By James Reid
Non-league football is one of the things that makes British football great. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying it’s one of the UK’s greatest institutions.
Every week across the country, hundreds if not over a thousand football matches are played in front of menial crowds for the love of the game. The games are put on by volunteers who paint the lines, man the turnstiles and pour the pints.
It’s a world away from the riches of the Premier League, no one is in it for the money. In fact, there’s little money to be had.
But that’s not why these clubs exist. They exist because they represent communities and because people simply love to play football. Many non-league clubs are hubs of their local towns and villages and are as much a social gathering as they are a sporting fixture.
Yet many of these clubs feared for their future under original government guidelines around public gatherings. No spectators were to be allowed at any football matches and this appeared unlikely to change before 1st October at the very earliest.
This left many non-league clubs staring down the barrel fearing for their very existence. Droylsden FC have already announced that they won’t be competing in the 2020/21 season in order to secure the long-term future of the club. Even with changes to government advice, they are unlikely to be the only ones.
This was until the government clarified its guidance surrounding public gatherings on 18th August. They now allow fans to watch matches below the National League North and South.
Fans and clubs had been calling for the government to change the advice under the Twitter hashtag #LetFansIn. They argued that social distancing can easily be maintained at non-league matches where social distancing was likely occurring long before Covid-19 was on anyone’s radar.
There had also been a focus on some of the seemingly contradictory elements of the previous government guidance. As the country slowly reopened again after lockdown, pubs became one of the first things to open back up. This meant that fans could sit in the club bar and have a pint but were banned from stepping outside and watching any football.
Some fans had also been critical of the decision to begin trials of sporting events with fans at the recent Snooker World Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield, an event held inside, when advice also recommends holding events outside because transmission risks are reduced.
It goes without saying that everyone’s health should come first. Further, non-league football is not the only industry to struggle because of the pandemic. However, allowing fans into non-league matches while maintaining social distancing is easily achievable. The recent clarification offers a lifeline to non-league football.
In a football climate that is increasingly focused on the riches and bright lights of the Premier League, many might not be that bothered about non-league football. Many may not even notice if it were to disappear. Yet to many others, it is at the heart of so many communities. Non-league is the true heart and soul of British football.
Even then, the likes of Jamie Vardy have shown that the Premier League is not as far removed from its poorer relatives than it might like to think. Without non-league football, British football would be a much poorer place.
Many of us will have undoubtedly been missing the ability to go and watch live football, albeit perhaps at a higher level. So, now that you can, go and support your local team. They need you now more than ever.
Image: Wikimedia Commons