Non-league football is, in some circles seen as a bit of a magnet for anoraks not too far removed from train spotters and real ale enthusiasts.
It has in some respects a well earned reputation for the quirky grounds to managers washing the team kit and a collection of footballing stereotypes from the lumbering centre-back and the hatchet midfielder to the lazy striker and commentators obsessions with non league players day jobs during your teams cup run.
That might be true in some cases, but at its best, non league football is inclusive and community driven with supporters just as passionate about their clubs as their professional counterparts.
Going to a non-league game opens you up to a world of unique footballing experiences no longer available at your average Football League or Premier League match day. Whether that’s standing on a terrace or simply, and more commonly, no flippin’ VAR!
Less of this..
More of this..
1. The die-hards. These guys and girls go home and away week in week out. Trust FiB, it was great fun!
2. One man and his dog
Thankfully, someone is documenting these occurrences for future generations on Instagram.
3. A warm welcome
Of course, thanks to league zoning it’s not like these clubs have a choice. And if our experience is anything to go by the pleasantries will last precisely until kick-off.
See also – no fan segregation. Although we wouldn’t recommend a trip to Corby.
4. Your half time brew is a wonderful target for that wayward striker
Careful where you place your steaming hot cup of tea. Place it on a flat surface within the vicinity of the pitch and you can guarantee you’ll be wearing it.
5. Seating areas situated like Pacific Islands
Thanks to ludicrous ground grading regulations, clubs are forced to include seating for a hundred odd supporters* in order to gain promotion. Particularly galling when your average gate is 60.
*depending on the pyramid level of the club
6. Security.. or the lack of
Hopefully that is a device to retrieve footballs, otherwise.. ouch..
7. Turnstiles that require you to warm up
These proper turnstiles are a welcome feature of non-league grounds up and down the country. You usually have to have completed a 3 week fitness programme in order to push your way through. Alternatively consider where the turnstile came from, it could be famous!
The ancient dark art of standing at a football match is alive and well in non-league football. It’s no ‘yellow wall’ but you just can’t beat the freedom of movement (and lack of forcing 20 spectators to stand up while you shuffle past because you need a piss 33 minutes into the game).
The irony being of course that since this article was first published in 2016, Maidenhead United are in the top tier of the National League and do occasionally employ crowd segregation. But the point stands.
Talking of dark arts. You won’t be thrown out by a burly security guard for supping your pint pitch side. You probably will have to drink from a plastic glass but we can compromise.
Drinking of course isn’t mandatory, but it’s nice to be trusted to behave.
Proper thick cut chips. Proper football food. Usually with a local twist – see faggots available at most midlands clubs.
10. The unique challenges of each ground
“Shall we go up the slope or down first half gaffer”? From slopes to bumps and sand. Grounds will have their own unique set of features. Sadly it seems the infamous ‘Bracknell bobble’ will no longer be frustrating footballers and fans alike when an artificial pitch is installed this summer.
11. Celeb spotting
It’s not unheard of for celebs to be involved with their local club, either off the pitch or in a playing capacity – Gareth Ainsworth to name one. There’s a list of a few famous faces who’ve played against Bracknell Town for example here.
12. Proper sponsors
Sponsors are still required, but in the world of non league football they tend to be in a purer form – less online gambling company, more builders and funeral directors.
13. The grounds
Oh the grounds! Yes they could use some work, things could always be a little bit better, but by crikey that would ruin most of the charm!
Have we convinced you? Find all the forthcoming fixtures on the Football in Berkshire fixtures page updated weekly here.