RS: The lockdown was initially frustrating because the season ended so quickly but understandably so, and safety is always the main concern. We stayed close to the players during the lockdown and had regular sessions delivered over Zoom as well as training plans set to allow the boys to tick over and recover. As staff we had meetings to reflect on the season and to identify ways, we felt we could improve and strengthen to progress when the new season begins. We haven’t stood still since lockdown came in and have very much been proactive.

TK: Now that we are looking at the new season beginning in September, have you been able to step things up a little and start to talk to potential new signings?

RS: Yes, we have been in communication with all the current squad with a view to returning and they are fully aware of our plans going forward.  We have also spoken to several targets to improve on what we already have, and they’ve been very positive talks so far.

TK: Given the financial struggles most clubs have suffered with during the pandemic how vital is it to get the local community fully behind what you want to achieve as a club?

RS: It’s huge! The local community and our fans will be extremely vital in us getting back into it ahead of next season. Every club has been hit hard by this and we’re all in the same boat. We have a real good community behind us and a close relationship with the supporters here and we’re now looking for that more than ever to continue once we’re able to get back on the pitch once again.

TK: Is this the perfect time for football to maybe take a look at itself and work out a way to live within its means a little more?

RS: There is an argument for that for sure, a lot of clubs will struggle and will have been hit very hard by whats happened and some will be unable to commit to the playing budgets they had previously. Players will have missed not being able to complete the season and as a manager you can get a feel of a player’s value in terms of playing and see whats important to them.

I don’t think that will happen next season personally because I think there will always be several clubs willing to have a bigger budget in chasing success.

TK: Are you expecting a similar competitive league once we begin?

RS: Yes, I’m expecting it to be as tough as last season. There are a number of teams who will feel they have some unfinished business, there are a lot of teams who will look to strengthen further and a there will be a lot of players dropping down levels as teams higher up go with small squads. Some big budgets and aspirations will also be out there too.

TK: What will be the expectations from the chairman and the board for Tunbridge Wells this season?

RS: The vision and expectations going into the second season have always been the same. I’ve been in close communication with the chairman ever since the season ended and there’s a clear outlook from both sides. We want to progress each season and push on the best we can, last season we were on course to achieve what we wanted which was to put some stability back into the club, the main objective. We kept ourselves in the top five all season and next year we want to build on that foundation we’ve made and hopefully have a successful season.

TK: And finally, what would be your message to anyone wanting to attend a game next season but nervous about being out in a crowd?

RS: I can fully assure anyone that Tunbridge Wells FC are working currently to put all things in place at the Culverden Stadium to ensure a safe environment and experience for all. By the time the season begins everything will be in line with the government regulations for our level. It will be great to have our crowd and families back to watch us again and I can’t wait to see that!

My thanks to Richard for giving me his time to answer these questions.