The start of the new season is almost upon us, but it will only take a few weeks for the top two divisions in England to grind to a halt to make room for a round of international matches to take place. With this in mind (and bearing in mind that England’s match against Bulgaria in the European Championships takes place the night before), a campaign has sprung up to try and persuade the supporters of Premier League and Championship clubs to visit their local non-league clubs with the first “Non-League Day”. It goes without saying that this site fully supports this initiative, but it is also worth taking a moment to briefly explain why the patronage of non-league clubs by the supporters of Premier League and Championship clubs is so important.
We’re not going to attempt the argument (which is made by many) that non-league football is by definition somehow “purer” than supporting a bigger club. Incompetence, avarice and corruption have no respect for the size of clubs, and smaller clubs can just as easily fall foul of those with malevolent intentions as can bigger clubs. However, the overwhelming majority of non-league clubs are well-run, and the point that, in the face of the relentless media circus that accompanies the Premier League, non-league football clubs need the money that can be put their way by such an initiative is close to indisputable. Without any television money, only hundreds (or often fewer) of people paying to get into matches and with sponsorship having taken a battering as a result of the current economic situation, a hand to mouth existence is the very best that non-league clubs can manage. Most exist thanks in no small part to the benevolence of thousands of volunteers who turn up, week in week out, without getting paid, who hold the clubs together.
Yet the picture isn’t necessarily one made up of hundreds of clubs living on the brink of a financial abyss. A good number are sensibly and realistically run. However, it has long since been established that any significant benefits of the football equivalent of what might be described as trickledown economics will only (if anybody can manage it at all) benefit a lucky handful of clubs that manage to draw a big club in the FA Cup and, with FA Cup replays now under threat thanks to the hysterical reaction to England’s under-achievement in the recent World Cup, even the chance of making a few coppers from this seem likely to be vastly diminished. It would seem unlikely that many would throw away their Premier League season tickets to watch non-league football instead, but there seems to be no reason why these supporters (who number into the hundreds of thousands) shouldn’t be encouraged to show a little support for their smaller local brethren. Some may only go the once, but others may start to go more regularly and every penny counts.
One of the defining characteristics of English football is its strength in depth. In no other country is there such a vast network of football clubs, and all of them are (or at least have the potential to be) massive assets to their communities. We should be proud of this diversity and Non-League Day is a terrific opportunity for supporters of all clubs to celebrate it. It is facile to to point of childishness to blithely write off supporters of Premier League clubs as “plastic” (especially when the sheer cost of supporting a Premier League club with a season ticket requires a financial commitment as great as it does), and we are sure that Premier League and Championship club supporters will be made to feel more than welcome wherever they pitch up on September the fourth. It is exactly the sort of flexibility and inventiveness shown by this initiative that is the reason why, in spite of the handful that seem to collapse financially each season, hundreds of non-league clubs continue to exist and the gaps created by those that do fail are usually soon filled.
The Non-League Day Facebook page can be found here
The Non-League Day Twitter feed can be found here
We’ll be putting up a week’s worth of articles about the state of non-league football in the week prior to September 4th.