Non League Club

The Future of Non League Football – The Inequalities of the leagues

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on July 2, 2012

In the first week of May the play off semi-finals took place across most non leagues.  However, whilst the fans at Dulwich Hamlet, Bognor Regis Town and Lowestoft Town stood enthralled at the tense ending to their games, the semi-finals at Sutton United and Basingtstoke Town were less so.  In all instances the games were settled by one goal or in the case of Bognor, on penalties.  But in the case of the Blue Square Bet South games it was simply half time.  Welling United and Dartford took their one goal away wins into their home legs the following week.  Unfortunately, for Wealdstone, Folkstone Invicta and Godalming, their seasons were over.

And therein lies the problem.  After 42 league games stretching eight months most teams existed the play offs after a one off “Cup Final”.  So why does the Blue Square league structure have two legged semi-finals (just like the nPower Football Leagues) whilst every league below that has to make do with a 90 minute (plus extra time and penalties) scrap?  Is that fair? We think not.

The leagues will wheel out the same old story about needing to finish the season as early as possible to get ready for the next season, but what difference would one more game make?  The Blue Square North and South play off finals do not take place until mid-May, so why not play ALL play off finals on one weekend.  By the time the two teams who will be entering the Blue Square Bet Premier are decided, the feeder leagues will be done and dusted and the players will be on their way to the beach (well, Skegness then).

How difficult would it be to have one additional game for the teams in the playoffs?  Who would be the loser in that?  The four clubs involved would see additional gate receipts, which based on the attendances for the one off semi-finals would be substantial.  For instance in you look at the six games played at Step 3 of the Non League Pyramid:-

AFC Hornchurch (average 310) v Bury Town (average 420)
Lowestoft Town (average 668) v Wealdstone (average 502)

Bradford PA (average 408) v Hednesford Town (average 638)
Chorley (average 957) v FC United of Manchester (average 1,948)

Oxford City (average 241) v Cambridge City (average 348)
AFC Totton (average 438) v Chesham United (average 349)

For each of the play off games the attendances were higher simply because of the status of the game.  AFC Hornchurch saw 646 for their game,  Lowestoft Town 1,146 for theirs. So if you take a conservative multiple of 30% on top of the normal home attendances, an additional game would have resulted in crowds such as:-

Bury Town – 546
Wealdstone – 652
Hednesford Town – 829
FC United of Manchester – 2,532
Cambridge City – 452
Chesham United – 453

A total of 5,464 extra fans, who would have paid a minimum of £9 for the privilage.  And I would imagine based on previous crowds for big games, the figures for Bury Town (Highest attendance of season 868), Wealdstone (876) and FC United of Manchester (3,142) are grossly underestimated.

Based on the fact that all leagues were completed by the 28th April, surely there could have been time to fit in two play off semi-finals in these leagues, with the Final being played on the weekend of the 12/13th May – the same one as the Blue Square North and South.  Revolutionary idea or just fair?

Some traditionalists will argue that the play offs are not a fair way of settling the end of season promotion places but this year we have seen a play off final featuring the 2nd v 3rd place team in three of the five leagues from step two and three (with the 2nd place team so far winning in two games).

So in light of all of our changes this one is a win/win for everyone is it not?  It adds an extra element of competitiveness into the final shake up for places, it gives the clubs involved significant extra revenues and it keeps supporters interest up for a few days more before the barren summer months.

The Future of Non League Football – Simple things make so much sense

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on June 19, 2012

Continuing our look at what the future could be for Non League Football, we have been lucky enough to secure the thoughts of Hugo Langston, not only one of the nicest people in the world but a man who lives, breathes and kicks the Non League game every day.  Last season Hugo could be found on the touch line at Horsham and Chipsted as well as running his own academy.  This season he will be working in the sunshine at Herne Bay in their first season in the Ryman League.

When I was asked to write this article about improving non league from a manager/coaches point of view, my initial thoughts were like those of Victor Meldrew. Then I reminded myself how great non league football is, and that I am privileged to work in it. My initial thoughts were about referees, bad committee/chairmen, poor training facilities, boardroom politics, the blazer brigades who run leagues and money. However, this is all stuff that fans and spectators don’t care about. They want to see their club win and play well. No different to supporters of league clubs.

Non league football to those who know nothing about it – your average SKY TV, premiership and football league fans – has a bad perception. I get comments from friends of mine like “Non league is crap” and “it’s just kick and rush”. Yet none of these guys have been to watch a game. They think it’s beneath them.

Yes there are teams and managers who do play a more direct and percentage game, and yes there is a time to be more direct or hit row Z (especially if you are winning a game and are under intense pressure from the opposition), but most managers, coaches and players want to play football, passing football. In the last 9 months I’ve seen some great football, great players and great goals in my time at both Horsham FC and Chipstead FC. I’ve seen goals scored from clever corner routines, worldy 35 yard strikes and everywhere I’ve been I’ve seen passion from players, managers and fans. There’s never a shortage of drama too!

It’s not expensive to watch non league football, you’re close to the action and you can mix with the players post match. You can’t do that in the Premiership. As a supporter you can be a proper part of the club.

Clubs do a lot to get people through the turnstiles – non league day and kids for a quid are just two examples. I’d like to see more non league clubs forge relationships with pro clubs, and allow their season ticket holders free or discounted entry into a game. They’ll still spend money once they’re inside.

I’d also like to see better behaviour from dug outs. I accept swearing and banter are a huge part of the game (I’m human and I swear too), but I think it’s unnecessary from managers during games. I was wrongly sent to the stands in a game in January for apparently swearing at the ref, and I won my appeal. That’s how strongly I felt about it. Believe it or not referees and their assistants have sworn at me during games this season too for asking innocent questions about decisions they have made. No need!

Non league football is also very cut throat, and I’d be in favour of some protection for managers/coaches. The League Managers Association exists in the pro football to help its members and I’d like to see something similar launched in non league. An organisation similar to the LMA where we coaches and managers can seek advice, have insurance and also attend functions where issues, best practice and suggestions can be discussed in an open forum. The majority of us managers and coaches in non league are not well paid (if at all) and I think this sort of organisation would be hugely beneficial to improve us as managers/coaches but to also improve the game as a whole.

Non league clubs rely on a steady income throughout the season. This income comes from the turnstiles, club shops and club houses. In many recent seasons, there have been long periods of time when clubs have no games, due to unplayable pitches as it’s snowed, it’s freezing or it’s just too wet. Postponed games affect clubs financially, and rearranged games will be played midweek. Surely now then it’s time to address this and embrace artificial 4G pitches. Less games would be called off, you can train on it and modern artificial pitches are so like the real thing anyway. Maidstone United are moving to their new long awaited stadium and they have installed an artificial pitch. My old club Horsham are planning a new stadium and I advised them too to put in an artificial pitch. I think some clubs are put off as currently the FA won’t allow FA Cup games to be played on them (Maidstone will have to play any home FA Cup games at Chatham Town). Surely this rule can be changed? We need to move with the times.

As you can probably tell I could go on all day, but I have saved something very important until last that I would like to see introduced into the non league game. We all witnessed Fabrice Muamba collapsing during a game playing for Bolton, and I feel there’s more we can do to check the health of our players. I believe players should be subject to full medicals at least once a year, regulated perhaps by the county FA’s. I realise there is a cost involved that not all clubs could meet, but there is money and funds available from various bodies, such as the Football Foundation and the FA itself. There have been instances of players collapsing and dying during non league games too in recent years. It’s something I certainly never ever want to experience. I’m not convinced that clubs are fully prepared should a player collapse in terms of the equipment available. There’s plenty of talk about it but very little action.

I’ll now finish on this thought….

If you have never been to a non league game of football, I challenge you to go to a game next season. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Wherever you go you will be made welcome and I guarantee you’ll enjoy the passion, the drama and the honesty.

You can follow Hugo on Twitter here.

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The Future of Non League Football – Ask and ye shall receive

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on May 16, 2012

Continuing our series on what can be done to improve Non League football, the genius that is Beat The First Man raises the subject that clubs themselves are sometimes their own worst enemies.

You know what gets my goat in non league football? Well, apart spurious ground grading regulations, inept officiating, and clubs playing fast and loose with the financing rules. It is clubs, well-meaning so often, not utilising the skills base that presents itself to them on a fortnightly basis.

Clubs need fans. Of course they need their monies over the gate, over the bar, at the tea hut. But they need them in other ways, and all too often they are reluctant, unwilling, or simply too pig-headed to ask.

The old cliche of fans ganging together to pay the wages, or paint a fence, is one which we are all far too familiar with. On the one hand you would hope that clubs learn from the errors of those who went before them. But equally there is something “blitz spirit” about everyone rocking up to the ground in mid June to spruce up the changing rooms. And we do it because we want to help, to be part of the club in any small way we can. Non league football is run by volunteers, after all (at least, the *real* non league is).

But why should it stop there? On any given matchday, there will be an assortment of men and women with all manner of skills standing on the sidelines. All with their own lives, true. And not all necessarily willing or able to give their time to the club for free. But it doesn’t have to be free.

If there are builders, get them quoting for ground improvements. If there are painters and decorators, buy their remaindered stock off them for the changing rooms, the clubhouse, the boardroom. Electricians? Sort out the PA. Office workers? Spread a bit of the admin around.

When I helped a non league club a few years ago, I was setting up the Supporters Club, one of the fields we put on the membership form related to the line of work/expertise the individual brought with them. Through that, we found folk to demolish the old dugouts, and rebuild them on the other side of the pitch. We found painters willing to donate paint for the goalposts. We found someone qualified to totally overhaul the clubs’ bookkeeping. We discovered that we had contacts in the drinks industry, a local butcher whom we eagerly tapped up for matchday rolls and pies. We even had a fully qualified FA official standing around, unutilised. What price his half an hour of his time with the first team every now and again?

You may say, quite rightly, that it is easy to find most skills if a FC United crowd, or a Luton crowd. But what if you struggle to get over 50? I would argue that is still 50 people who should be asked. Not asked if they can help, not asked for money, but just asked to think if they can do anything for the club. I live in the heartland of Maggie’s legacy, and old miners are ten a-penny at old miners welfare clubs like Rainworth and Clipstone. Their skills may not be transferable, but their presence could invaluable. Who do they know? By conducting so much of their business behind closed doors, clubs are limiting the pool of people who can help. So often so quick to ask for money, I would argue that time and expertise is much more valuable with non-league football.

Ask, and more often than not, people are happy to help. Sometimes for free, sometimes for “mates rates”. But people assume, laughably, that those who run football clubs know what they are doing. The opportunity to include, rather than exclude, is one that any forward-thinking chairman should be looking at embrace.

Read more from @Beatthefirstman here at Beatthefirstman.tumblr.com

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