Why non-league football is so unique in the English game

A local non-league team has something special about it. The community feel and the sense of belonging is guaranteed at the football club.

Recently, because larger teams have become more like commercial clubs, fans have decided to turn to their local side to support. But why is non-league football so important to the English game and why do fans opt to follow their local team?

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The good thing about non-league football is that practically anywhere you live, a short distance away is a non-league team pleading for support. Some influences why fans watch their non-league team is that the terraces are much closer to the pitch so fans feel more connected with the team and feel part of the club with the constant interaction with players and staff.

Another impact is that the majority of clubs sell their tickets at a very reasonable price which is far lower than an average Premier League ticket. During lockdowns in recent times following the spread of Coronavirus, fans were allowed attend to non-league football which gave clubs some much-needed income and boosts in crowd numbers. However, the vast majority of teams voted for null and void last season which meant that no games were played over some time.

Teams in the non-league system have improved considerably in recent times which could be to do with investment into certain clubs and many, even at the lower levels, have gone full-time. This means that a full-time club would have many gains on the clubs around them who are part-time as they have more time to prepare with their squad and have the availability to train most days.

In the way the English football pyramid is formatted, there is a dream, despite being an extremely unlikely one, to make it to the very top of the pyramid. That sets English football apart from other countries with the dream of playing in the Premier League. There is another scenario where your club may unearth a future Premier League player as is the case with the likes of Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio, Dan Burn, Max Kilman and Ethan Pinnock among others.

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However, most famously, Jamie Vardy lifted the Premier League title only five years after plying his trade for FC Halifax Town in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, the seventh tier. In 2016, Vardy set up the ‘V9 Academy’ which was a week-long training programme at Manchester City’s state of the art campus for the best players from non-league football. Scouts from the Football League and leagues from other countries watched eagerly to try and find a hidden gem. This was a major success with a handful of players earning themselves professional contracts at clubs in the Football League.

Sam McCallum, who is currently on loan at Championship side QPR from Norwich City, was a product of the V9 Academy after success in non-league. He joined Herne Bay in 2017 after not being favoured at the likes of Charlton Athletic, Gillingham and Chelsea in his younger years.  A move to Coventry City awaited him after impressing at the V9 Academy and in January 2020, he moved to Premier League side Norwich City showing that there is a route from non-league to Premier League.

Many clubs in the higher divisions scout for stars abroad but never delve into the lower leagues of English football. It can be the case that there is a young star in-waiting in these divisions that with development, could shine at the very top.

A trip to your local non-league team on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday evening is special, but to you what is your favourite thing about non-league football?

The Author

Jack Patmore

• Media volunteer at Billericay Town • Featured in The Non-League Paper, Essex Echo, The Real EFL/NL, World Football Index and All At Sea Fanzine

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