Last week someone started a “Falling out of love with non-league football” thread on the When Saturday Comes message board with this post;
“I think it’s been a steady thing for me, probably starting when we lost the playoff final to Boreham Wood when our captain got punched in the face, but I really feel at the point where I can’t stand it any more and basically just go to see my mates.
What annoys me the most is people who pretend it’s something it isn’t. Pious articles in WSC and its ilk about what a ‘real’ alternative it is to the Premier League, overlooking that it has most of the same problems that pisses people off with the Premier Legaue.
Let’s look at some facts about non-league football. The richest teams do well and the poorest teams do badly. Players dive, bully refs, waste time, feign injury and do every other bad bit of behaviour you see in the Premier League.
Plenty of clubs are run by wrong’uns, some by even bigger wrong’uns than the Premier Leaugue manages. It already made the press that one club was used for money laundering and we suspect there are others. Sugar daddies rock up, nick your best players, buy the title then fuck off and leave another club in pieces.
The incompetence of the administration just wears you down endlessly. A 3G pitch is good for the Champions league but not the Conference. 2-0 up at the league leaders with 12 minutes left to go and their floodlights fail, the league order a replay. League games get called off for county cup games when you’ve booked time off work, hotels, trains, etc. No-one can keep their pitch in good order but apparently games can’t be played on bad pitches any more so you have constant postponements.
Prices are too expensive, the Ryman Premier standard is £10, to watch players who can’t even keep their long balls from going out for throw-ins. And looking just at us, AFC Wimbledon have completely ruined our ground making attending home games an utter chore.
I’m about to set off to Margate away, a complete mission just to see us lose, when frankly I’d rather stay in and watch Arsenal v Everton on TV. I can’t remember the last time I went to a non-league game as a neutral, I can barely think of anything more boring to do with a Saturday afternoon.
So er, yeah. Not much point to any of this other than to get it off my chest.”
More than a week later I replied with this;
“Firstly, if you’re a casual visitor to a semi-pro club don’t worry about the thoughts of the regulars, you’ll always be welcomed with open arms.
Everyone’s welcome in our broad semi-pro church and when I say everyone I mean everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a morally superior type, an alienated by Murdoch type, or a groundhopper with a 5 year old bag for life that’s unreasonably annoyed because the badges offered don’t actually display the name of the club, you’ll always find a welcome. Just turn up!
I’ve had them all in my club shop – weirdos with 5 year old carrier bags, a Dutch bloke trying to visit 30 European grounds in 30 days (a different country every day!), 12 Norweigans killing time before they visited Anfield the following day, some Germans on a tour of Wales, people asking for teamsheets – and they’ve all been welcomed. As a member of the backroom boys I can tell you just how much the casual visitors are valued, you lot help to keep the financial wolf from the football chicken coop.
Secondly, if we appear smug it’s probably because we are. We live with the quiet satisfaction that we can move away from irritating loudmouths and stewards will never tell us that we’re in breaching copyright or health and safety regulations. We know that we don’t need Michael Owen, Murdoch or glitz and glam. We know that a standard saturated Saturday is ten times better than a super star-studded Sunday. Hype never affects us for we are solid and stoic. We don’t have to spend £150 on a day out expecting to be entertained by two millionaires arguing over a throw-in. We are the kind of people help our local clubs, the kind of people that raise money to sign new players and build new terraces. We are the real special ones.
By the way, if you’re going to turn up there’s one condition; don’t talk too loudly in that hectoring tone you like to use. No-one will care about the molten lava pie you had in Telford or that you prefer TNS’ programme. Just relax and soak up the atmosphere, and don’t forget to visit the club shop.
Now that I’ve put you all straight, I must say that I agree with quite a few of the points in this thread, here’s a little more from a Welsh semi-pro perspective.
Wiser, and more cynical, men than I have suggested that that the present Welsh system is beyond help. They tell us that the conference rooms of Welsh football are populated by buffoons that are only interested in preserving their god-given right to visit foreign lands in an FAW blazer. When you consider last summer’s treatment of Llanelli and Barry the wise and the cynical might have a point.
I’m not saying the Welsh system needs to be drastically improved but the so-called pinnacle, the Welsh Premier League (WPL), can’t even attract the clubs from the south that have theoretically achieved promotion.
In 2010 the FAW launched a brave reorganization of the pinnacle; the 18 team WPL became a two-phase “Super Twelve” WPL. (The FAW had nicked the two phase league idea from our European neighbours.) “NO MORE BORING GAMES!!!” they said, “MORE CHANCE OF EUROPEAN COMPETION!!!” they said. After 3 and a half years the only tangible by-product has been boredom; Bangor have played TNS 20 times and Prestatyn 19 times.
There’s hardly a chance of glory via the league as the financial doping / perpetual UEFA prize money (a whopping 300,000 Euros for a champions league place) has insulated TNS, The English-Welsh MK Dons, from the effects of competition. To top it all, a few weeks ago the fixture scheduling morons presented Bangor with 6 and a half weeks of second phase away matches even though they know we’re a semi-pro club that relies on gate money to pay the bills.
I could also mention the spectres of playacting and gamesmanship when certain teams come visiting, the pettiness of idiots on message boards, the drunken stupidity on twitter, the opposition fans that plague Bangor’s registration free message board, the players that leave just after we’ve been knocked out of Europe and the conceited gossip mongers that will casually plague you for the titbits to see if they tally with what they’ve “heard from Brian”.
On the other hand, momentary ecstasy makes up for twenty depressing draws. I cleared a row of seats when Dave Morley scored a last minute winner in the 2010 Welsh Cup Final at Parc Y Scarlets (Scarlets Park) and wept involuntarily when Bangor finally progressed in Europe. The purest of class A narcotics would not be able to recreate the sort of high that I experienced on the day that we won the league in 2011.
EIM once said going to football isn’t about the football and that about hits the nail on the head. The hopes of momentary ecstasy are all well and good but it’s the warmth of human contact that keeps me coming back. Many a drab matchday, or interminable rail journey to south Wales, has been enlivened by a discussion about music or a meandering story.
The bonds of friendship are so strong that we’re even friendly with each other away from Nantporth. We’ve felt happy at the stag dos, weddings and christenings and inconsolable at the funerals. We’ve even formed bands together. As for the trips to Europe you don’t even have to go to the game to have a memorable time, something I saw nearly 3 years ago.
The human element makes football. Whenever Bangor have played on a Friday evening I usually go and watch other clubs on a Saturday. Recently I’ve felt ennui if I’m on my own, as if I was ticking off a pointless list. I’ve started to hear the pity in peoples’ voices of people, a pity that probably always been there. The edge off that used to be taken off by my camera but it has become more resistant nowadays.
I have to try and start a conversation, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. When it works, like it has in Brentford, Celtic and FC United, it’s beautiful. The Brentford match was a good example, one minute I was thinking about the isolation of London life in the mid August sunshine and the next I’m staggering out of the pub they used on Green Street with Simon and he’s telling me to stay in touch. As I searched the pavements of Acton for the night bus stop to Oxford St. (a mix up with the tube times) I realised I’d always love football.
So let’s here it for football, where people, imagination and chalk come together!
I’m not altogether sure what I’ll solve by saying all that.