As someone living in Britain, it is apparent to me how much the game of football has been sewn into our culture; many consider football to be the “national sport” of Britain, ahead of the likes of rugby, athletics and tennis. If you were to ask 10 people who were fans of the sport what teams they support, then the majority would more than likely say one of the clubs with the biggest fan bases and best league results, such as Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United, or would say the name of a club from the top couple of tiers that are relatively local to them.
However, if someone was to ask me what team I support, then I would answer honestly and not try and follow the crowd. Because for me football is a fantastic sport, but not just at the top levels, where I do agree fantastic goals and breath-taking action occur reasonably regularly. However factors such as these do not apply solely to the Premier League; they also apply to the lower levels of the football league and tiers even further down the football pyramid. I should know, because for the last few years in my relatively short lifespan, I have been supporting my local non-league club that goes by the name of Thurrock FC.
The club I support does not have a 50,000 attendance per match, more like 200, and doesn’t have a state of the art stadium where players get paid millions of pounds for their part in the team’s fortunes. Playing in the modest tier of the Isthmian Division One North the club represents the unique experience of watching a non-league football match. The attendance may not even be 1% of a Premier League Club, yet the fanbases are no less passionate about their clubs, consistently cheering, supporting and singing football anthems. The quality of football itself is higher than many people would have thought, with intricate passing and spectacular goals still being present. All of this people could experience for just a few pounds per game, compared to Premier League games going over £100 on occasion.
However, probably the greatest thing about non-league football is how close you are to the action. In the years that I have been supporting my local club with my granddad we have nearly always positioned ourselves behind the opposition net, which made for some great sights when the goals came. Also behind the goals is what I would consider the hub of the club support, with dedicated fans losing their voices after a full 90 minutes of shouting. This you do not get when watching a football match on a screen, and makes non-league football a truly unique thing.
Unfortunately, in this day and age when technology has made support on the sofa far more convenient, the attendances of non-league clubs have gone down. In my local area there are 5 non-league clubs, however all are plagued by low attendances, despite there being a reasonably high population. It seems that people are not aware of the quality and the great value for money that football from lower down the league system presents. However, if you have never been to a non-league match, head to your local club from outside the top 4 leagues. You may be surprised.