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Staying Local - Get Ready For Non League Day

Monday 5th October 2015
With the international break looming large for fans of Premier League and Championship clubs, it can be a frustrating two weeks until kick off in the next game. But football doesn't stop whilst waiting for a tepid and uninspiring round of European qualifiers to pass by, there are big club games happening right on your doorstep.

During the last break in the build up to next summer's European Championships, I pondered taking a breather from an underwhelming start to the football season but come Saturday morning it was clear a football fix was needed. Luckily though, the World's Oldest Football club, Sheffield FC play their Evo-Stik 1st Division games nearby at the aptly named ‘Home of Football'.

FC have enjoyed a period of consolidation since moving into their own ground in 2001 and drew worldwide acclaim when celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2007 with huge games against Inter Milan and Ajax. Under the stewardship of their Chairman, Richard Timms, Sheffield have recently made a bid to move from their Dronfield base (around eight miles outside of Sheffield City centre) back into the heart of the City with a recent fundraising bid drawing donations from around the globe to total over thirty thousand pounds.
On match day, Newcastle Town of Staffordshire were the visitors with a handful of devout followers making the journey north, adding to an overall attendance of a shade under four hundred. Sheffield FC can also boast the highly experienced management team of Andy Kiwomya and, ex-Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday defender, Miguel Llera. With this impressive pairing at the helm, FC look to move the ball around with sharp passing adding to an attractive product. Maybe it is a mixture of your expectations prior to the game and the good, competitive standard that you find yourself content at paying a nominal fee to get in the gate.

Sheffield FC won't be alone in offering value for money throughout the country, against the odds. There is a different feeling to football at non-league level, as amateur clubs tick along with an achievement in simply making ends meet. With the attendance and public interest largely dependent on location, owners and Chairmen alike have to be savvy in utilising volunteers from the surrounding community to aid the club in its day to day running. If you make two or three trips to your local non-league club through the season, you'll find a familiar face operating the turnstile or putting the hot water in your Bovril and a face that, more often than not, is just pleased to see you.

The danger is, however, that with the far reaching power and glamour of top level football being broadcast straight to your television the role of David may be forgotten when talking about Goliath.

Each non-league side has a valuable role to play in its community, one which cannot be belittled. Aside from the likes of Charlie Austin (Kinbury Rangers, Hungerford Town, Poole Town), Jamie Vardy (Stocksbridge Park Steels) and Chris Smalling (Maidstone United) forging their early careers within the local area, thousands of other players find their feet at this competitive and testing level. Whether that be through progression from a junior side or after being cast aside by the ruthless professional production line. Budding coaching staff, physiotherapists and referees all have to find a route up the ladder too. Craig Pawson, now refereeing Premier League sides on a weekly basis used to officiate Ecclesfield Red Rose of Sheffield. Young fans are able to experience football on a personal level, being able to stand pitch side, and form a love for a team. My first season ticket was for Sheffield FC at the cost of £25, allowing me and a group of school mates to stand on a terrace and make up our own songs.

There are lessons to be learned by the elite in the way that clubs lower down the leagues operate, such as the ingenious social media accounts run by the likes of Hyde United FC (@hydeunited) engaging people on an international scale. Hyde's Twitter account attracts nearly forty thousand followers, meaning a single tweet can be seen by more people than attend all the home games combined in a season. What would a top tier club give to generate that level of appeal? It is that association with the everyday fan that is slowly drifting away from football in the top two divisions of English football. Hundreds of millions of pounds are fought and squabbled over, as players and owners scrap for the promise land. And with the current standard of English football, struggling in Europe, it is clear to see how those watching from the stand can become detached and alienated.

For £53, the current average price of a Premier League ticket, you could go and support your local non-league side during the international break. But instead of just paying for the football, that money will be put over the busy bar in the pub near the ground that rely on punters every other weekend. The change from your ticket will buy you refreshments and take you out around the village after the match. A local club puts towards the local economy too.

The official Non League Day 2015 has been designated for Saturday 10th October and with Sheffield FC at home to Loughborough Dynamo, I'll definitely revisit the Home of Football in the hope that I'm contributing to a prosperous future for both clubs.

http://www.sheffieldfc.com/ (@sheffieldfc)

http://www.nonleagueday.co.uk/ (@nonleaguedayuk)
James Dean
A lover of football. Season ticket holder at Sheffield Wednesday and known as the "Andrea Pirlo of the North".

Total articles: 24

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