NON-LEAGUE football is a very different beast to its Premier League big brother.
While the rules are the same, the aim is the same, and it’s played on grass with 22 players, it’s a world away from the 24-7 televised soap opera of the top flight.
It’s almost a sport within a sport. A place that relies on volunteers, goodwill and motivation that stems from a love of the game, not a love of the rewards for playing it.
Tomorrow, it’s Non-League Day. A chance perhaps for those that don’t venture to the lower reaches of football’s pyramid to give it a try.
The money you pay through the gate, the cash you pay for a progamme, or a pie, or a pint – every penny counts at that level.
Managers aren’t kicking back into Recaro seats, watching their players perform on bowling green surfaces lovingly tendered by artificial sunlight rigs.
Instead, they are juggling the responsibilities of managing a football club with a full-time job. Trying to work on tactics and teamwork a couple of nights a week to get the team in shape for Saturdays.
Behind the scenes, people sort out every aspect of these clubs for the love of it. Scouting and signing players. Ensuring the ground is safe, secure and ready for matchday. Making food. Cleaning up. Writing a programme. Carrying out repairs. Looking after the pitch. Fundraising. Promotion and PR. The list goes on.
At a Premier League club, many of those tasks are the responsibility of people earning a full-time wage; of teams and groups. At many non-league clubs those same responsibilities will be managed by a handful of dedicated people. Multitasking being the order of the day.
That those tasks, those responsibilities, that work, has been carried out over and over – in many cases at clubs that have been in existence since the late 1800s – is a testament to the importance of the game at all levels to the communities where it is played.
The all-consuming nature of top-level football makes it ever harder for these clubs to thrive and survive. Televised football across the week at all times of the day means it’s an easy option to kick back on the couch and watch a game rather than get out the house and watch one in person.
A non-league game can be a good introduction to the sights and sounds of a live football match for fans of the future. It can also be a way to socialise over a pint, watch a game minus the intensity of your first football passion, and help a community resource in the process. And it won’t break the bank.
Tomorrow then, 3pm, give it a go. Take some family or friends to a game. Throw some money in a pot that is too often close to empty. Do your bit for the people who are always doing theirs to keep these clubs alive.
To find a match near you tomorrow, type in your postcode at: www.nonleagueday.co.uk
Tranmere Rovers v Chester
Prenton Park, Prenton Road, West Prenton, Wirral, CH42 9PY
— Tranmere Rovers (@TranmereRovers) 5 October 2017
Bootle v Abbey Hey
TDP Solicitors Stadium, Vesty Road, Bootle, Merseyside, L30 1NY
— Official Bootle FC (@Bootle_FC) 5 October 2017
Litherland REMYCA v New Mills
Litherland Sports Park Boundary Road, Liverpool, Merseyside, L21 7LA
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CLUB
⚫ Saturday v New Mills
— Litherland REMYCA FC (@RemycaUtd) 3 October 2017
AFC Liverpool v Maine Road
The Arriva Stadium, College Rd, Liverpool L23 3AS
— AFC Liverpool (@AFCLiverpool) 5 October 2017
Prescot Cables v Trafford
Hope Street, Prescot, Merseyside, L34 6HD
— Prescot Cables F.C. (@PrescotCablesFC) 5 October 2017
St Helens Town v Chadderton
Ruskin Drive, Dentons Green, St Helens, Merseyside, WA10 6RP
— St Helens Town AFC (@sthelenstownfc) 5 October 2017
Southport v Spennymoor Town
Haig Avenue, Southport, Lancashire, PR8 6JZ
We are at home against Spennymoor Town in the Vanarama National League North tomorrow, kick-off 3pm at the Merseyrail Community Stadium
— Southport FC (@southport_fc) 6 October 2017