Non-League Day: why should you make the effort?
By Bradley King
The face of elite football has been dominated and polluted by supercilious tweeters and swindling divers in recent weeks. And while the Premier League and Football League take a back seat this weekend, you can still watch the likes of Ashley Cole and Gareth Bale in international action, should you wish to. There is an alternative though; albeit a thousand miles away from the World Cup qualifiers.
If only for one weekend, supporters of English league teams up and down the country should take advantage of this lull in proceedings by heading down to their local non-league club to celebrate the annual Non-League Day on Saturday.
Taking place once a year, Non-League Day celebrates the enormous semi-professional and amateur football scene across the country. And while talent may not be up to the standards which most people are used to sampling week in, week out , entertainment and dedication certainly exceeds expectations.
You won't find as many egotistical, sordid individuals within non-league as at the top level - money and the media do not play the kingmakers. Instead, tradition and a sense of belonging play big parts in each club ethos - you can still purchase a pie without taking out another mortgage. This is why so many people prefer to watch non-league football compared with its league equivalent. And entertainment, which often exceeds that of wealthier teams, comes at a fraction of the price.
Most of these clubs are entrenched in their local community too, as vital cogs of social order. They run coaching courses and social events. They are run and administrated entirely by a mixture of volunteers, who work extremely hard behind-the-scenes. They are funded by sponsors, who contribute their cash to ensure clubs at grassroots level can compete.
One such team is Cleethorpes Town Football Club of the Northern Counties East League Division One - the tenth level of the football pyramid. Having been promoted to the league last year, the club is looking to take advantage of their first Non-League Day by maximising the attendance for their game against Hallam FC on Saturday.
David Mann, vice-chairman of Cleethorpes Town, said: "Cleethorpes Town are supporting Non-League Day because we want people to get the opportunity to come down, see local players giving their all and get involved in our community-based club.
"We run totally on sponsors and volunteers and so if we gain one more helper or supporter, the day will be a great success."
Though near neighbours Grimsby Town, who play at the fifth level of the pyramid in the Blue Square Bet Premier, are also playing on Saturday, they find themselves away at AFC Telford United, giving Cleethorpes the chance of a bumper crowd against the world's second oldest football club.
Even if clubs like the Owls add just a few bodies to their usual home crowds, it gives a huge boost to the costs of running a non-league side. And it's not just lining the coffers of the senior side - Cleethorpes Town, for example, have almost 30 teams across junior and female age groups, meaning they provide a valuable service to the local community. Their efforts have seen them awarded with the FA Charter Standard Community Club kitemark - a status now enjoyed by over 4,500 clubs nationwide.
If you care about grassroots football and the effect that the non-league game can have on youngsters, get yourself down to your local non-league club this weekend. Who knows - it might even restore your faith in the beautiful game.
To find a local non-league club to attend for this year's Non-League Day, visit the Non-League Day website.