A not so interesting story broke this week, the kind of breaking bulletin that only becomes a top topic on a slow news day.
Wayne Rooney was chastised for staying up late and socialising with a wedding party, despite being given time off from England duty. It got me thinking. Is this really important? Is this kind of exposure really going to help our game grow? Obviously not. I have always wanted to do a piece on what can be done to improve Non League Football. Here are five of my ideas:
More money pumped into Non-League clubs and leagues.
Probably the most obvious point. The EPL recently signed a landmark broadcasting deal worth £5.3bn, coupled with overseas TV rights of £5.1bn to make a a whopping £10.4bn, spread amongst the elite of English football. Some of this was supposed to trickle down to support “grassroots” football, but the details of such deals are unknown to me. The FA have opened a new “Parklife” centre in Sheffield, with aims to develop players aswell as to act as a community centre. All this is good, but clubs still suffer from lack of money which leads to poor facilities. I recently spoke to Whyteleafe FC chairman Mark Coote, who had to install a 3G pitch at the club. The final figure was £600,000 of which he had to fund. If he hadn’t forked out that princely sum, he estimated that he would lose £15,000 each season due to cancelled games and associated match day income. No handouts from the FA or EPL then. I am not naive enough to expect the FA or EPL to give each Non-League club millions of pounds – this just isn’t realistic. After all, where do you draw the line? But surely some sort of scheme, which is made public, whereby rich clubs give something back to their struggling Non0League counterparts would only forge partnerships between the elite and those at the sharp end
More mainstream exposure of Non-League football
Other than the broadcast on BT Sport of National League games and the publication of The Non-League Paper and Non-League Magazine, coverage of the grassroots game is non existent. BBC Radio had the Non-League show over the airwaves, but having just looked on their website, it seems the last show as back in May 2016. Instead, Non-League football is championed by an army of volunteers who take to twitter and wordpress to put their views across to a nation who are, for the most part, completely unaware of their nearest Non League team. This surely can’t be right. In an age where information is easily accessible at your fingertips and people are closer to players, clubs, managers and chairman than ever, more effort should be made to expose Non League football. Again, I am not naive enough to think that East Grinstead Town will be seen playing on BBC1 at 8PM on a Saturday night. The Non-League Magazine have made great strides in introducing little known clubs to readers, but what about EPL or EFL teams tweeting or advertising local clubs? I am sure a well placed tweet from a professional club who aren’t playing at the weekend, advertising a local Non League team’s game would go down a treat.
Make more of players who make it to professional teams
Obviously Jamie Vardy is the prime case in example. A lot has been made of his Non League background having paid his dues before hitting the big time. Another player is Southampton striker Charlie Austin and West Ham maestro Michail Antonio. But what about other players who haven’t made the headlines. Dwight Gayle once played for Stansted and Yannick Bolasie played for Hillingdon Borough. Why aren’t these stories more visible? None of these journeys have been championed as a success story. The clubs that these players once turned out for have generally stayed in limbo. They don’t appear to have reaped any rewards from these players, who now ply their trade in higher leagues. If there could be some way of highlighting where players have come from, it would encourage people to look out for that Non League club.
Encourage clubs to open acadmies
Both the Metropolitan Police FC and Whyteleafe FC have installed this at their respective clubs. The addition of academies only further serves to strengthen the bond between players and the club. Not only do the players represent the club, they also represent the community – an idea which is the lifeblood of Non League football. Many of these academies afford youngsters to play football as well as undertake education, with the hope that they can break into the first team or go onto another club or employment. Either way, that player, in theory, should be able to identify with his / her club. But not only that, they should be able to relate to the range of emotions felt / suffered by their fans. They should know the lady who does the tea, the bloke on the turnstile, the person who is the car park marshall. Again, all of this adds to the magic of Non League football. One of the greatest things about it is the closeness between players and fans. Thats what we want more of. Being able to have a pint with the fans and discuss the game is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Acadamies really can play their part in Non League football and the community as a whole.
Make Women’s teams more visible
Women’s Football is starting to become more prevalent as the mainstream media latches onto this facet of the sport. Now news outlets display scores of teams in the Women’s Premier League and the league table, aswell as highlights. But this is part of the game which is sadly lacking. Many Non League teams boast of having a Ladies side in their setup, but the publicity around them is all too woeful in my opinion. Unless you happen to follow that team or stumble across a singular tweet from a team’s social media officer, chances are that this side of a club would go missing. In an age where we talk about equality amongst every race or creed, more needs to be done to highlight women’s football. Again, top clubs need to champion their own Women’s teams and also highlight Women’s football in Non League competitions.
Photo credit: http://www.nonleagueday.co.uk
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