Premier League supporters. You have a chance to do something amazing this weekend. Save football. Newcastle, Arsenal, Everton, Manchester United, City, Liverpool, Sunderland, Wolves followers, play your part. Here's IBWM's newest writer Adam Shergold to tell you more.
Followers of Newcastle, Arsenal, Everton, Sunderland, Manchester United, Spurs, Liverpool, Villa, Wigan, City and all the other clubs in the Premier League take note; this Saturday is Non-League Football Day.
With the England team attempting to return to a level above bankers and James Corden in the national popularity stakes against mighty Bulgaria on Friday, and the Premier League and Championship taking a back seat, it is the perfect opportunity to watch your local non-league side away from the comforts of St James', The Emirates, or Goodison.
Many supporters of clubs at the higher levels of the game have probably grown tired of the non-league minority harping on about how following Cammell Laird over Everton will help your bank balance, how going to Mansfield Town instead of Manchester United will save your marriage and how choosing Alsager Town rather than Arsenal will redeem your soul, but perhaps it’s time to listen again. While the economic arguments of rejecting the Premiership for the Pyramid are obvious, particularly in such prudent times, I can assure you there are much more life-affirming reasons besides.
I’ve followed Boston United for as long as I can remember (remember us? We’re still here, reports of our demise nearly accurate but usually exaggerated) and I wouldn’t swap it for any amount of millions, any all-seater arena or any silver-booted superstar on the planet. It isn’t the standard of football which appeals – although I’ve seen a 9-0 and a 6-3 already this season to put alongside the binary scorelines – more the camaraderie, the adventures, the unpredictability and the warm feeling that your money and loyalty is genuinely appreciated. That your hard-earned cash (student loan in my case) is securing the club’s future not contributing to an enormous wage bill.
Since The Pilgrims ignominiously dropped out of the Football League in 2007, we’ve been here, there, everywhere and back again. We’ve played in industrial heartlands, market towns, grimy suburbs, stunning countryside and by the sea; been to grounds bordered by quaint allotments, pebble-dashed tower blocks, imposing Victorian mills and mucky rivers; stood on sweeping terraces, condemned cow sheds, grassy banks, running tracks and in car parks; watched in sun, rain, icy blow and blizzard snow. We’ve been to places you simply wouldn’t have cause to go to in ten normal lifetimes - let alone one – have got there by every means of transportation possible and have had awayday experiences that would make Alan Partridge blush.
The result is a rich tapestry of memories, of anecdotes and stories, which all shine and stand-out rather than blending into a blur of all-seater commercialism, generic matchday scenery and dead atmospheres. Every away journey starts with a giggle over previous adventures considered utterly barmy by many – a 21st birthday spent at the Turnbull Stadium in Whitby, vocal defiance despite going 5-0 down at Nantwich, a five-hour coach trip for a postponement at Durham – the list goes on. Every non-league fan has these memories and these often bizarre stories.
Following a non-league team seems to bring with it a sharp definition – on long away trips, there might only be a small band of 10-15 supporters huddled together, no more. It is your duty to get behind the team, to generate a bit of atmosphere, to encourage the lads however backs-to-the-wall or utterly hopeless it may seem. No point relying on the other hundreds and thousands, it is your responsibility to back the team to the bitter end. And having done so, after standing in mutual appreciation and applause with the players - many younger than yourself - at the final whistle, the journey home, especially after a successful result, is all the sweeter for knowing your efforts have been actually appreciated. Who’s to say the twenty or so Redditch United fans singing their hearts out after the final whistle the other week, despite being tonked 9-0 by Boston, aren’t as passionate as any other fans in the world?
Your visit to a non-league ground on Saturday will allow you to re-connect with the true character of the game. The terrace you find yourself on and the company you find yourself in probably could not be more different from your usual surroundings, and will probably be a real culture shock, but remember this is football in its rawest, most real, form and probably a great deal more entertaining for it. These grounds are steeped in history and heritage, they are unique not homogenous. Harrogate Town, Boston’s opponents last Saturday, had a pitch which sloped horrendously into one corner – it was a huge factor in deciding the match, definitely contributing to the nine goals scored. It might even trigger a flood of nostalgia to when football was an uncomplicated, unfussy game.
At school and at university in the last few years, a few people who support big teams have viewed my love of Boston United with a condescending attitude. I suppose each to their own but I’m convinced anything they’re getting in their weekly football fix I’m getting in mine. In fact, I’m probably getting more out of it – I’m getting an authentic football experience. I’m getting stories to tell, I’m getting hilarity with my mates, I’m getting just as much drama and excitement and I’m watching my local team be successful. If nothing else, I’m getting more spare change out of it.
So go on, lend your support to a local non-league team this weekend. You might just like it.
You can get more information on Non-League Day, here, so please pay the site a visit.
Adam will be writing regularly for IBWM but if you would like to read more from him please visit his blog and you can catch him on Twitter here.