My football taste causes a few raised eyebrows amongst my friends, which are probably justified. There won’t be much I can tell anyone they don’t already know about the top divisions. I’m not trying to sell the non-league scene, just some of my views and experiences (I’ll probably digress, as I’m no writer).
Despite been a Hull City fan for almost two decades, I have an almost unhealthy obsession with non-league football. If funds would allow it, I’d travel the length of the country to watch the most obscure of teams. It stretches to reading the TV text, looking on websites and more.
I’ve always got my eye on travelling to a local team of part-timers. Some places I have been locally are Hall Road Rangers and Barton Town Old Boys, however I’ve developed a bond with ‘The Villagers’ of North Ferriby United, to the point where I actually dislike some of their opponents, for example Hednesford Town & Vauxhall Motors. I genuinely smirk at their demise, due to incidents that have occurred against NFU. Their bogey team is FC United of Manchester. Never seem to get the decisions against them…Well for this season at least…FCUM.
Why attend non-league? Well, it almost has the romance that the FA Cup used to have. I don’t feel insignificant or anonymous like I do in a big stadium. People tend to start recognising you after a few fixtures. I do know a few people now at NFU which is also a factor.
It is different to the professional game, in many ways.
Off the pitch: Price! entry, refreshments, programme, etc. At least 1/3 of the cost. Souvenirs tend to be similar though. A lot of clubs serve your hot drinks in a mug and trust you not to lamp someone with it. I believe every non-league ground I’ve attended, I could walk all the way around the pitch, through every stand. Quite a novelty, no segregation. On the cosmetic side, a lot of the stands tend to be ramshackle glorified sheds. Sound systems seem to be particularly poor. People are in place to run out of the ground to collect the balls that have ballooned over the fence – their actual purpose at the club. You are likely to get chatting with some old fella in a flat cap like you’ve known him for years. Every ground tends to have a freak that lives & breathes his club, sporting a flask, fleece and crap trainers. There’s no singing and goals are usually celebrated with clapping as opposed to a roar. Staff sneak friends & family in too, which annoys me as someone who doesn’t have this perk.
On the pitch: people will notice the obvious differences, especially places like Hall Road & Barton Town. The terrible pitches don’t help, but players are generally lacking most of the qualities of the overpaid primadonnas. After doing a 9 to 5 shift at work they won’t have the same opportunities or time to improve much. Players mostly rely on they physical side, often brutally so. They’d certainly do Fernando Torres a mischief. Long-ball to a decent striker is the norm. It can be horrible to watch and you’ll question how they are even footballers sometimes. Although Ferriby aren’t a million miles away, they have some very good players that could make it at league level and do play some attractive football, there is even a clear gulf in class at non-league level. I called their promotion before the season started !!! Though I’m not a betting man.
Cost and quality aside, I don’t get the same feeling of passion from non-league. If their team win, lose or draw, the fans don’t seem to get as stressed or excited. I could never give up the big leagues and revert to been a full-time non-leaguer. There’s some kind of empty space that I can’t put my finger on. Despite my many gripes about it, I still believe the Premier League is the place to be, though I love the Championship too. Nothing else comes close.
If you want friendly, cheap and intimate, give non-league a go. If you want expensive, but brilliant, exciting, controversial, memorable etc, maybe don’t bother.
I like the smalltime, but love the bigtime.
Darren is 31 years old and resides in Hull. Most people don’t know his forename and call him ‘Tommo’. He is Hull Glasses Wearing Champion and even sleeps in them. Owner of 100’s of football shirts, possibly a hoarder. Loves to experiment with coffee and literally anything football. Has no fashion sense.