Recently, as I’m sure most people are aware, the BBC carried out their Price of Football study which confirmed what most football fans (and their wallets) were already fully aware of - it’s bloody expensive.
This then led President of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron to suggest that people should, rather than line the pockets of their favourite Premier League stars, attend their local non-league clubs from time to time and invest a little in the grass roots.
Personally, as a non-league football fan who sits somewhere between the die-hard oddball sorts you find at all lower tier grounds and the come-out-of-the-woodwork-for-a-big-game-when-local-club-is-on-the-telly type, I feel there are a few things that Mr Farron may not be considering.
Firstly, it does all seem a little bit patronising.
If you were a regular fan of a non-league club and had followed them all your life, would you really want a load of EPL-obsessed armchair supporters descending for every big game talking about how their ‘real club’ is faring and how twee and low-key everything is?
Non-league isn’t how a lot of people think.
The ‘one man and his dog at the side of a park pitch’ image is gone for many clubs. Indeed, many enjoy large attendances and good all-round facilities.
Clubs across the divisions regularly enjoy 1000+ attendances. Chester FC, for example, played in front of a 5000 strong crowd when they clinched the Evo-Stik Premier Division last season at the Exacta Stadium.
Secondly, and my main problem with Mr Farron’s comments, is that I feel the whole ‘non-league is really cheap’ aspect is a little bit of a myth.
Yes, you can go to grounds and get entry, a pie and a pint for a tenner. However, they are few and far between, as well as being extremely low down the pyramid.
For Blue Square Bet Premier, North and South games, you’re looking at admission of between £9 and £18 before you get to the parking, programme, food and beer, and as far as I can see, it’s systematic of money being spent at the top trickling down and pushing wages and fees up.
In recent years the likes of Crawley, Fleetwood Town and AFC Wimbledon have all been able to hold their own after moving up from non-league. What’s more, with other teams going in the opposite direction, it’s evident that the gap really isn’t that big between the Blue Square Premier and League 2.
Most players in the conference are full-time professionals who play at clubs with excellent facilities and, without the luxury of TV money that teams from higher up the leagues enjoy, supporters have to fund a large part of the club’s expenditure. That is, unless there is a sugar daddy ready to soak it up.
Alfreton Town, of the Blue Square Bet Premier, this season upped their tickets to £18 for an adult ticket on the turnstiles and their chairman, Wayne Bradley, said at the time that the club has “to move in line with other Premier Division clubs”.
This sums up the problems that Premier League finances can cause and, tragically, there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by where another non-league club doesn’t face extinction with the likes of Truro, Kettering Town and Darlington all having featured in the headlines.
There needs to be a much more sustainable and reasonable approach to non-league football which, I feel, would mean a small reduction in player wages, club costs and, in turn, admission prices.
Unfortunately, as it stands, it seems that the inflated wage packets and exorbitant transfer fees being dished out at the top, where clubs can rely on generous TV packages, are filtering down to the bottom.
Matt Rogerson is a writer and a press officer for Guiseley AFC. You can follow him on twitter here.