“Fewer attended matches last season than at any other point in this club’s history. Hardly anyone offers to volunteer for match day duties; almost no-one attended the Quiz night nor the Race Night previously arranged for fans. Hardly anyone gets their friends to join our lottery scheme;fewer people have renewed their supporters trust subscription. And so on. And so on.
We can all remember when the previous chairman told us year in year out that the club needed to be self-financing to continue to operate in the future.
Most of us ignored it and he, along with the other committed directors continued to finance the club out of their own pockets. Then one day they stopped putting the cash in and the Trust had to step in to ensure the survival of the club.
I am today telling you again, as the Trust’s Chairman that this club needs to be self-financing and soon. Our cash reserves are declining rapidly and will be completely depleted soon.
You can ignore me if you want but if you do, you might want to start thinking about how you are going to spend you Saturday afternoons and Tuesday evenings in future.
We have enough money for this season, and probably for the next, but if we are not able to improve our financial position and get a few more volunteers on board then we will be out of business in two or three years.
It is as simple as that.
I am doing as much as I can to keep the club alive. So are the other members of the Trust board. Are you?
We cannot do anything more that we are already doing based on the resources we have to work with. Can you?
Please do not wait until it is too late.
Your club needs you NOW!”
This intro could apply to 90% of most non league teams up and down the country. It was written by a Chairman of a Supporters Trust of a team in the Rymans Premier League just last week. His club play at the third level of the non-league pyramid – a level that has already seen a number of clubs simply give up since the end of last season, unable to find a way to carry on in the current climate where costs are increasing and revenues are falling.
The simple fact of the matter that the majority of football going fans drive past these grounds week in week out to head off to the cathedrals of Old Trafford, The Emirates and the B2Net Stadium. This weekend is all about trying to encourage those fans to experience something new. The first designated Non League Day is not meant as a charitable act – in fact many non league teams are slashing their prices to encourage more people to attend a local game. If 10% of the fans who go to watch the Premier League every week paid just £10 to watch a non league team then there would be £350,000 more going into the pockets of clubs who desperately need it. And if a fraction of those came back to watch a game then the state of football at the lower levels would see a small improvements.
Four months ago when the 2009/10 Premier League season came to a close, and West Ham United hung onto their place on the gravy train for another season I made a monumental decision. I was going to turn my back on the Hammers and follow Lewes FC instead. There were a number of reasons for this which I will not bore you with but in the past few seasons I had been all over the country watching the game in all steps of the pyramid (aka the non leagues!) and had simply “seen the light”. So I thought I would give you ten reasons why I am now a non league fan.
Because you never know who you will bump into
Want to meet a West Ham legend? Head into the bar of the Beveree at Hampton & Richmond, or The Waterside at Walton Casuals and you can chat to Alan Devonshire and Tony Gale. What about one of England’s finest wicketkeepers? Well that will be Jack Russell sitting in the stand at Forest Green Rovers. A European Cup double winner? What about Basingstoke’s manager Frankie Gray. It’s the way I tell them? Well certainly at Chasetown where a regular visitor is Frank Carson. Players, managers, celebrities and fans alike all head for the same bar after the game.
Because the players are playing for the love of the game
Few non league clubs are full time, and so players are expected to feed themselves outside of the game. This means that they are human, understanding the pains that fans feel themselves. It also means that sometimes they have to miss a game to work (one non league coach regularly misses midweek games as he can earn more money as a taxi driver doing airport runs) or to study for exams.
Because the fans are realists
Sure, every club has a website forum, and debate can rage about any issue. But it is never malicious or vicious. You will rarely meet a non league fan who thinks his team have a god given right to be top or constantly challenging for promotion.
Because at the start of every season every team has some hope
It is very unusual for any fans to get above their station at the start of the season. With some very very rare exceptions the season kicks off with a relatively level playing field. Even last season when Newport County ran away with the Blue Square South title they were not even in the bookies top 3 bets prior to the start of the campaign.
Because it is great value for money
In the Blue Square South Bet this season the most you will pay to get into a game is £12, the least £9. Most clubs charge £10. And the kids? Well Lewes and Farnborough Town don’t charge a penny for under 16’s and most clubs only charge a couple of pound. Or of course you could buy a programme and a burger at The Emirates for the same price…that is after you have paid your £50 to get in. Anyone who has been to a game at Upton Park in the last few seasons will notice no difference in the quality either!
Because you are still allowed to have a beer
I am not going into the rights and wrongs of the Taylor Report but I fail to see how being allowed to have a nice pint of Harveys on the terrace at The Dripping Pan this season is allowed, yet if they are promoted to the Blue Square Premier it is illegal and I could be arrested. Beer and football have always gone together and at this level to many clubs bar sales are a vital income stream.
Because the hospitality is heartfelt
The people who work behind the scenes at the non league level often do so for nothing more than the pleasure in seeing people smile. They go out of their way to try and provide a warm welcome, a nice environment and a cheery goodbye.
Because the clubs are pioneers
Last season Mansfield Town came up with the idea to “pay what you want” for their game against Gateshead last season – the result a sell out 7,000+ crowd. Whilst the experiment has faded to an extent, remember Myfootballclub’s take over of Ebbsfleet United? Free entry for under 16’s? Lewes, Farnborough Town and others have given this one a go. Half price admission for season ticket holders has been in place at clubs like Thurrock and Basingstoke Town for some years with success at getting “floating fans”. And then there are the grounds…A twelve foot wooden man holding up a roof with grass on it? Dartford said sure why not. None of your identikit stadiums here.
Because you can make a difference
Contact a Premier/Football League club and ask if you can help out in any way and they will either point you in the direction of their commercial webpage or to the company that provides the stewards. Do the same at a non league club and you may end up serving behind a bar, painting the changing rooms, giving our leaflets in the town centre about the game or contributing to the match programme. And afterwards they say “thank you”.
Because there is always the chance that this year will be THE Cup run
Blyth Spartans reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1977/78, Harlow go to the fourth round in 1979/80 and in January 2008 who can forget Havant and Waterlooville taking the lead in the FA Cup third round against Liverpool at Anfield. Every year a couple of teams from the non leagues make it through to the third round and will financially secure them for years to come. Every year the chairman of all non league clubs pray this year it will be them.
I could go on. I feel more at home now standing on the terrace at a non league ground (or even a simple grass bank) than I ever was at Upton Park in my plastic seat. I feel I have more in common with the people around me rather than the Premier League branded blinkered fans I used to share my Saturday afternoon with. And finally, I feel I belong to something more than a faceless brand – I feel like I belong to something worthwhile.