The Dark Side Of Non-League Football
Congratulations, of sorts, to Kettering Town, who became (after Chelmsford City last week) the second club in English senior football to win their league championship yesterday. Their 3-0 win against AFC Telford United yesterday was coupled with a 3-1 defeat for second placed Stalybridge Celtic at Boston United, which meant that the Conference North championship to Rockingham Road and guaranteeing Conference football there next season. The result, however, was overshadowed by considerable crowd trouble in and around the ground, as well as in the centre of Kettering itself.
Supporters of both clubs were keen to distance themselves from the trouble. The rumour currently doing the rounds is that hardcore hooligans from Wolverhampton Wanderers (who had a day off yesterday because of the FA Cup semi-finals) decided to travel down to down to Northamptonshire because their team had a day off. This has, for a long time, been a problem for non-league clubs. I wrote on here last year about the arrival of Brighton troublemakers at the FA Vase quarter-final between Whitehawk and Truro City, and a match between FC United of Manchester and Newcastle Town was disrupted by the decision of groups of “supporters” of Manchester United and Stoke City to use the fixture as an opportunity to renew old acquaintances.
Part of the problem is that courts will ban persistent troublemakers, but they will only ban them from all ninety-two Football League and Premier League grounds. Non-league matches, where security is less tight and there are often considerably fewer CCTV cameras about, make for fertile (and relatively risk-free days). As long ago as 1983, an FA Trophy match between Enfield and Ilkeston Town had to be abandoned with eleven minutes to play when rioting Derby supporters invaded the pitch with eleven minutes to play. Many clubs, however, do have small groups of people that cause trouble at matches, whether with a degree of premeditation or because of Dutch courage brought about by too much alcohol. The costs of policing means that clubs are often unwilling to bring in extra security and the fact that many grounds are circled by pubs provides a fertile ground for people that don’t need much persuasion to get drunk have plenty of opportunity to do so.
Neither Kettering nor Telford’s supporters are much loved in the Conference North (Saturday’s events were as predictable as they were depressing – both clubs have taken trouble with them elsewhere this season), and neither club will be missed. They are the two best supported clubs in the league, but the attendant trouble that comes with them seems to outweigh the financial benefits that their visits bring. Ultimately, the fact remains that is very easy for all non-league clubs to blame their troubles on the supporters of “other” clubs, but such expedience is a short-sighted and dangerous game. Clubs such as AFC Telford United and Kettering Town should be looking to hand out a few banning orders of their own.