Non-League Football for me is the grass roots of a National Sport. It’s that kind of halfway house between a local Village League and the Football League itself.
The other evening I paid my first visit this season to watch Ashford Town FC play Eastbourne. With it being on the same evening as England were playing Belarus and the previous floodlit game was abandoned because there was a power cut five minutes before the start, only some 150 people turned up to watch.
It was a rather damp, windy and cold evening and looking around you saw quite a number of faces who were trying to work out why they had actually left the fireside and Plasma behind to stand there watching two Teams currently at the lower end of the Ryman 1st. Division South, but after an early goal from Ashford (one minute), their hearts seemed to warm to the task in hand and the odd chant of Ashford Towns nickname, ‘nuts and bolts’ rang accross the rather outsized football pich.
It reminded me of my early days when my Grandfather would take me to watch Tonbridge Angels play on a Saturday afternoon. They were in what was then The Southern League and attendances very rarely went below 3,000 and about 75% of them were wearing peak caps !!
Ashford Town itself once had a Stadium in the middle of the Town and looking at a few of the records, it seems they weren’t short of a few thousand fans on some occasions, but like Cricket Clubs and other leisure / entertainment Clubs etc. who were based in towns, the temptation of money from a Building Contractor proved too much thus many of the newer grounds are not easily accessible if you don’t have a Car.
This has the follow on that youngsters don’t go so much unless with their Parents. To cycle to Ashford Town’s Homelands Stadium from the Town Centre would be a good half hour cycle ride along a busy road with no cycle lanes.
Two weeks ago I went to watch Southampton play Gillingham at the St. Mary’s Stadium. Although, mainly through some alleged mis-management, they have gone from the Premiership to League One is just a few years, but still 19,500 fans turned up to watch the Saints win 3 – 1 and slowly pull out of the trouble given to them in the form of a ten point deduction.
Although you have to struggle a bit to admire the football, you do admire the want, the competitiveness and the spirit of those players and fans. They have as much will to win as Manchester United have, they have as much desire and love of the game that Liverpool have. It’s all proportionate.
On a lighter note, the big difference is that with the Football League, you can’t hear some of the things said, just lip read on the TV, at the Homelands, you hear it OK I can assure you !
So I look forward to a few more visits there this season and maybe one to St. Mary’s as well. Football, like Cricket, is a game which starts in the back Garden, the School Playing Fields and depending on skill, Old Trafford !
Interesting Fact – Ashford Town FC could play Ashford Town FC in a FA Cup Final. There are two of them, one in Middlesex and one in Kent! In fact, they often play a pre-season friendly, so no one loses !!