When you think of Football what do you think of? I guarantee one of the first 5 words you think of is money. But believe me you would be right to think of the word money in this modern era of football, ridiculous transfer fees, sky high ticket prices and over payed players are all the norm in a industry that has now become big business.
But it hasn’t always been like that, there where days where players where payed only a fraction of what they earn now, a time where Terraces ran supreme giving birth to the largest subculture in England, when a stadium actually was rocking with that strange blend of excitement, and anticipation and most importantly when fans where placed at the forefront of this amazing sport. In recent years with the new TV deals the fans have almost been pushed away to one side and that community feel has almost vanished.
One of my closest friends Chris has been a avid Arsenal supporter for years, but some time last year announced that he would know be supporting his local side instead dropping down into the depths of the football pyramid. But he is not alone with many ditching Premier League action in favour of Non-League extravaganza, but why? Saturday the 7th of October was Non League day so in a cold Saturday night I decided to sit down with Chris and find out why he ditched Arsenal for AFC Hayes.
When you think Non-League football it is easy to think of overweight players playing on a slightly slanted pitch in the freezing cold, and deep down so do I but there are in fact a plethora of abilities in the lower leagues of the football pyramid. But don’t think there is not quality there with Jamie Vardy, Charlie Austin and Chris Smalling all having stints in Non-League football with Jamie Vardy even working as a Splint maker at a Medicine company to support his Football!
(Jamie Vardy plyed his trade in Non-League before joining Leicester City, here is his with then Non-League side Fleetwood Town)
Youth players released by their clubs, ex-professionals, semi-professionals all ply their trade in the lower divisions, and not for the money or the fame but simply because they love it. The feeling is seeming to be mutual too with some games even recorded having 4 figure crowds for a 7th tier football match , this shows clearly how well loved the game is for fans trying to get their fix of live football without the crazy ticket prices of the Premier League.
So I decided to sit down with my friend Chris to explain why he ditched the thrills and spills of the Premier League for Non-League action.
Chris thanks for sitting down to talk with me, so from the Emirates to Farm Park. Why did you want to stop watching the Premier League and prefer to look at Non-League action instead?
No problem, it is not I stopped watching the Premier League if a good match is on TV or the Radio I will sit down to watch it. I still love watching the Manchester Derby. But in honestly I got sick and tired of the Arsenal board putting the finances before the fans, it shouldn’t be this way! You know me I love Arsenal but even the atmosphere feels different, the best atmosphere at the Emirates will never beat a good Atmosphere at Highbury that I experienced as a small child. In the end I got sick of it and after finishing 2nd somehow I felt it was the right time to leave. I then found AFC Hayes and started it off from there really.
What do you think is different from the Top Flight Football in England and Non-league?
To be honest we will never have these massive 70,000 seater stadiums or have the highest quality football but there is a real sense of community at Non-League. Most grounds are unsegregated so it is always great to talk to away fans even if you are losing, you go down the pub after the match and you can talk to the manager or the board about football, work and just general life. You don’t have that anymore in the Premier League! You won’t find Wegner down your local having a pint. Also you get to know the players here, you can actually form a bond with them as you talk to them when you see them around and are just generally nice guys.
Any good players at AFC Hayes?
I mean he is now Santi Cazorla but I like Harry Carter because he tries and tries, he doesn’t give up and will keep going until he is knackered. I think he has even popped up with 2 goals so far, but yeah we are never going to attract the best players but we do try our best.
Any message you want to send to the Arsenal board?
Football is nothing without fans, I am paying £5 to get into most games rather than the £80 I would at the Emirates. Even a away day at the Emirates is like £40, I am a firm supporter of the £20 is plenty campaign and really the money has gone crazy hasn’t it?
It really has, but the real question is will you return to supporting Arsenal one day?
We will see but at the moment with the high ticket prices and almost toxic atmosphere at the ground I won’t be watching them for the foreseeable future, but stranger things have happened in Football.
Chris, thanks for your time.
(AFC Hayes in action at Farm Park)
So it is clear that Non-league action provides all the thrills and spills of the Premier League while still having that community feel that has been lost from the so-called “Beautiful Game.”
How do the FA address this? By limiting ticket prices and players transfers, no player has any value anymore. To stop a mass exodus of fans to non-league it is important to make sure that the game is always accessible to everyday people, the working class! By increasing these prices so high you isolate a portion of football fans, by lowering the prices you not only get the working class back in but hopefully their energy will inject some life back into stadiums like the Emirates. Because without fans at the end of the day it would just be a empty stadium.