Venturing into Non-League Football

I swapped the glitzy stars of the Premier League for the West Country derby between Weston-super-Mare and Bath, who play in non-league football’s second tier – the National League South.

It’s not the highly paid Premier League footballers that should be considered the greatest asset to the beautiful game in England, but instead the hardworking part-time or amateur players who slug it out in the realms of non-league.

For these are players who play for their love of the game, not the extortionate pay cheque that they’ll pick up at the end of the week.

And these are the players who are looking to make a name for themselves, or are looking to carry on playing when they’re past their peak at whatever level they can just to get their fix of football on a Saturday afternoon.

And these are also the clubs who need the support of their local community to stay alive, because there’s no television sponsorship deal to pick up for people who don’t want to pay a couple of quid to watch a very decent standard of football – or don’t even know it exists.

So when there’s a Bank Holiday Monday where no Premier League or Football League fixtures are taking place, it’s important that non-league football takes full advantage – and what better way to do this than via a feisty West Country Derby.

Table-toppers Bath City of the newly named Vanarama National League South – formally known as the Conference South – travelled to bottom side Weston-super-Mare in a game between two teams who couldn’t have had more polarised starts to the season.

Such is the graft and hard work of non-league football that this would be both Weston and Bath’s seventh game within the space of August alone, and their second match in less than 48 hours.

Before the game I spoke to Bath manager Lee Howells, who acknowledged that such a short space of time between the two games meant that the players didn’t have long to recover.

Howells also discussed how different the financial side of the game is for non-league teams compared to their considerably richer Premier League counterparts.

He said: “Non-league football needs more money invested into it – if Premier League teams gave even just 5% of their earnings to non-league and grassroots football it would make a huge difference”.

And it really would make a massive difference – especially to a Bath team who are in the midst of a fan-lead attempt to ‘back the bid’ and buy the club.

This all, rather ironically, comes at the same time as Premier League teams have just spent tens of millions of pounds in the transfer market, and the fans of Bath need to raise just £750,000 to turn it into a community-owned club.

But even with all of the uncertainty surrounding the club off the pitch, the team are performing incredibly well on it, and they were just six minutes from making it seven wins in a row – had it not been for a well-deserved equaliser late on from winless Weston.

Bath took the lead just before half-time thanks to Ashley Kington’s deflected effort in a first half that was short on goals but not short on some excellent attacking football from both sides.

But, after a tense second half that resorted to Bath desperately trying to hang on to the three points, it was Ollie Barnes who ended Bath’s perfect start to the season in the 84th minute to grab a point for Ryan Northmore’s Weston.

It was a fair result in the end after Weston defied their poor early-season form to demonstrate some brilliant passing football against a tired looking Bath side who still remain top of the Vanarama National League South.

The attendance of around 720, for which the majority of it must have been Bath fans, was an excellent turn-out and will have given Weston a much-needed financial boost ahead of the remainder of the season.

So if you haven’t ever been to a non-league game before, it’s a cheap day out that involves fans swapping ends at the half time break, a clear view of the pitch when you’re lining up to get a burger, and linesmen responding to abuse about a decision with “I was going to give it actually”. Seriously!

And with this weekend being an international one, why not pop down to your local club and give it a try? You never know, you might enjoy it.