In the continuation of our guest writer series and in the run-up to Non-League Day, which takes place this weekend, Jamie Cutteridge is urging you to get out there and support your local team on Saturday afternoon.
We all support clubs for different reasons, it might be the locality, some link with a friend or family, liking the colours as a small child or that reason that you can’t quite put your finger on but you know that you just remember waking up one morning as a 7 year-old and deciding ‘I’m a West Ham fan.’
It’s those oft-illogical links that turn into something almost sacred and keep us coming back week-in, week-out and it takes something bloody massive to break that down, such as your team moving to Milton Keynes whilst simultaneously flicking the V’s at their fans. The alternative is that over time, for a variety of reasons one’s love for the team, the league, the game is eroded away until the match you’re paying £45 to get into is no longer the one that captured your attention as a child, the players you’re looking at earn more in a week than you do in a decade whilst giving less of a shit than an anorexic midget.
It’s not that I love Villa (my team), any less, its just that I find it hard to care anymore. I can’t lay the blame at the manager (as we don’t have one), the owner (as he’s one of the best in the league) or any particular player (Milner leaving for that much extra money in a superior team? No-brainer), it’s just that the things that really anger me about Villa are a microcosm of all that is wrong with the game.
How many games will we play at 3PM on a Saturday this season?
Since Sky began its bastardisation of the game with the advent of the Premiership in 1992 (prior to which according to Sky there had never been any football, ever) games have been shifted from traditional times to a situation where I’ve seen games kicking off at 11AM, weekends with only one or two games on a Saturday afternoon, and episodes of Match of the Day 2 with more games to focus on than its older brother the night before.
And somewhere in the middle of this, the European Cup (to give it its proper name) has become some kind of Holy Grail where trying to attain qualification for it has become the primary target for 6 or 7 teams a season, at the expense of traditional cup competitions, and in some cases (I’m looking at you Martin O’Neil) European competitions that the team is already in!
Even when you go a game, the two hours you spend in the ground are often so lifeless, so sanitised, and so predictably safe; they no longer feel like an occasion, more a formality. Fans are treated like customers who are there to be exploited for every last penny, rather than as an integral part of the club. It’s not longer the average bloke’s game at the top, clubs would much rather have wealthy fans with a lot more disposable income to spend, and with the amount of money floating around in the upper echelons, who can blame them. For me though, it is difficult to still hold affection for the Premier League.
The thing is, football is still bloody brilliant. It never ceases to get my blood pumping, my adrenaline running or to get me off my feet. It is this combination of despair but inexplicable lust for the game that has turned my eyes downward towards the non-league game, and as such have been converted to a supported for the mighty Kingstonian FC, and my it is good.
The quality might not be as high (it has its moments though) but the all round package is far superior. Take Saturday for example, a few of us travelled to Bury St Edmonds for the K’s first game of the season. We were greeted by friendly stewards who pointed us in the direction of the superior watering holes surrounding the ground, including the smallest pub in Britain.
Jovial conversations were had with ‘rival’ fans about the hopes for both clubs’ seasons and a cheeky pint was allowed onto the terraces to watch the game unfold. It wasn’t the best game I’ll see all season but both teams gave their all, bust a gut for the win, and whilst the spoils were shared, everyone went home happy.
And for us away fans we had the pleasure of spending the afternoon getting to know the opposition goalkeeper ‘Marcus’ who as well as pulling off a couple of saves and putting up with our abuse, had the good nature to come and applaud the away fans and share a joke with them at the final whistle. A good natured day out all round, for less than the price of a cinema ticket.
The thing is, this kind of football is massively at risk from the larger clubs. With attendances and prices so much smaller, but still massive overheads for the club, and pressure from fans to spend and invest, for many clubs (the majority of which do not have a particularly wealthy owner) their finances are constantly on a knife-edge, and just this year we’ve seen problems, collapses and extinctions all over the country, notably including Chester and Ashford.
Whilst for the Glazers, Gillettes and Abramovic’s of this world the small clubs may seem irrelevant, they are the foundation and lifeblood of the English game, a place where those who slipped through the net can get a second chance (I’m thinking Ian’s Wright and Taylor for two examples) and for fans to find the game at its rawest and most beautiful.
September 4th, just two weeks away, sees no football in the two top flights in England, and the National team playing the night before. As such, an initiative called ‘Non-League Day’ has been launched (@non_league_day).
This is hoping to see as many fans as possible who would normally be watching one of the top 44 teams in the country go to their local league ground to watch a game, it’s cheap and a great day out.
The website has an extensive list of games going on throughout the non-league and the ability to help you find your local team. If successful this will provide many teams with the financial support to see them through the rest of the season, as well as opening the eyes of many over-sanitised Premier League fans. I can’t support this idea strongly enough, and will be at St Georges Lane watching Blue Square North Worcester City host Nuneaton.
So go on, try out your local non-league team, as someone who has gone all over the country watching Villa, right now there is nowhere else I would rather be at 3 O’clock on a Saturday than Kingsmeadow watching slightly overweight, under-skilled footballers grind out a 1-0 win against a team whose goalkeeper I am on first name terms with.