Self-produced videos, as featured here during the regular season, have become part and parcel of the way that many smaller clubs can market themselves to a wider audience. The brains behind Non-League Day, Mike Bayly, brings us up to date with this thoroughly modern phenomenon.
Growing up a non-league fan in the 1980s and 1990s, you were as likely to see your club’s highlights on terrestrial TV as you were George Best advertising mineral water. Save the odd cup run or crunch promotion match, footage was only committed to black and white photo or the vagaries of selective memory. Inevitably, the tidal wave of hyperbole engulfing post SkySports fin de siècle football meant the non-league game was unwittingly swept along in its path. The new millennium, entrenched in the notion that satellite TV and football could only be a winning combination, bought us live Conference football, an otherwise anathematic concept just a decade earlier.
Unfortunately, though the idea was fundamentally flawed. For a start, scheduling matches on a Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon may have seemed erudite, but the blanket coverage of football available on other satellite channelswas always going to provide stiff competition. Secondly, in a country fabled for its drinking culture, the lower leagues will always be hard pushed to compete against the elixir ofalcohol and the whiff of promiscuity. Aside from the die-hards who were unable to attend the game – a small cross section of supporters at best – you have to question who would ever tune in with eagle eyed anticipation in favour of other thrill seeking pastimes; Droylsden v Gateshead on a bleak winters evening never stood a chance. Thirdly – and most importantly – the principle attraction of non-league football is the archaic spirit of it all, a camaraderie which can only be derived from actually being there. Stripped of this and viewed from the comfort of a warm living room, it doesn’t always stand up well. Although it was a retrospectively commendable effort – if only to see Paul Parker faking enthusiasm on the touchlines whilst being buffeted by strong winds and northern monsoons -this brave new world of Conference coverage only served a small percentage of non-league supporters.
For fans of clubs below this level, match footage remained practically non-existent. There were a few teams producing end of season compilation videos, though in some cases these were fantastically primitive home made efforts. The explosion of the internet and increased home broadband speeds soon changed all that. Now, even the most obscure of matches can be readily documented by all manner of mobile devices and made available on platforms such as YouTube for a global audience. With such free artistic reign, the quality and content of these offerings varies considerably. Some are little more than people singing on terraces, while others may be an inexplicable six seconds of a midfielder tying his boot laces up. There is also a propensity for any genuine footage to be eschewed from the facts.
The dark arts of video editing are particular evident on a Cheshunt v Wingate & Finchleyhighlight upload which, despite the away side winning 4-0, contrived to show a series of near misses for the home team and not much else. For a fleeting minute you begin to empathise with the denizens of North Korea, hidden away from an objective world, reality strewn over the cutting room floor. Amongst the swathes of video footage littering the internet, is a burgeoning trend for non-league clubs to have their matches recorded and edited into highlights package, usually available via the club website or dedicated you tube channel. Broadly speaking, these fall into three categories. The first encompasses officially endorsed pieces, filmed to professional standards, often with live commentary. For Conference National clubs this is all but mandatory, but many conference feeder leagues side, such as Telford United, Truro City and Chelmsford City, provide a similar service with excellent effect. FC United of the Northern Premier League also provide a dedicated highlights package, although their own commentary is slightly more partisan and earthy, to the point where you expect Sean Ryder to stumble in mid conversation asking if anyone can lend him a fag.
At the other end of the spectrum, deep in the bowels of regional football, you take what you are given. Eyam FC of the Hope Valley League religiously record all their high octane matches via the singular charms of a man-with-a-cam, often more notable for the stunning Derbyshire backdrops than the actual football content. This is truly one man and his dog territory, a homage to quagmire pitches, grazing livestock and aging assistant managers running the line, audibly complimented by industrious language and amplified gales, the bane of primitive microphone systems. Higher up the pyramid, Wimbourne Town of the Southern League South & West division offer similar broadcasts, with additional post match analysis provided by a shirt, tie and occasional hat wearing Scotsman, who is either a club official, or – with deference to an Eddie Kavanagh era of football support – simply likes dressing up for the game.
In the Ryman League Division One North, Enfield Town fan The Cold End, makes a good fist of recording his team’s travels around the aesthetic delights of Tilburyand Harlow. The language warning at the start of the videos provide similar voyeuristic temptations as anchors warning of disturbing images on the ten o’clock news ; it’s worth continuing just for the prospect of someone shattering the silence with a gruff “fuck off” or a player starting amass brawl on the pitch. The action replays are a bit disconcerting, as both the footage and sound slow down to Ian Marshall levels of velocity, making it feel like the Ivan Drago v Apollo Creed bout in Rocky IV, minus the choreographed sweat. In the same league, Heybridge Swifts have gone for the grandiose with Swifts TV, though use of the word ‘TV’ is a trifle euphemistic, conjuring images of subscription based sports channels and pitch side reporters rather than the slightly more prosaic reality of a lone man sat behind a tripod. And here, possibly, is where clubs – or at least their supporters – try a bit too hard.
The problem with many non-league TV broadcasts or ‘channels’ is their unwitting ability to take themselves a little too seriously, forgetting the environment within which they operate,and their target audience. There is something supremely visceral about non-league football; aesthetics are rarely a prerequisite for attendance. Given this, it is surprising so many clubs are going down the route of over playing their hand by marrying the sensationalist with the pedestrian and coming out with something altogether disquieting, A case in point: Tonbridge Angels FC. Bernard Herrmann once noted that “Good music … can invest a scene with terror, grandeur,gaiety or misery” Tonbridge’s “Angel Vision” highlights section starts with an adrenalin coursing sub Indian Jones theme tune, interlaced with action shots and ecstatic crowds in an attempt to set the scene, though what scene exactly is unclear. Once the music stops and the live footage cuts in, we pan to a largely empty stand, where any attempts at generating noise are thwarted by the PA blasting out Up There Cazaly by The Two Man Band.
Once the match starts, it’s fairly typical stuff: blokes leaning on railings, the odd chant, the sound of leather on leather as the ball is pleasingly zipped about. In fairness, the whole thing is still pretty good; praise must be given to anyone who preserves the posterity of the non-league game, often with the most basic of facilities. The concept of adding a professional veneer to a largely amateur product is highly commendable, but all too often looks wholly inappropriate, like yellow boots on a pub team player. This point is further highlighted by the non-league channel (www.nonleaguechannel.co.uk) who do an admirable job of introducing their weekly roundup shows show via a grungy soundtrack and well selected highlights montage, but then cuts to a man in a broom cupboard reading out loud from a piece of paper: Soccer Saturday it ain’t.
At my own club Wingate & Finchley, we agonised over the titles track for our yet to be realised highlights video, musing over Soundgarden’s Jesus Christ Pose and Iron Maiden’s Be Quick Or Be Dead. Both were retrospectively ridiculous choices. Any momentum built up by the furious bass line is soon lost when the camera pans on to an empty stand and catches the ball crashing onto its corrugated roof and disappearing in the stinging nettles behind. Perhaps the best way to convey the excitement of 120 middle-aged men watching Isthmian League football is to marry the intro music with the immediate surroundings; In a lonely place by New Order or “It’s oh so quiet” by Bjork automatically suggest themselves.
Or maybe the best thing is to stop trying altogether and focus on what makes non-league football so reassuringly attractive in the first place. Laurence Hughes, a well respected cameraman who provides services to several clubs in and around London, has been filming Edmonton Rovers of the Waltham Sunday League for several years now. There is no superficial music, no attempt at over-selling, and no misrepresentation of what we are about to watch. Instead, we get simple informative graphics, and a well filmed piece featuring unofficial Statler and Waldorf style observations from the sidelines. The videos are worth watching simply because they capture the essence of lower league football so well: no frills, no glamour but plenty of humour. It is a lesson more aspirational clubs should take note of when trying to emulate their professional counterparts. You could employ the best production artist in the business, but no amount of razzmatazz will ever be as infectious as a group of blokes taking the piss out of a hapless centre back on a warm summer’s afternoon.
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