As the season drew to an end, the curtains closed on my first season in the non-league as a Press Officer for Wingate & Finchley FC in the Ryman Premier League. So I thought I’d take up the opportunity to sit with academy products, and now first team players, Joe Sharpe and Jack Read to discuss life in the non-league.
Q1) What do you think makes non-league football attractive to fans who may have fallen out of love with League football?
Read: The relationship between players and fans. You see in professional football how separated fans are from the players but down in the non-league, we are all the same. Everybody has a day job and we are lucky enough to be playing once or twice a week too. Besides that we are all on a level playing field. It’s nice that we can interact with fans and they don’t see it as someone looking down on them, rather than their idols appearing superior to them. Here, they see their idols as friends and that’s something fans enjoy.
Sharpe: I agree with Jack, fans can have a chat with board members or the chairman and even the manager after the game. That’s something that fans don’t get at a higher level. And of course you’re paying less, albeit for a slightly lesser quality of football, but there is a romance attached to it like the 70’s were for everyday fans with terracing, alcohol in view of the pitch and close interaction.
Q2) What’s the relationship like with players and fans at Wingate & Finchley?
Sharpe: There’s always banter between fans and players before and after games, they know who we are and we know them. We can have a drink with them in the bar afterwards and the family feel around the club makes this even more possible, more than at most non-league clubs.
Read: We know the fans on a personal level and they’re definitely not strangers. We can talk to fans about genuine affairs, football and they’re the ones who follow us across the country on Saturday afternoons and Tuesday nights, so it’s good to know them as people and for them to know us in the same way – its fantastic!
Q3) How good would it be for you to, one day, play a big team in an F.A Cup tie?
Read: That’s the dream for non-league teams and players. The occasional club gets to the first and second rounds but getting to the third round gives you the chance to play versus your heroes.
Sharpe: The magic of the Cup isn’t dead here, the money stream for many clubs in non-league is based on the F.A Cup. The F.A Cup can propel your season and for St Albans last season, it helped them get to the Conference South. It’d be a dream come true to play versus your idols, it’s what you dream of when you play in the garden or the park as a kid.
Read: We’d just end up chasing the ball for 90 minutes!
Sharpe: And then get a signed shirt at the end!
The non-league is a special place for football, even with the influx of money into the top tier of football. You just have to look at players who have made the jump from non-league to the Premier League and found some level of success; Les Ferdinand, Stuart Pearce, Vinnie Jones, Stan Collymore, Kevin Phillips, Charlie Austin, Alan Pardew and Jamie Vardy – just to name a few. This shows just how important non-league remains to football but also to football fans. For some, £64 for Arsenal away is too much and some may not want to pay £55 to watch Hull. But at prices as low as £10, fans can be sure of an enjoyable day, a community feel and a good level of football on top of that all.
I’d like to take this opportunity to those who have supported me across my first season at Wingate & Finchley; from the Chairman, the Manager, the Head of Press, the Secretaries and even the players, who I’ve now formed a friendship with. The club is heading in the right direction in a new era and we could not be in better hands. If you’d told me a year ago today that I’d have a second club that I’d follow around and fall in love with, I’d have laughed. But each day that goes by without me walking through the gates of the Harry Abrahams Stadium and into my seat in the Press Box is a day too long. I can’t wait to be back watching the club and let’s hope we can push on from a successful 2014/15 season, Come On You Blues!