OPINION

‘I’ve got Tom Nugent’s autograph’ – the little touches that mean more than Twitter noise

Supporters are flocking to non-league football with crowds up across the country. How though do you keep them coming back?
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Lesley-Sackey poses for a picture ahead of Berks County's FA Vase tie with Egham Town. Photo: Sally Harris.
Lesley-Sackey poses for a picture ahead of Berks County's FA Vase tie with Egham Town. Photo: Sally Harris.

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In the early-2010s my nephew Blake came up from Portsmouth to watch a few Bracknell Town games.

After one match in particular he was keenly grabbing players signatures in his matchday programme when suddenly you heard him yell with delight ‘I’ve got Tom Nugent’s autograph’.

Now Blake would have been under 10 at this point and is now a regular home and away with Pompey, and I’m sure Tom won’t mind me saying that that kind of reaction to him wasn’t normal.

No doubt Tom had probably scored and put on a particularly powerful display in either defence, midfield or as a lone striker (definitely at least once away to Maidenhead United Reserves), but kids searching out his autograph wasn’t a regular occurrence.

Tom Nugent climbs highest to head home for Bracknell TownPhoto: Robert Mack/Shooting Stars.
Tom Nugent climbs highest to head home for Bracknell TownPhoto: Robert Mack/Shooting Stars.

He had way more impact than someone on Twitter posting SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CLUB ‘likebait’ every other day.

I’ve found myself thinking about that moment a lot in recent weeks and how those little touches can make such an impact.

“Give them a tap on the head and say hello”

The recent podcast we did (available to listen to at the bottom of the article) with Ellis Woods and the impact the FA Vase run has had on Berks County – a club only just over 10 years old and still figuring out what it means to be in semi-pro football – how that run has brought the club together.

Ellis said ahead of the Swords Third Round tie with Egham Town at home: “Enjoy the occasion, I said to the boys on Sunday make the occasion for the kids. When you see a kid give them a tap on the head and say hello, make it about them and then as soon as you cross that white line you can play the game we’re here to play.”

Look at the reaction of the kid to receiving Mason Mount’s shirt at the Euros in the summer, to the kid who Son Heung-Min waved at while warming up recently.

When I was a kid myself and my dad was taking me and my brother to Bracknell games, they had a big centre back called Peter Skerritt. He was brilliant and at full time of every game he’d come and say hello on his way off the pitch.

I’ve no idea why he did that, but we went every week and every time he played he’d do the same thing.

I think sometimes, as people involved in clubs or with a vested interest in the game, we’re worrying – not unreasonably – about running the club, having enough volunteers, how do we get more people in? You know, the big stuff, and perhaps there is some value to tweeting SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CLUB, but there’s some really little things, little moments that, with a bit of encouragement could engage fans for life and mean they actually would support their local club.

Listen to the Berkshire Football Stories podcast: Berks County & Wallingford Town in the FA Vase

Related: Non-league football is enjoying a surprising post-lockdown renaissance (Football365)

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