Forget about Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Ipswich Town and whoever else from the Premier League and Championship today - it’s non-league day!
- Credit: Archant
With the Barclays Premier League and Sky Bet Championship taking a break from action this weekend, today sees the nationwide annual ‘Non-League Day’. Sports reporter WILL RIDGARD casts his eye over the day as a whole, and looks at what steps non-league clubs from around the region are doing to celebrate.
Forget about Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and even Ipswich Town today – get yourself down the road to watch your local non-league club.
Never been? It’s the beautiful game at its best – over the past year I have found that non-league football holds unrivalled levels of passion, determination, desire, enjoyment, and entertainment. Oh, and quality too.
Greeted with the welcoming and friendly faces of volunteers who work tirelessly for their respective clubs, I can guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by the experience – just as I was on my first proper visit to a non-league match this time last year.
Rewinding the record books, I entered the at-the-time foreign language and wilderness of Ryman Premier Division football not knowing what to expect.
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Leiston’s Victory Road was my port of call, as they took on London-based Hendon at home. Stumbling down the walkway at 7.30pm without the foggiest in regards to the league, the clubs, the players, and the set-up, I was immediately astonished by everything from the helpfulness of the bar staff to the quality of the burgers.
After taking my position in the stand, I cast my eyes onto the pitch thought I saw former Chelsea defender Michael Duberry staring back at me. A second glance confirmed that big ‘Dubes’ was indeed playing – someone my friends and I used to pretend to be at school lunchtimes – wow!
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- 8 Mike Bacon: This Ipswich team has Paul Cook's style stamped all over it
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In fact, Duberry was just the start as over the course of the season I saw a host of former Football League players who had made their names in the various top tiers of English football including Glen Little, Scott McGleish, Darren Powell, Richard Logan, Jamie Guy, and Isaiah Rankin, as well as current Needham Market duo Kem Izzet, who made more than 400 league appearances for Colchester United, and Ian Westlake, who was once one of Ipswich Town’s brightest prospects.
Much-loved former Ipswich favourite Fabian Wilnis was also one of these, and just recently experienced centre-half Terrell Forbes and tricky winger Dean McDonald - remember him ITFC fans? – were also in action locally.
After an enjoyable first experience, I have since found myself glued to the non-league football scene thereafter – and by my calculations, I think I’ve just counted that I took in 42 non-league games last season, even going down the leagues to watch the local derby between Leiston St Margarets Reserves and Saxmundham Sports Reserves at the bottom of the Suffolk & Ipswich League Intermediate B Division.
With an abundance of amusement, quality, and entertainment on and off the pitch, I honestly can’t remember a single game I’ve watched so far where I’ve thought ‘What am I doing here? I wish I’d stayed at home and not bothered’.
You always get something out of going to a game. Remember, the managers and players you are watching are everyday people like you and I, they’re not like some Premier League primadonnas – most work 9-5 in other capacities before putting 100% in for their club at the weekend. They love people coming to watch them – and shouting at them, whether that’s positive or negative, it’s all part and parcel of the game.
Similarly, the fans – the rapport they build up among one another is excellent and their will-to-win and care for the game is like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before.
The best example that sticks in my mind were the crazy Brightlingsea Regent fans from last season. After seeing their side on the receiving end of a 5-0 demolition away to northern-based outfit Dunston UTS in the FA Vase, a large group of Regent fans exited the stadium doing the Conga singing in-line and in-tune ‘We’re going to Clacton on Tuesday’. Superb.
Why not make yourself one of those fans? By attending, you are helping out your local community and companies – you never know who you might meet and bump into, an old school friend, for instance - and it certainly won’t cost you an arm and a leg either. The majority of the regions’ clubs, depending on what league they’re playing in, charge admission prices of approximately £5-£12.
Trust me - it is great value for money. For instance, on the most recent Bank Holiday Monday, I took my old man along with me for the ride to watch an all-Suffolk Ryman North Division derby between AFC Sudbury and Needham Market.
Now, I wouldn’t call my old man a ‘football fan’ by any stretch of the imagination - I’d say he’s probably been to watch about 20 adult games in all of his life, but he had an absolute blast here and repeatedly questioned me on the drive home - ‘Where are you going next?!’
Positioning himself in among the rapport and friendly atmosphere of the Sudbury locals, he spent £15 all day - including entrance money, a couple of pints of Adnams, and a bite to eat.
After witnessing a full-blooded Suffolk derby where the levels of passion and commitment should serve as a reminder for some Football League matches, he saw four goals, four red cards, crossbars being struck, attractive passing football, flying but fair tackles, flowing team-moves, great saves, audacious efforts, and sitters being missed - talk about value for money.
Too many people I’ve spoken to in the past write off and label non-league football as ‘physical, long ball football’. Rubbish. Non-League matches bring up some fascinating and epic full-of-goals encounters – with fast-flowing and penetrating football played in good spirits and enjoyed by all involved.
Some of the matches I saw last season finished in results such as 4-4 (AET), 6-2 (All eight goals scored in the first half), and 7-5 - to name a few. Excellent entertainment!
Sorry to remind Ipswich fans of it again, but do I need to bring up this year’s East Anglian derby Ipswich fans? Or, England fans and the riveting victory on Wednesday evening? Entertainment? Hardly.
OK, so non-league can’t always guarantee and promise as much entertainment as the Sudbury-Needham game brought to the 343 that watched it last Monday, but the benefits of going to non-league football are not always obvious until you become a regular...It’s cheaper - you save money, it’s greener - you don’t travel as far, there are more games - including more chance of attending away games, you can choose where in the ground you want to watch the match and move around, you can easily grab a bit to eat/drink, you can hear what the players, management and referees are saying, and you can now easily follow your club and keep up to date via local papers, local radio, social media and websites.
So do something different tomorrow, what have you to lose? Get yourself down to a local non-league club, give it a go, and you never know every Saturday might become a ‘Non-League Day’ for you as well.
What am I doing this Saturday? I’ll be at Leiston as they host Metropolitan Police - after all, they are my local non-league club.
What local clubs are doing for ‘Non-League Day’
Listed below are just some of what the local non-league clubs are doing on the big day, why not give them a look?
Anyone presenting a season ticket of a professional football club or a membership card for a sports club say, Athletics, Badminton, Bowls or Cricket etc will gain admission prices of £5 Adults, £3.50 concessions. Card holders just need to produce their card at the turnstile entrance. All under 18’s will have free admission.
The Marketmen are offering all fans half-price coach fares (£5) for their away game at Thamesmead Town. As a further incentive, Thamesmead Town have agreed that all Needham Market fans will pay half-price admission - £4 for adults, £2.50 for concessions.
Felixstowe & Walton United
The Seasiders are issuing a ‘pay what you want’ scheme to supporters as they host Gorleston. Felixstowe will also have an array of activities going on throughout the day including - bouncy castles, face painting, a barbecue, and a half-time crossbar challenge of which all are welcome to get involved.
Rovers are offering a special ‘family ticket’ (two adults and two children) of £8 as they host FC Clacton - great value for all the family to enjoy!
Here’s a new one! Anglian Combination Division Two outfit Bungay Town are implenting a ‘pay what you want’ scheme on the gates in their match against Martham – and on arrival, you will receive a free punnet of mushrooms from local source Waveney Mushrooms!
Vanarama Conference Fixtures
Vanarama has joined forces with ‘Non-League Day’ and Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier to try and launch a campaign to break the attendance record of Vanarama Conference fixtures on Non-League Day. The target is to achieve a Non-League Day attendance of more than 50,000 at Vanarama Conference games on the day, breaking the existing record of 39,210 (2012). In return, Vanarama, will make a donation on behalf of every fan attending a Vanarama Conference fixture to Prostate Cancer UK, the event’s charity. Based on last year’s attendance this will be a donation of £4,000. If the matchday attendance across the Vanarama Conference is higher than 50,000, Vanarama will donate at least £10,000. Full details can be found at www.vanarama.co.uk/thumbsup4nld. Braintree Town’s home match against Bristol Rovers, Lowestoft Town’s home encounter against Harrogate Town, and Chelmsford City’s visit to Bromley are all part of this event.