Five Billion Reasons To Watch Non League
The new television deal will hopefully lure fans to non league grounds as the top clubs further distance themselves from their fans.
This past week saw Sky and BT Sport pay a ridiculously huge amount of money for the right to show live Premier League matches. The £5.136bn dwarves the last deal, coming in at a whopping seventy percent more than was paid in 2012. The new deal runs from 2016-17 for three seasons.
While this deal will be celebrated in the boardrooms of every club currently playing – or with an ambition of someday competing – in the top flight, it will surely serve to alienate the everyday fan. There is a growing campaign to freeze, or even cut, ticket prices under this new deal, but in my opinion that is too little, too late. Clubs have for too long been becoming increasingly distant from the people that flood through the turnstiles every week. I hope some of them now decide to vote with their feet and, instead of pouring their hard earned into the bottomless pit of the Prem, they start going to their local non league club, where every penny spent goes towards the running of the club.
It’s easy to get all high and mighty at this point, saying “non league is real football” or some such. This isn’t what this piece is intended to convey, although I accept it will have a certain amount of that! Instead, what I mean is that non league feels more real because it is more accessible. You can chat to the players and managers, you can even have pitchside banter with the officials, if they are of a mind to engage in such shenanigans (and a lot of them are!). Can you do that at a professional club? Not a chance. You can’t even stand up without the threat of being ejected from the ground.
I have gained an awful lot from going to non league football; new friends, contacts, acquaintances, and a website! Under The League would never have been dreamed up if I hadn’t gone to that first match in 2011 (a 0-4 home mauling for Hampton & Richmond Borough against Chelmsford City). I now volunteer on some matchdays (not nearly enough at the moment due to baby) as a member of the Press and Media team, and I get to speak to the manager regularly for the matchday programme, which I also have input on. It’s a dream come true to have this sort of access to a football club, and I heartily recommend it to anybody should the opportunity present itself.
As I mentioned earlier, every penny really does count at this level of the game, so when you pay your entry fee, and buy a programme and a drink, you know that you are directly helping the club. That new striker that just bagged a debut brace? Your money is directly helping to fund him being at your club. It’s not like the Premier League, where the fans don’t matter. Let’s face it, Manchester United would still be paying Wayne Rooney three hundred grand a week even if Old Trafford was empty. The income on the turnstiles just does not matter to these clubs that much anymore. Not when megadeals like this new one get done. And make no bones about it, when the deal is renewed again in time for 2020/21, it will go up significantly again.
Semi-professional clubs, meanwhile, need every paying supporter they can get, and yet most allow children in for nothing, largely in the hope that they will keep coming back and form the next generation of fans. You don’t get that from the greedy clubs further up the ladder, do you? Oh sure, they all do occasional offers, but to be able to take your kids along for free every week must surely be a big tempter to go semi-pro?
We all wish fans would vote with their feet, and not go to the Emirates, or Anfield, or Stamford Bridge. But we all also know that for every fan who turns their back, there are dozens lining up to take their place. The big clubs especially are tourist magnets these days, virtually guaranteeing sell-out crowds for every game.
If this deal has pushed you further away from your top flight club, and perhaps football as a whole, then ditch them and find a new home with like minded supporters. Make a difference, make new friends, and rekindle your passion for a sport we have all grown up with. There are hundreds of clubs to choose from, with dozens in every area of the country, so it doesn’t matter where you live, there will be a friendly, welcoming club nearby. And if you can’t bring yourself to switch allegiances straight away, become a groundhopper. This is a fast growing hobby, and there are even organised groundhops now, which take in multiple games in one day.
And of course there is the annual Non League Day, which takes advantage of a weekend of international football when there are no games in the top two divisions, and gives non-league football its place in the spotlight.
There really is no better time to get into “proper football”. Get out there and start supporting a team that truly appreciates you being there!