After the moderate success of last year, Non-League Day is back for its second incarnation and it promises to capture the imagination of plenty of communities.
The concept is beautifully simple – England play on Friday night, the top two domestic tiers have an international break this weekend, so fans are encouraged to go and support their most local clubs to fill the void that has opened up on Saturday 3pm. Non-league fans are always more than happy to accommodate new fans to secure a supporter base for the future, and many are desperate for the financial windfall that it will generate as survival can be a constant battle for many clubs.
When I suggest that Non-League Day only enjoyed ‘moderate’ success on its launch last year, it is in no way a criticism of those that did make the effort. Quite conversely, the lack of dynamism shown by a number of leagues, media outlets, and non-league and professional clubs alike in climbing aboard the bandwagon has been quite striking.
Battling against this kind of inertia can be difficult. For Non-League Day, not getting involved isn’t a passive stance – as the event relies on word-of-mouth for its promotion, to opt against any participation can hamper its progression and potential.
Last year, in its fledgling state, there was inevitably scepticism about the day – this year however Non-League Day has teamed up with Macmillan Cancer Support and gained patronage with a number of organisations and individuals. The Guardian’s ‘Football Weekly’ podcast gave it a brief mention, while TwoFootedTackle ran a grassroots-special podcast and interviewed Non-League Day’s founder James Doe, who also featured on several local BBC radio stations this morning.
Non-League Day’s Twitter account is running itself into the ground with news on what clubs have planned – many clubs are offering discounted tickets to season-ticket holders of professional clubs, turning the day into a community event, or holding fundraisers – either for their own benefit or charities that they have an affiliation with.
In South Yorkshire however, there has been virtually no coverage or promotion whatsoever, despite the historical important that Sheffield and the surrounding area has at its disposal as its bargaining chip. So: I have knocked together a brief overview on what there is to look forward to.
Firstly, there are no professional games to look forward to. As Championship clubs, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers – who, I guess therefore, are South Yorkshire’s ‘big two’ – have the weekend off. Rotherham are away at Swindon, Sheffield Wednesday don’t play until Monday and Sheffield United are playing Bury at Bramall Lane – and, you don’t need an excuse to miss that, surely…
Unfortunately, none of the three big non-league clubs in the area have home fixtures. Hallam FC’s exit from the FA Cup in the extra-preliminary round means they don’t have a game, while Stocksbridge Park Steels have an away trip to Hednesford Town in the Evo-Stik Premier.
Sheffield FC are also away – though their fixture may be one of the more intriguing ones, as they face Garforth Town in the FA Cup preliminary round. The draw of knock-out football is great in its own right, but it is made all the more enthralling by the stature of the two clubs. Sheffield FC has no shortage of history as the world’s oldest football club, while home side Garforth are owned by Simon Clifford who used his links with Brazilian football to get Socrates and Careca turn out for them.
However there are two FA Cup games within the South Yorkshire borders. Armthorpe Welfare host Brigg Town, with the prize being the chance to entertain Stocksbridge in the first round qualifying. Hall Road Rangers are visitors at Parkgate, where Whitby await the winners in the next round.
In the Baris Northern Counties East League, Maltby Town will face Winterton Rangers in the Premier Division, and Division One will see Askern Villa and Dinnington Town will be hosting Rossington Main and Yorkshire Amateur respectively. A step below, South Yorkshire has no shortage of representatives in the Black Dragon North sector of the Central Midlands Football League.
The Doncaster & District Senior League has a full docket in their two divisions, while the three tiers of the Sheffield County Senior League kick off for the first time this season. This summer, the Premier Division of the County Senior League was elevated to Step 7 of the National League System for the very first time – a prestigious and lucrative reward for consistent standards, and puts the league onto the non-league radar.
There are unlikely to be too many step-overs or backheels at this level, but what the leagues lack in flair they can more than compensate for in passion and drama, and at a fraction of the cost of the professional game. Plus there are plenty of hidden gems at this level – DJ Campbell, Chris Smalling and Jermaine Beckford all rose through the non-league ranks and there are surely plenty of diamonds in the rough still waiting to be discovered.
And even if you can’t attend, at least spread the word and support the day by promoting a cause that could make such a difference to so many community-based clubs.