A Non-League Journey: Modest Beginnings

August 2, 2012 in Features, Non-League

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This is a new weekly post on Ballsy Banter where I will delve into the world of non-league football. ‘Why would a Fulham fan write about non-league football?’, I hear you ask. Well, my first football match ever was Dagenham and Redbridge vs Billericay in the Ryman League, and there is something very raw about non-league football, very ‘fight or flight’. The battle to get to the promised land is always special and exciting, and the simple fact that non-league goes down to almost infinite leagues makes it a feast for any football fan. So, let’s go somewhere beyond the leagues, into the world of Non-League football.

Over the next two weeks, I will be previewing the upcoming non-league season, and then after, I will be profiling different teams from across the UK, telling you how they have been getting on in their respective leagues. I will also be picking a team from each level of Non-League football and adopting them as my own team - going along with them on their non-league journey. But enough explanation, let’s talk football…

While the world eagerly anticipates the start of the Premier League season, where the world’s finest players will do battle in some of the finest stadia on the planet in a few weeks time, players will be waking up this Saturday, jumping into their own car and starting their own life in non-league football.

I’m not talking about The Blue Square Premier, or even North or South. That’s too decadent and high-profile. We are talking the ninth, tenth, eleventh tier of lower league football - proper grass roots stuff. The land of £4 entry, greasy burgers from a van, and tinkers, tailors and candlestick makers taking to the field. The North-West Counties Football League Premier Division has two familar names at the top (albeit alphabetically) but with two very different stories.

A.F.C Liverpool was formed in 2008 by a group of Liverpool fans who were disillusioned with rising ticket prices at Anfield. It seems that any group of annoyed supporters form a splinter club if the price of tea rises by more than 50p, thinking they could become another FC United of Manchester. They’ve been quite successful; winning two trophies in their first two seasons in non-league football before finally gaining promotion in 2011. Last season, they went sixteen games without a win, before having a storming end to the season and avoiding relegation. Manager Paul Moore will be looking for more from his side and maybe aiming for a top-half finish this time around.

A.F.C Blackpool isn’t a splinter incensed by the departure of Ian Holloway - it’s actually the other club on the coast. They have the same bright Orange colours as the other team in the city, and will be looking to build on their 9th place finish from last season. Formally Blackpool Mechanics, they merged with Squires Gate Junior FC to become A.F.C Blackpool. ‘The Mechs’, as they’re affectionately known, are also well known for the ‘angry seagull on their crest’, and maybe if they could channel some of that mascot’s aggression onto the pitch, they could be a dark horse for promotion this coming season.

Some of the favourites for the coming season are Runcorn Town, who finished four points behind the league champions Ramsbottom United - who only two seasons ago were playing provinical football in the west Chester area. They will be looking to their all-time leading goalscorer James McShane to lead the line for them in the same lethal way he has in the last two seasons, scoring 43 and 32 goals respectively. St Helens Town and Stone Dominoes (best football team name ever) will be trying to avoid the drop once again this season.

If we could cast our eyes across to the Eastern Counties Premier Division (or the Thurlow Nunn League, as it’s known for this season), which is the league for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Godmanchester Rovers, who were promoted from the First Division last season - have been bolstering their squad for their crack at the top flight by signing a whole host of strikers, such as former Cambridge United player Dan Chillingworth, St Ives striker Scott Fielding and 19-year old hotshot Adam Mackey, who bagged 41 goals in 24 games for his now former club Hemingfords United. They have also signed defender Tom Evans from Somersham Town, and will be looking to do the double and go further up the Non-League ladder.

Ely United will be looking at going one better than last season, after being pipped to promotion by Wroxham, as will Brantham Athletic and Wisbech Town, who also came close to sealing promotion.  At the other end of the table, Wivenhoe Town and Felixstowe and Walton United will be looking to not be close to the drop zone like they were last season - but Wivenhoe will have to do this without two-time Supporters player of the year TJ Amass, as he has left for Heybridge Swifts.

You can really go anywhere and see a decent non-league game this weekend, maybe pop down to see AFC Croydon Athletic vs Westfield in the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League Division One, or go down to my area of Essex to see the rather scenic clash between Basildon Town and Clapton in the Essex Senior League. So, if you fancy a break from the norm or simply can’t wait two weeks to see live football - have a look at this weekend’s fixture list here, and go and delve into the world of Non-League football.