Volunteers are the lifeblood of Non-League football

Unpaid club volunteers are undoubtedly the beating heart and soul of Non-League football, says Non-League football fan and talkSPORT presenter Tony Incenzo.

Our volunteers give up their spare time to give something back into the game they love. In doing so, they help promote their clubs which play such a big part in local communities.

Amidst this terrible Coronavirus pandemic, it has been astonishing that literally scores of Non-League clubs haven’t gone bust.  Yet despite this, they are surviving simply because the volunteers have stepped up their fundraising activities to keep things afloat at a time when gate receipts, bar takings and sponsorship have taken a huge hit due to the repeated cycles of lockdown.

What I particularly like is that many of these people have given decade after decade of faithful service. In some cases, a lifetime of devotion.

I’ve received many messages on Twitter extolling the virtues of long-established volunteers. Here are some of the teams who have benefitted…

Ramsbottom United FC

Harry Williams founded the club in 1966 and is still going strong as chairman 55 years later. He has performed every single role behind the scenes at what is now called the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium.

Wroxham FC

Alan Royall has just turned 83. He was helping other volunteers take down the tin roof at the side of the clubhouse recently, ready for a new conservatory serving area to be installed.

Northwich Victoria FC

Dave Thomas has been involved with Vics for nearly fifty years as club secretary and general manager.

Thetford Rovers FC

Club secretary Ted Zipfel is now into his 90’s and has served the club for well over 65 years.

Glen & Mary Bowes, Darlington FC

Darlington FC

Glen and Mary Bowes (81 and 79 years old) run the club shop during the week. They also organise the supporters’ bus to away games, sell programmes and half-time draw tickets. It is estimated that they have been involved in raising more than £250,000 for the club in the last 30 years.

Squires Gate FC

Brian Addison has served for more than 60 years as a player, manager, chairman and currently as club president. As a result, their home ground is now called The Brian Addison Stadium.

Edgware Town FC

Honorary life president Ken Batten has been around since the original club was founded in 1939.

Westbury United FC

Phil Alford has had a 55-year association with Westbury, which has seen him play for and manage the team. He continues to volunteer nowadays.

Ingles FC

Bob Simpson is 82 years old and still looks after the ground, marking the pitch out and cleaning the changing rooms each week. He has been an integral part of Ingles since they were founded in 1972.

Darlaston Town 1874 FC

For the past 30 years or so, Gilbert Preece, 78, has filled nearly every role – coach, pay hut operation, pitch maintenance, club secretary plus kit man. Before joining Darlaston, Gilbert was a grassroots referee and officiated more than 1,000 games. His commitment has been recognised with an OBE for services to football within the local area.

Hanwell Town FC

Bob Fisher has been at the club since 1955 as player, secretary, chairman and programme editor.

Westfields FC

Their chief executive officer Andrew Morris started the club in 1966 and is still heavily involved.

Atherton Town FC

Gerald Butler has been involved since 1969, originally as a player and a coach. He now is the groundsman, washes the playing kit and is club secretary. He also has a local charity at the football ground which deals with male mental illness rehabilitation.

Rayners Lane FC

Tony Pratt won the 2020 award for FA Grassroots Volunteer of the Year. His involvement with Rayners Lane stretches back to 1968. He has served them as secretary, running the tea hut, collecting spectators’ entrance fees, sweeping the dressing rooms and ensuring that match officials are looked after as well as working on the playing surface.

Wythenshawe Amateurs FC

John Walker has spent 70 years at the ‘Ammies’. He started out as a 13-year-old player and has since covered every role – player, coach, manager, secretary, chairman, fundraiser etc. He is now club president. A grandstand at their Hollyhedge Park ground was named in his honour last year.

Ossett United FC

Club president Neville Wigglesworth, 75, has been involved in Non-League football for more than 50 years. He spent 29 years as chairman of the original Ossett Albion FC as well as spells as vice-chairman of the Northern Counties East League and on the management board of the Northern Premier League. Also at Ossett United, current board member Stuart Garside, 73, was on the committee of Ossett Albion for 39 years and has covered a number of roles including secretary, treasurer and kit man.

Neville Wigglesworth & Stuart Garside, Ossett Utd

Chipping FC

Club president Wilf Blezard has been an integral part of the club for well over 60 years, first pulling on the jersey to play for Chipping in 1954. He has deservedly received a long-service award from the Lancashire Football Association.

All in all, there are some great people showing unstinting dedication as Non-League football’s true unsung heroes, assisting their local clubs come rain or shine.

On a personal note, I have repeatedly seen these praiseworthy efforts first hand. Before the Covid interruption, I travelled all around the country to watch more than 100 games a season.

Due to the distances involved, I would set off from home very early and often arrived at my intended match two or three hours before kick-off. But the volunteers would already be in place carrying out a plethora of matchday tasks.

In effect, our omnipresent Non-League volunteers have repeatedly stood up to be counted. And during these times of Covid uncertainty, we owe them a huge vote of thanks for their continued loyalty to local football.