Whenever you meet someone and talk about football, one of the first questions they’ll ask is: “So who do you support?”
I normally answer with: “I used to be a Sunderland season ticket holder but now I watch non-league.”
Regular responses are: “Non-league? Wow. That must be worse than (insert whichever bottom half League Two side they don’t like here).”
If I were to say: “Easington Colliery,” they’d have no idea who I was on about.
When I was younger, I watched plenty of professional football. I was a season ticket holder at Sunderland while they were in the Premier League/Championship, and I think I had a season ticket for five or six seasons.
Nowadays though, I’d never get a season ticket to watch Sunderland week in, week out.
I would say the same for Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
I watched a few non-league games when I was a season ticket holder at Sunderland, but it wasn’t until the 2013-2014 season when I started watching non-league football regularly.
There are tonnes of reasons why I now love to watch non-league football.
You go to a Premier League game and are sat there watching with 30,000 others. You pay £10 (or maybe even more) for a pint and a burger (don’t you dare take that pint anywhere near within a view of the pitch!), you pay in excess of £30 for a ticket, and then you watch the game and either go home or go to a pub in the city/town afterwards.
You have no (or very little) interaction with the club.
If you go to a Northern League game, you’re likely to be able to get your ticket, your pint and your burger all for £10, and you can talk to whoever you like in the club. I’m not convinced you can go to watch Chelsea and have a conversation with Roman Abramovich at half-time.
Non-league is a sense of community, and there’s a much greater sense of involvement and influence at a non-league club.
You can suggest how you think the club could improve and it’ll likely be acted on.
You can sit in the clubhouse after the game and have a pint with your players.
Imagine Premier League fans having a pint with the away players and the referee after a match!
In non-league, you feel part of the club. Even if you visit just once a season and pay £1 to get in, the non-league club will be so thankful for your support.
I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I was watching Sunderland Til I Die on Netflix a couple of weeks ago and Charlie Methven referred to charging fans a fiver extra for a ticket for a big game. It all sounded as if he was trying to make the football club all about money and business.
I know exactly how important Sunderland AFC is to the city, and how passionate the supporters are. If the football club struggles, the city struggles. If the football club is succeeding, the whole city is upbeat.
Sunderland AFC is the professional football club for the people of Sunderland, and it should be there to serve the community and be totally focused on offering the city’s people the chance to watch football rather than exploiting them for an extra fiver.
I don’t know who came up with the below statement, but you see it all the time on Facebook and Twitter. Despite being seen all the time, it’s absolutely spot on!
Every part of that statement is a small reason why I watch non-league football, and when you put them all together, in my opinion, it offers a much more enjoyable experience than watching a Premier League game.
I do go to professional football games occasionally, normally at Sunderland, but it’s three years since I watched a Premier League game and I haven’t missed it one bit.
If you offer the suggestion of watching non-league football to someone who sits behind their Sky Sports and BT Sport subscriptions ‘supporting’ their London team on television, they’re likely to shun non-league football by saying the standard is terrible.
Obviously, non-league players don’t have the ability of those being paid £80,000 a week in the Premier League, but the standard is higher than many people expect.
These players work all day and then travel 40 miles to play football on a Wednesday night a couple of weeks before Christmas. Why? Because they love playing football.
There is so much more to football than just the action on the pitch, and the lower down the pyramid you go, the more you realise that.
When you’re in the FA Vase, many people (including myself) would love to get an away tie 150 miles away to some club you’ve never heard of. It’s a day out to somewhere you’ve never been before, supporting your local club and travelling all as one. You’ll meet new people, and you’ll have a great day out and maybe a few drinks with the players on the bus back. Whether you’re a player or a supporter, you are just as important to club at FA Vase level.
The sense of involvement, the sense of appreciation, the sense of community, the prices (!), the post-match food/drink with the players, the freedom you have in the ground – these are just a few of the many reasons why I choose the non-league game.
If you haven’t tried non-league football before, once this pandemic is over, give your local club a go!