In the run up to the weekend, I wrote about the Non-League Football Day campaign that was launched to try and use the international break to encourage Premiership and Championship football fans to use their free weekend to support their local non-league sides.
This was a fantastic idea and an opportunity to plug the finances of non-league clubs and promote clubs that operate on tiny budgets and are truly part of their community.
As my part of my support for this campaign I utilised the very user friendly campaign website to find local non-league games around my Nottingham home. As I had to convince my football phobic girlfriend to tag along, I opted for the 45 minute train ride to watch Belper Town FC play Loughborough Dynamos in the picturesque Derbyshire hills.
Christchurch Meadows the home of Belper Town is a small, intimate ground with picturesque views of the hills and countryside that surround it. Not forgetting the church that restricts access to one small country lane and backs onto the stadium, whose bells toll on the hour signalling that kick off time has arrived.
This contest was a league fixture in the Northern Premier League Division One South, seven divisions below the Premier League. Both sides are community clubs with teams through all the junior age ranges with former youth players making up a sizeable part of the first team.
This is particularly true for Loughborough who named a very young side for their trip to the hills with the rest of both sides comprised of players who have mainly played their football within one or two divisions above or below their current level, with only one or two boasting higher level youth or semi-professional experience.
The game itself was action packed and entertaining with both sides attempting to play a passing game and break the opposition resistance with wing play rather than penetrating long balls. Whilst the game remained scoreless for 80 minutes it was anything but boring as both sides created numerous chances to break the deadlock with the visitors creating the better chances despite having less of the ball than the home side.
Finally with around eight minutes to go it was one poor decision that ruined a generally proficient refereeing display as referee Martin Chester adjudged that Belper Town striker Jon Froggatt had been unfairly challenged 14 yards from goal when to the neutral the contact from the Loughborough defender looked minimal.
The striker picked himself up to convert the penalty with a strike that any Premiership footballer would have been proud of hard and fast into the bottom right corner. So good in fact it broke the net and it took half the Belper bench to repair it and allow the game to continue and Belper to cling on to clinch their first win of the season.
Overall the game was an absorbing contest in which neither side could really claim they truly deserved the three points, however on this occasion Belper will feel they have got the luck they need to kick start their season.
Differences From a Top Flight Spectating Experience
Proximity to the Action
One of the things that I think makes non-league football standout is that being so close to the pitch, and with a smaller attendance you can hear practically everything that is said, shouted or protested by both the players and coaches.
Stood between the dugouts, myself and my accommodating girlfriend could hear everything, from the tactics coaches used to try enforce their viewpoint with the officials, to how they communicated with their players during the match and instructed substitutes on the updated game plan.
The funniest interchange had to be between the Belper manager Andy Carney and the linesman closest to him in the second half. After slightly overstepping the mark with one of his comments to the linesman over a clear offside decision the situation was rectified when a Belper coach stated he actually agreed with the linesman and this seemed to register with the man with a cracking Northern sense of humour to tone it down.
Instead he spent the next 10 minutes cracking jokes with the linesman, about whether he would like to swap boots and how this might make him quicker so he could make a more informed decision, taken in good heart it was an entertaining aside to the match and definitely did not interfere with the game.
Officiating and Lack of Replays
The officiating in this game was generally of a high standard, with both the assistant referees and the referee himself communicating the logic behind their decisions to both players and managers, which seemed to be appreciated by all and diffuse many potential flare ups before they started.
Although from my position the penalty decision looked harsh, I did not have the luxury of the usual plethora of replays to say with conviction that a foul was not committed.
This may sound stupid but having been spoilt with instant replays of the action at my team’s home ground and from Match of the Day and other highlight programs that analyse the action, you forget just how difficult the job of officials is and how advanced technology has become.
Fore example you forget how difficult to see if the victim of a tackle is playacting or was really caught badly or how difficult it is to tell from ground level whether a player made contact with the player or the ball first or if the ball crossed the line?
With friendly volunteers and staff you really got the feeling that everyone was pulling together to try and help the club in anyway, selling raffle tickets or manning the turnstiles. Also at half time there was enough space behind one of the goals for the children at the game to start a game of football literally using jumpers for goalposts.
There was something very quaint and wholesome about the atmosphere even if occasionally the players and coaches did turn the air blue.
Facts and Figures
Cost of Entry for two adults: £14 ( Children and OAPs £3.50 each, Children U14 if accompanied £1)
Cost of Program, pie and chips: £4
Total Cost for Day Out for Two – £20.50
Cost at Stamford Bridge – £115
Cost at City Ground (Nottingham Forest) – £52
Capacity: 2,640 (500 seated)
Match Attendance: 206
Club Nickname: The Nailers
Success of Non-League Day 2010?
Overall with limited official monitoring of national attendances it is difficult to tell if the day had a tangible impact, although initial reports are good with many clubs reporting bumper attendances. At Belper the effect appeared limited with a few people overheard mentioning the day, but complaining about how nothing had been sorted centrally enough to really get buy in across the country.
However this should not deter the organisers, this campaign is a noble one and something that with work and determination could have the legs to really become something that can really boost the nation’s non league clubs.
If organised in time for say next March’s international break this could really gain momentum with events across the country to publicise, with communities rallying behind their local sides for one weekend a year.
This football may not be of the standard that is usually debated on this site, but it is worthy of coverage and support, discounts could be made more universal and, who knows maybe a few will become converts and regular fans, supporting the club for the months and years to come.
Non-League Football Day may have been small but the seed of an idea has been sown for development in future years and we should all do what we can to see it grow.