Thursday, November 24, 2011

We’ve said this before in AFTN, but being an exile certainly does make your footballing heart grow fonder. Especially when you add in growing older and getting all misty eyed reminiscent about the footballing days of your youth (not all of which are probably as fondly and accurately remembered as they perhaps played out).

It’s been over four years now since I left Scotland for pastures new across the Atlantic, and it really is true what they say. You don’t realise what you’ve got till it’s gone.

There’s not many things I miss from living in the UK, but going to the football every week is one of them. Especially when going to the football meant going to some really quaint and some really ramshackle grounds on your travels.

And if East Fife got an away draw against non league opposition in the Scottish Cup? Result!

It’s been a huge culture shock for me to go from three figure attendances in the lower reaches of Scottish football to 20,000+ crowds at state of the art, purpose built stadiums full of plastic seats and far too many plastic supporters and, shudder, soccer mums and their annoying kids.

I miss my lower league and non league football. Grassroots football will also be my first love.

Getting your football fix isn’t hard to do in North America. We’ve covered before about the plethora of games and Leagues from around the world that you can watch. It really is overload. Nothing beats going to a live game though and nothing ever will.


Moving away has given me some regrets.

Why did I throw out certain football memorabilia instead of shipping them over? Why did I sell all my childhood subbuteo stuff? And, in particular, why didn’t I do more groundhopping when I had the chance?

I’ve had a long love affair with non league football in the UK, and especially the English pyramid system.

I love the hope every team can have that somehow, one day they could be in the Football League, even when you’re rebuilding a team you’ve watched die in front of your eyes.

I love the atmosphere and banter at games, when sometimes you’re in a crowd of just double digits, and in some leagues for midweek matches, single ones. I love the affinity and bond you have with your team. I love the surroundings, the localness of it all and the wonderful history that so many of these Clubs have.

To me, this is proper football.

Pre-season trips to watch East Fife at clubs like Peterlee, Seaham Red Star and Spennymoor piqued my interest in the English non league scene, but I guess my love affair really started when Wimbledon were forced out of the Football League and AFC Wimbledon rose from their ashes.

As a long time member of the Dons Trust, their tale is an inspiration to all fans of lower league and non league football. We don’t need to say much more.

We’ll never forget though the support the Dons gave to our Down With Brown campaign.

The Wombles aside, there’s a number of non league sides that AFTN has been avidly following the fortunes of (for a wide variety of reasons) over the last few years: Cray Wanderers, Kingstonian, Metropolitan Police, Bath City, Newport County, FC United of Manchester, Durham FC and Guernsey FC to name a few.

The last couple of years, AFTN has made an annual pilgrimage back to the UK, not to see friends and family, but to catch some proper football matches.

We always take in a Fife game of course, but we’ve also been trying to get some non league groundhopping done too. Sadly this hasn’t happened this year, but we hope to be back over in April and May to get some end of season and playoff action in.

Maybe I’m some kind of football snob, but I just can’t understand why every football fan doesn’t love, appreciate and attend non league games when they can. In reverse, supporters of the Old Firm and the top English sides will wonder why I want to stand freezing my ass off in rundown surroundings, watching (arguably) inferior football, in front of a handful of people.

They don’t get it and I don’t get them. Neither party is likely to change anytime soon.

It’s been sad to see the spate of non league sides go to the wall in recent seasons. It’s just going to be an increasing trend I fear.

There’s the strange situation where non league football has been killed by the media, but now, more than ever, it needs the media to help it survive.

Sky changed the whole game of football in the UK, but it made far too many people only care about the Premiership and watching games from the comfort of their armchair, whilst they take in a never ending stream of slick graphics, replays and fancy technology.

Non league football needs the exposure that TV and radio can give it though to attract more people through the gates to support local football.

Those fans who have got out to see what non league football is all about have liked what they’ve seen and many have become hooked.

The game needs more fans to do this and it’s been fantastic to see the success of “Non League Day” the last couple of seasons.

It’s also been great to see non league football back on our screens through ESPN. Just a shame that it couldn’t have been picked up by one of the free to air channels, especially a terrestrial one.

Every bit of support counts though.

For me, being so far away from the action, one of the most important tools in recent season to keep me in touch with what’s happening in English non league football has been the BBC’s excellent Non League Football Show podcast.

The whole team have done a great job in bringing non league teams and their issues to the airwaves and to a wider audience.

The publicity they’ve brought to a number of issues have undoubtedly helped many clubs, and although often there has been nothing that can be done to help some plights, they also celebrates the highs of the minnows in FA Cup and League action.

”For the fans, by the fans.” is their tagline, and with host Caroline Barker being a life-long Chelmsford City supporter, it’s not a false claim.

The podcast is a must listen for me, and many others, every week, and I’m saddened to hear that the show is facing the axe from the BBC next year due to huge budget cuts in local radio.

It’s a dreadful situation, especially when you consider some of the absolute tripe that pains our ears every week. You would think that the BBC would actually want to keep and promote one of their few football shows that is not derivative.

Without the “Non League Show” we would not have been kept so well informed about the troubles that have affected a multitude of non league sides, such as Chester, Crawley, Wrexham and a host more.

Dave Anderson, Willie Wordsworth and Dave Watters always give insightful analysis of the pressing matters in the grassroots game and instead of getting rid of a show like this, we should be actively producing more.

As football fans, no matter who we support or what League our teams play in, we cannot allow this show to be axed.

When it was announced last month that the show was facing the axe, a Facebook page was immediately set up to show support, and currently has 1785 members.

The show is produced by BBC London, please take a minute to email them at: yourlondon@bbc.co.uk and let them know how important the ”Non League Football Show” is to grassroots football.

You can also alert the BBC Trust and make your feelings known, not just about the Non League Football Show but also the cuts that will be taking place in BBC radio in general, at: trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk.

Spread the word about saving the show on Twitter as well, using the hashtag #savethenonleagueshow.

In these days of monotonous unoriginality in football shows, The Non League Football Show is a breath of fresh air.

As the battle for real football lives on, let's hope the show isn't drawing its final breaths.

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