The Evolution of Non-League Football

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As a youngster I had no real interest in football, I’d watch the World Cup and European Championships, even an FA Cup game if it appeared on BBC or ITV.
The real fact is, football didn’t hold any appeal. I went to school in Stapleford and the majority of my peers supported Nottingham Forest, I dare say because their own parents saw the side in the Clough era.

It then came to Saturday 21st April 2001. Long Eaton United FC v Heanor Town FC. Little did I know that my first ever football match would eventually leave me hooked.

As far as I am aware, my Dad had always had an affection for Heanor Town FC. It did seem odd that he chose to take my brither and I to a game, I can only imgaine that Mum had something else to do, rather than looking after us.

My view of the game is a little cloudy as you’d expect. All I can remember is people being so passionate about what they were watching. Low cost entry, a hot drink at half time and a feeling of being a part of something. Like a club, or a gang… it is the same reason people watched Top Gear when Clarkson, May and Hammond were presenting the show. It gave something to talk about at work or with a friend.

Non-league football holds a huge appeal for those of us who have converted to the weird and wonderful ways. You have clubs that sell themselves well to their community, Staveley Miners Welfare do it exceptionally well with outdoor activities like an over-sized chess board, a foot pool area (kick the balls in to the pockets) and great food in the club house. You even get attached to the local areas surrounding football clubs, if you haven’t dined out at Queensgate fisheries opposite Bridlington Town AFC then you’ve not lived!

I saw a ‘special offer’ by Nottingham Forest for the visit of Burton Albion. £25 a ticket. TWENTY FIVE POUNDS.
I went to see Eastwood Community FC v Dunkirk FC for a fifth of the price. If only more people knew that for less than a fiver, you can on any given Saturday choose from at least twenty football fixtures within 20 miles of home.

I have noticed that at Step Five, clubs are slowly pushing up entry costs. Until the start of last season it was only £5 at Heanor, you should have heard the noise when an extra £1 was added to the cost. I went to Westfields FC last season, it rained persistently and it cost £7 to get in. The same happened at Lye Town at the weekend, £7.

It won’t be long before clubs are charging £10 entrance at Step Five…. but why shouldn’t they?

When Alfreton Town FC who are three leagues above charge £14, why can’t clubs charge a little more? Refereeing costs haven’t changed drastically over the last three seasons, so all I can assume is that players are claiming more ‘expenses’ than ever before – I even heard rumour that a Step Seven player had been put on a contract!

I understand the desire to become more professional in appearance, with match day programmes becoming glossier and supposedly better content, with a cost increase to match.

I can see many of these moves being made to secure the future of each amateur and semi-professional club, but will ‘customers’ be priced out of the market?

I seriously hope not.

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