The English football pyramid is special and what makes it so special isn’t what sits atop the pyramid, but it’s what makes its foundations. Non-league and grassroots football differs from what you see on the television – and it’s beautiful.
Away from the bright lights of the Premier League, you will find the honest dedication and loyalty synonymous with non-league football. Instead of directors boxes and gourmet food, you will find clubhouses and burger vans run by volunteers of 40-plus years.
Non-league football clubs are woven into the fabric of the local community, with residents all connected in some way to the club. Without them, the town would be a much poorer place and hundreds of children would have nowhere to play their football, with grassroots clubs often running numerous junior teams.
The fans that you will find attending a non-league game are often involved in the club as a volunteer, giving up their spare time to keep the club running. There may not be many, but they are far more invested in the club than 99% of fans that watch a game at any of the country’s elite stadiums.
A Non-League Football Club on Every Doorstep
Unless you are involved in your local football scene, you may not realise just how close you may be to a non-league club. The chances are that you are no more than a couple of miles away from one, and they would be more than welcoming, should you give them a chance.
If you are not already involved with a non-league club, you will find no problem becoming involved with one. Clubs are always keen for people to volunteer their time, regardless of how much or little that may be, and it is one of the most rewarding things you can hope to do. You could choose to become a coach, obtaining a UEFA C Licence, sell tickets on the turnstiles or work behind the bar.
Some clubs harbour dreams of reaching the promised land, others would simply settle for being able to pull a team together at the weekend. It sounds cliché, but when you become involved with a non-league football club in any way, you do become a part of a family.
Your local club will look after you. You will be on a first-name basis with the chairman, the players will stick around for a pint in the bar after the final whistle and the manager may well get the first round in. It is highly likely that what may start as a trip to feed your curiosity will turn into an obsession as you make friends that will last a lifetime.
Everyone has a dream and it is no different when it comes to non-league football. While they may be builders and postmen in the week, on Saturday afternoon they are footballers, and that is especially true when it comes to the FA Cup.
Some fans may foolishly believe that the world’s oldest cup competition begins with the first round in November, but that would be incorrect. In fact, the FA Cup begins with the extra preliminary round (the first of six qualifying rounds) in early August. In the 2021/22 season, 637 non-league clubs entered the FA Cup in the qualifying rounds (at varying stages, dependent on the step in the non-league pyramid) – for these clubs, reaching the first round is their Wembley.
This season, the lowest-ranked team to reach the first round of the FA Cup was AFC Sudbury, who play in the Isthmian League North Division, the eighth-tier of English football. Unfortunately, their journey came to an end with a 4-0 defeat at home to Colchester United of League Two, sharing the pitch with full-time players. Having entered at the preliminary round stage, AFC Sudbury had to come through five of the six qualifying rounds to reach the first round proper.
Every year, similar stories are made and that is part of what gives every non-league club hope that they, too, can dare to dream. As well as the dream of reaching the first round (and the third round, when the 44 Premier League and Championship sides enter), the other lure is the prospect of the prize money on offer that, for non-league clubs, is so often the difference between surviving and not.
Many of the players that turn out for a non-league club were once on the books at professional clubs, being released at a tender age, and harbour ambitions of working their way back up the pyramid. Others have never been anywhere near playing for any of the country’s elite clubs, but that doesn’t dampen their dreams of replicating the story of Jamie Vardy, who went from playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels (following his release from Sheffield Wednesday aged 16) to lifting the Premier League trophy with Leicester City.
Vardy is far from the only non-league success story, with other players making the jump including Southampton’s Che Adams (formerly Oadby Town), Roma’s Chris Smalling (formerly Maidstone United) and West Ham United’s Jarrod Bowen (formerly Hereford United). Like the annual FA Cup romance story, these players show that it is possible to defy the odds and make it at the top of the sport even when turning out in front of a handful of fans in between clocking in and out of the day job.
Players that have come from non-league football rarely forget where they came from, such as the bond that is formed. Often, players are found in the stands of their former clubs when they don’t have a game, giving back to the club that gave them the opportunity to play.
That means when you go to watch your local non-league football club, you may well be watching a young player that will be turning out in the Premier League in the future. There is a reason why big clubs keep a close eye on the progress of players at non-league clubs in their area, with those clubs regarding it as a badge of honour for them and their coaches when a player is offered an opportunity.
Love and Passion
The love and passion for the game are second to none, with all those involved in non-league football there not to feed over-inflated egos, but for football. Whether that is the grassroots youth coach pulling a team together on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the volunteer behind the bar ensuring all visitors are well looked after, the chairman doing everything they can to keep the club ticking over or the players representing with the badge on their chest, everyone’s contribution deserves recognition. It is that mentality that makes non-league football so special.
Here at Fen Regis Trophies, we are proud to supply many non-league football clubs, as well as the leagues themselves, with awards and trophies. Every time we supply trophies to a grassroots club, we are always excited to hear about who is being recognised, making sure that we provide an award befitting the achievement. Whenever we work with anyone involved in non-league football, the passion and dedication are unmistakable.
For more information on our range of awards and trophies, please get in contact with a member of our team today.