IT’S usually a derogatory term used to shame the football fan whose support wanes when team performances do – the self-proclaimed fanatic that is not quite so keen when the going gets tough.
At level eight of English football though, the term “fair weather fan” is something else all together.
As a queue of people waited patiently in torrential rain outside Prescot Cables’ ground on Hope Street, one of the many volunteers that devote their time to making sure the club continues to tick over looked to the grey skies with a frown as the time ticked closer towards kick off.
“We could have done without this on Non-League Day,” he muttered.
With bundles of TV cash and huge sponsorship and commercial deals propping up the Premier League big boys, for clubs at the very top end of the football food chain fans clicking through the turnstile aren’t the vital statistic when planning for the future.
At this end of the pyramid though, every person passing through the gate counts. A regular boost in attendances over a sustained period can mean a bigger budget for the manager. And like at any level of football, more money means better players.
Swearing at the Prescot skies is more than understandable then for those that want to see a community asset of 133 years continue to survive and thrive when clubs too close for comfort have gone to the wire. Formby FC – once upon a time a mere 15 miles away – folded in 2014 after 95 years.
The financial margins that could mean life or death for a football club are clear throughout Prescot’s FA Trophy qualifying round match with Trafford.
As a second football flies over a fence to a shanked shot in the space of a few minutes, jokes are exchanged between touchline and dugout. But the cost of those balls, or more the cost of replacing them, is never far from some minds.
As the rain continued to bucket down, a precise stream of water flowed from a hole in the Hope Street stand roof to the terrace below. A non-essential repair perhaps. It’s maybe on a list somewhere. But when that list includes everything from preparing kits, and food, to running the bar, to making sure the ground meets the required standards to continue to compete…
Monsoon conditions aside, Prescot are comfortably the better side on the day, running out 3-1 winners – an occasion that also marked James McCulloch’s 300th appearance for the club. A clenched fist on the final whistle showed his delight at getting one over the Mancs.
The game includes many moments that give lower league football an appeal of its own. An outfield player forced into duties between the sticks because of a shortage of ‘keepers and some predictably unorthodox – but effective – goalkeeping as a consequence.
From the opposition, a classic “throw the big man on up front” when things go wrong. Unfortunately for the visiting side, the man mountain wasn’t particularly effective at controlling a football. Bad feet for a big man. The stranger with the gloves reigned supreme.
Prescot have some talent among their ranks – evidenced by Marine swooping for their striker this week. But for those that run the club that talent is almost a double-edged sword, as a chat with chairman Tony Zeverona later reveals.
At Cables, no player is on a contract, with those that take to the pitch instead receiving pay week to week.
It’s another difficult dynamic for what already feels like a battle against the odds.
Prescot can do little to stop clubs swooping for their players. And where the sale of players has brought in vital influxes of cash in the past – Carl Baker, who played for Coventry, MK Dons and Portsmouth among others, and Mark Duffy, who recently scored a belter in the Sheffield derby, just two of them – now Cables have to think of other strategies to survive.
“No one is taking a penny out,” says Tony of the people who run the club. “They are doing it for the sheer enjoyment of the game, not financial benefit.”
The chairman’s dream at this level is also indicative of football’s haves and have nots. While fans of Premier League clubs will again soon be debating the merits of The FA Cup, and how important it is in the grand scheme, for Prescot a televised first round match would be a cause for celebration.
When you consider that the money for that eventuality – around £75,000 – could pay a player’s wage for two-and-a-half years, it’s easy to see why.
Unfortunately for Tony that dream won’t be this year, Prescot having already exited the competition at the hands of City of Liverpool FC.
It’s back to the basics then. Unblocking toilets, patching up pitches. Making it all happen.
As I talk to Tony, an elderly gentleman busies himself about. He used to play for the club. And one of his medals from a cup triumph sits framed on a wall.
He used to also play for the now defunct South Liverpool FC, once of Holly Park; a club whose past players include Liverpool’s Jimmy Case and John Aldridge.
“Best days of my life, they were,” he says, continuing to busy himself.
And that’s why they do it.
To hear the full chat with Prescot Cables chairman Tony Zeverona, listen to this week’s FREE Anfield Wrap show. If you like it, why not SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player for just £5 a month? A subscription also gives you access to our podcast archive – here are some of the highlights so far…