The Rise & Rise Of Non-League Football
Alan Jessup-Peacock gives us the lowdown on why he has fallen in love with non-league football.
Football as a sport has been around for generations, the majority of fans follow teams in the professional leagues, but the “non-league” set up below has been slowly developing teams & players for all that time.
For the past 3 years my interest and involvement in non-league has grown immeasurably and with that I’ve been able to see first hand how the sport at this level has grown in popularity across the country. I also appreciate the set-up of non-league, it’s differences to the pro game and the effort, drive & passion that goes into it at this level. When i first saw non-league games as a young child, it was just football, it was all the same to me, but I realise & appreciate that it’s not. That’s no bad thing, don’t get me wrong! But the way I see it in my head is almost as a different sport to the top flights, and i follow Concord Rangers with as much emotion & passion as i do West Ham.
Basically non-league football is the game in leagues outside the four top divisions in the English game, from the Blue Square Bet Premier, then through various regional divisions 3, 4 or even 5 steps further down. The popularity of these leagues, and the games within them, seems to be increasing quicker by the month, and for me I feel it’s because of a couple of main reasons.
The first is exposure, quite simply the game at this level is getting so much more coverage in the mainstream media, for example local papers feature large double page spreads to the number of teams in their areas. Social media has also played a part in this, look for 5 minutes on Facebook or Twitter and you’ll find fan pages & accounts dedicated to these clubs, all full of passionate supporters willing to follow their club! Not just social media, but blogs such as this one, and plenty more besides offer thoughts, opinions and coverage of the game. Add to that the ever faithful Non League Paper and you see how the exposure continues to grow.
The success of non-league teams in national cup competitions also plays a big part in how the game is seen. The FA Cup can offer very small clubs the chance to make it to a big stage, none more recent than Ryman League team Hastings having an away match against Middlesborough in the 3rd round! These smaller clubs are getting better investment, even in this tough climate, as entry prices are lower more fans attend, which boosts the funds at the club & in turn helps them move forward. The playing talent at this level is always improving too, former league players who just missed out can be found across the country plying their trade at this level, competition for places increases because of it.
Of course, one huge reason why the focus on non league has increased was with the creation of “Non League Day” a few years back. Normally a day during October when the top flight are on an international break, this is a day where the focus is on going to see and cheer on your local non-league team. The day is widely promoted & has grown more and more each year. Obviously there’s massive benefits to seeing these local games, cost is one, atmosphere is another, being able to stand there with a beer right on the sideline is something that can be enjoyed at this level! Add to that the fact that although the players are paid (not much at all) they are there for the love of the game, and it’s there for all to see at every game.
I am a convert, without doubt, the past 3 years have helped make an unbreakable bond with the sport at this level. It’s something i love being a part of, and with how things are going I know i will not be the only one!