Why you should be proud to be a Non-League fan

Non-league football fan and talkSPORT presenter Tony Incenzo explains why you should support your local club.

I firmly believe that football fans around the country should always be proud to support their local clubs.

My viewpoint on this dates right back to when I was a kid and I used to watch Hendon FC play in the Isthmian League.

They were based just five minutes from our house and it was always a safe and friendly environment. I spent many happy Saturday afternoons at the lovely old Claremont Road ground.

But when I went in to school on the Monday morning, I used to be teased unmercifully by my classmates.

“Why do you watch that rubbish?”

“Can they even kick the ball properly?”

“They aren’t as good as Man United!”

“Your ground is like a shoe box!”

“Why don’t you support a proper team?”

I used to laugh it all off as my young peers simply didn’t understand the unique camaraderie of Non-League football. Personally, I was really happy to be part of the Hendon ‘Green Army’.

In fact, I remember the huge sense of excitement when we famously held mighty Newcastle United to a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup Third Round. All of a sudden, lots of my school friends were sitting up and taking an interest in Hendon Football Club!

I was therefore able to answer all their questions with great enthusiasm. I even managed to persuade a couple of lads to become Hendon fans and go to home matches with me!

However, the long-standing ridicule of Non-League supporters has intensified to an unbearable level in today’s modern era with the explosion of social media. There is now a platform where the new generation of Premier League fans think that what they call “banter” is the acceptable norm. And they simply cannot understand why anyone would want to support their local team.

Part of the community

But when I watch Non-League football, there is so much that we can all take pride in. Most clubs serve their surrounding communities by running youth, women’s and disability teams.

There are also clubs that have full-time academies based at their grounds. These initiatives combine daytime classroom education with football training. They embrace students aged from 16 up to 18 years old in association with local colleges. So there is a pathway towards becoming a footballer whilst also studying for academic qualifications.

Helping local clubs’ offer many of these facilities is one reason why the Buildbase Transfer Deal – as part of its sponsorship of the Buildbase FA Vase and Trophy competitions – has been welcomed by grassroots football.

Support during Covid-19

On top of all this, Non-League clubs have been extremely busy helping local vulnerable people during the Coronavirus lockdown.

The nicest example of this is at Cleethorpes Town FC – a previous winner of the Buildbase Club Renovation Programme.

One of the club’s junior players called James Burnett, who is only 11 years old, has set up a community group known as ‘Covid Angels – Grimsby and Cleethorpes’.

James’ father Paul contacted me on Twitter. Members of the group have been offering to get shopping and run errands for those who cannot leave their homes. They have already assisted more than 4,000 local residents.

James started out by pushing leaflets through his neighbours’ doors. He just wanted to make the day-to-day existence of others as bearable as possible during these tough times.

This quickly caught on and dad Paul set up the Facebook group for other volunteers to become involved. In just a matter of days, they attracted more than 7,000 members.

James has even taken sandwiches to hospital for NHS staff and left flowers at their homes. So it is absolutely fantastic that a young footballer is taking time out to assist those in need.

Local help for those in need 

Elsewhere, there are plenty more instances of the Non-League fraternity stepping up to provide assistance in this terrible pandemic.

Stockport County FC have a Food for Christmas campaign in operation to provide meals for children in Stockport. More than £152,000 has been raised so far via a JustGiving page.

Kingstonian FC are in regular contact with their supporters, focusing on those who live alone and have no internet access or family network. The Kingstonian Supporters Club have paid for these people to log in to specially arranged Zoom conferences with the club players and management plus other online events.

Meanwhile, Clapton Community FC members have raised more than £10,000 for fellow members who require financial support. CCFC also donate unbranded face masks to local groups by using the full profits from sales of their own club branded face masks.

Revived support for Non-League football

All of this altruistic activity at Non-League level is definitely having a positive effect. Indeed, some fans of Premier League and Football League clubs are sitting up and taking notice due to the fact that they are currently locked out of their own clubs’ fixtures because of Covid restrictions.

It is a fact that these football-starved individuals have started going to games this season at levels of the Non-League Pyramid they may not have previously considered. And they have been able to appreciate their newfound Non-League experience at affordable prices.

For example, the admission fee for matches in Step 5 and Step 6 leagues – which are Buildbase FA Vase level – is normally just £5 or £6. A drink and a snack might only set you back another couple of quid.

Compare this to the fact that pre-lockdown tickets for some Premier League fixtures were in excess of £90 per game. Then add on the expense of travel, parking, food, drinks, programmes etc. In effect, the overall day out could have cost a supporter maybe £150 for just one match.

Purse strings are so much tighter now due to the chilling economic impact of Covid-19. So it might be a long time before those suffering unprecedented financial hardship feel comfortable shelling out Premier League prices again.

Thankfully, our new Non-League spectators have been relishing the quality of entertainment and the facilities that they are discovering for the first time. Hopefully they will like the adventure so much that they decide to stay with us.

In conclusion, I have a clear message to all Non-League football supporters…

Ignore the silly mockery from others and be proud of your local football club who serve your community so well.

Read more from Tony and his passion for Non-League football in our Groundhopper Diary

Click here to be in the know on how we’re supporting non-league football, or follow @BuildbaseUK on Twitter for the latest news and competitions. 

Tony Incenzo is a reporter for talkSPORT Radio and Sky TV. You can follow Tony on Twitter at @TonyIncenzo