Non-league football has its annual day in the sun this Saturday when football fans across the country are urged to support their real, local team.
With England engaged in a meaningless European Championships qualifier and both the Barclays Premier League and the Sky Bet Championship taking a break, the grassroots game steps into the spotlight.
Now in its sixth consecutive year, Non-League Day has grown from a small Internet movement into one of the most anticipated days in the football calendar. And 40,000 semi-professional and amateur clubs across the country, including within the Hucknall and Bulwell area, will welcome with open arms the extra attention and publicity the day promises to bring.
Some will aim to attract new fans with discounted admission and shrewd promotional initiatives, while others will show what an important role truly local football clubs play within their communities. What better example of that than a legends match to be staged by Bulwell FC later this month to raise money in memory of 24-year-old Ethan McKen, one of their players who tragically drowned while on holiday in Bulgaria?
Non-League Day was initially set up in 2010 by QPR fan James Doe as a social media experiment after he had been inspired by a pre-season trip to Devon to watch Rangers play at Tavistock.
It is now backed by dozens of professional clubs, MPs, celebrities, media organisations, charities and, most importantly, by non-league clubs themselves, such as Hucknall Town, Bulwell, Linby Colliery Welfare and Hucknall Rolls Leisure.
Bulwell and Hucknall Town are even going head to head against England by serving up a local derby blockbuster in the Central Midlands League’s South Division on Friday night. No matter that Roy Hodgson’s men kick off at exactly the same time against Estonia. A big and boisterous crowd is expected to turn up at Bulwell’s Greenwich Avenue ground in Basford.
Always scheduled to coincide with an international break in the fixture-list, Non-League Day provides a platform to push the importance of a brand of football that is affordable and largely run by tireless volunteers.
The level of skill will never compare to that seen at Old Trafford or the Emirates Stadium. But the experiences fans gain at small, often obscure, grounds cannot be matched. For example, you can often stand or sit anywhere in the ground, while after the game, you can rub shoulders with the players in the clubhouse. One of the day’s ambassadors, Nina Gerstenberger, goes so far as to say: “Non-league clubs provide the foundation of a nation’s football culture”.
This year’s Non-League Day poignantly coincides with a campaign against rising ticket prices at professional games. If you pop along to the Central Midlands League matches involving Linby and Hucknall Rolls this Saturday, you won’t even need a ticket. Just hand over a handful of coins at the turnstiles and treat yourself to an afternoon of entertainment, raw and true.
At Church Lane, Linby, for instance, their match against Southwell City will set you back a mere £3 (and only £1.50 for concessions). Compare that to the £30 some Nottingham Forest fans were asked to cough up for their match against Hull City at the City Ground last Saturday.