From mushrooms to face-painting and crossbar challenges, Non-League Day was a huge success across the country - why not make every Saturday a Non-League Day? - it’s the FA Cup this weekend!
- Credit: Jane Cole
Following Saturday’s annual ‘Non-league Day’, WILL RIDGARD looks at how successful the day was for the clubs around the region, gauging local opinion from a number of interested spectators.
A day where only local matters, it’s fair to say that ‘Non-League Day’ was a resounding success across East Anglia as a host of clubs and fans engaged in the fun-filled day.
From crossbar challenges to punnets of mushrooms, bouncy castles to face painting, there were some big attendances on Saturday and long may that continue as, after all, these clubs represent local people, local communities, and local businesses.
Further research shows that a total of 69,398 people watched games between step one and step four on Saturday – an increase of 9,492 or 15.8%on this season’s opening day total.
In the Vanarama Conference Premier, an impressive 1,621-strong crowd watched Braintree Town overcome Bristol Rovers, who were in the Football League last season.
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Kenny Davis and Dan Sparkes scored the goals to sink Rovers, who had a familiar face on the touchline in the form of ex-Ipswich Town star striker Marcus Stewart, now a coach at Rovers.
Up the road, Lowestoft Town attracted a big crowd of 818 for their 0-0 draw with Harrogate Town in the Conference North – with several first-timers taking to social media to express their delight and enjoyment.
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At Leiston’s Victory Road, there were a host of Ipswich Town, Norwich City, Millwall and even Chelsea season-ticket holders taking full advantage of the Blues’ promotional half-price offer.
And they weren’t let down as a classic game of two halves against opponents Metropolitan Police saw the spoils deservedly shared.
Two Ipswich season-ticket holders that are always impressed by non-league are Johnny and Val Felton.
“We usually get to watch Leiston about four or five times a season,” said the season-ticket holders at Portman Road for the past 12 seasons.
“We used to live in Leiston for years so it’s always a good chance to catch-up with a few old mates, and the atmosphere at these games is great.
“The standard is pretty good too – the football is always end-to-end, one team attacks and then the other team attacks – whereas in the professional game, teams are a lot more conservative.”
There was also entertainment in abundance at Felixstowe & Walton United as 167 spectators enjoyed a game of good quality, as well as a BBQ – with the youngsters making full use of the bouncy castle and face-painting facilities.
With the attendance more than double the Seasiders’ average gate of last season, as well as a positive 2-0 scoreline, the day couldn’t have gone better for Felixstowe as press officer Phil Griffiths explains.
“My son stood round the other side of the ground to me and he said that people were saying that you don’t see this standard of football at Portman Road,” said Griffiths.
“Sitting in the stand, I heard various people around me also say the same and how impressed they were with the system and the vibe.
“I think everyone that came was very happy with what they saw and hopefully they’ll be back.”
A nice touch during the half-time crossbar challenge also saw Josh Smedley beat his dad Martin in the final!
Elsewhere, the people of Bungay will be eating mushrooms for breakfast, lunch, and dinner after more than 140 punnets were given away in Bungay Town’s Anglian Combination Division Two encounter against Martham.
The Step 9 outfit’s scheme, that saw fans receive a free punnet of mushrooms upon entry on Saturday, went down a storm as everyone from Sky Sports to American giants FOX Sports gobbled up the story – with FOX citing Bungay as their ‘new favourite amateur team’.
A healthy crowd of 100, a figure double Bungay’s usual attendance, all turned up for their mushrooms on Saturday and a game that saw Bungay win 3-2 and climb to the top of the league.
Needham Market fans were also in similarly fine spirits on Saturday after paying just £9 to travel and gain admission to watch the Marketmen claim victory in south London against Thamesmead Town.
Around 30 fans took up the chance of half-price travel and admission, and their decision paid off as an entertaining 3-2 victory in Ryman League North ensured the coach journey home was a jubilant one, as press officer Alan Jopling explains.
He said: “We had celebratory cheese and biscuits on the way back home.
“The trip was enjoyed by all – I think the majority of the fans actually carried on the celebrations in The Swan afterwards, before waking up to watch the under-14s.”
‘Non League Day’ is now an official yearly event promoting grassroots football, but should such measures have to be implemented?
What are you doing this weekend? Chances are your local club are competing in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup – the competition doesn’t just start in January you know!
Don’t stop believing
After playing for Lewes FC in the Isthmian League Division One South in 2004, Norwich City captain Russell Martin almost captained Scotland to a famous result against Germany in Dortmund on Sunday evening.
The Scots were defeated 2-1 despite equalising through Ikechi Anya, and put in a spirited a performance against the world champions.
Here are just some of the players from the region’s clubs that were snapped up by professional Football League in the summer after impressing last season.
Curtley Williams, Lowestoft Town - Luton.
James Shea, Needham Market - AFC Wimbledon.
Dan Holman, Braintree Town - Colchester United.
Dean Wells (pictured), Braintree Town - Stevenage.