An American Learns to Appreciate Non-League Day
This years Non-League Day falls tomorrow, and it is receiving unprecedented media coverage. Such global coverage will inevitably draw interest in abroad, and we’re delighted to welcome back Futfanaticos Elliott Turner for a little perspective on tomorrow from the other side of the Atlantic ocean.
For Brits sick of the commercialization and exportation of the English Premier League, Non-League Day offers a humble reminder of simpler times. Each October, during the international break, football fans in the UK flock to much smaller stadiums to support local amateur clubs. The players play football, but a bit slower than in the EPL. Fans pay for tickets, but often at 1/8th the price. Despite the lower quality of play and suspiciously cheap tickets, folks smile and repeat the trek year after year. For American fans of soccer, such as myself, we view this event with suspicion. Why?
In America, contrary to what you’ve read on the internet, we Americans exclusively ride around our native country in large, red double-decker buses with no top roof (just like we do in London!). We constantly eat Big Macs. The anglo population is 10% less pale than the isles. This hectic driving situation, poor diet, and additional sunlight has combined to create a very competitive race of peoples. We chide the defeated. We place winners on pedestals. Second place is the first loser, or so popular t-shirts among middle-schoolers say. The competitive drive to be the best, and be among the best, is only matched by our contempt for the non-best. I could imagine a younger version of myself sitting down to a Non-League game, watching ten minutes, then leaning over to my friend and whispering “Hey, you know, like, these guys suck. And your country suffers from a serious deficiency of nachos.”
In reality, not all Americans are super competitive or drive red double-decker buses (mine is a single-decker). However, one major difference marks our native worldview: professional and even semi-professional sports teams are franchises. Imagine if Manchester United up and moved to London in two years. Unfathomable? Not here. After 71 years in Brooklyn, baseball’s Dodgers headed West to California. The NBA darlings, the Oklahoma City Thunder, resided in Seattle less than a decade ago. Pundits, owners, and players complain about “bandwagon fans,” but can you really open up your heart to a team that could leave you at the drop of a hat? Relocation scars linger. The fear never fully recedes. Thus, Americans often lack empathy for sports teams.
Also, many Americans are sports polygamists. Many of us would rather watch the playoffs of each major sport (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey) than a regular season of any. Many of us would rather watch a professional sports event than an amateur one. Baseball playoffs dominate the fall, American football rocks the end of winter, and basketball and hockey vie for our attention in early summer. In many European nations, football rules the roost and fans enjoy an almost year-long and playoff-less league. Your comparative monogamy and attention span impress.
Non-League day requires (and fosters) public pride. The underlying premise is that the club forms part of the community. Mutual affection nourishes this symbiotic tie. For Americans coming from a land of rootless and eternally re-branding pro sports teams, the disconnect can be palpable. Would I go watch a AA baseball game just because the World Series wasn’t on? Probably not. Unless you share that public pride, it’s easy to lack the patience to see young potential players bumble as compared to pros.
However, Non-League day’s community vibe actually shares a twin sister stateside: college sports. University teams may lose scholarships for academic violations, but teams rarely disappear and never move towns. Also, American fans fawn over college prospects, displaying the patience to watch floundering freshmen mature into dominant seniors. Thus, the best way for an American to appreciate Non-League day is a mental shift: turn your school spirit into barely-getting-by-semiprofessional-athletic-assocation spirit.