Non-League Day explained with the help of Non-League Novice
When I started out my blog I knew very little about Non League football. One thing I did know was that every year during an international break, fans are encouraged to visit their local teams as part of ‘Non League Day’ writes NLD writer Simon Cook
I therefore chatted to James Doe (founder of Non League Day) to find out more about how this event came to be the annual fixture in the football calendar.
How did Non-League Day start?
Back in 2010 I made a trip down to Devon to watch QPR in a pre-season friendly at Tavistock. It was obvious how important the match was for the hosts with adverts all over town and the hospitality we received was fantastic. The finances generated by the hundreds of extra visitors probably set them up for the season.
Soon after, I made a trip back to Harrow Borough, the club I had followed as a teenager, and they were raising funds for new floodlight bulbs. I was particularly struck by this, thinking that such a cost would be covered as a matter of routine. At that moment I realised that there must have been lots of other clubs in a similar position, given the poor financial climate that everyone was experiencing at the time, and that something should be done.
Noticing an international break was coming up early in the new season I formulated the idea of trying to drive all those extra people that would be without football – the kind who had happily travelled to Tavistock – to go and check out their local non-league side instead and generate some well needed extra funds.
I speculatively launched the idea among friends on Facebook to see what would happen and the rest is history.
What has the support been like for Non-League Day?
The fact that we have reached year six shows someone must like what we do but we’ve still got plenty left to achieve.
In year one, it was mainly fan driven with a few media outlets taking an interest but it was relatively low key. Last year, we had backing from the FA, Premier League and most if its member clubs, many Football League clubs, all leading media organisations, Vanarama and our charity partners Prostate Cancer UK. We even saw a sister event, called Lokalrunde, start in Germany which has continued this year.
Most importantly though, we had the support of more non-league clubs and fans than ever before and our biggest challenge is to keep them on-board and foster new relationships – without them, the day is pointless. There are a considerable number of people within the non-league game who still don’t know the day even exists so we need to make sure they find out.
I am on a journey to find out more about non-league football, why should more people watch non-league football?
Many non-league clubs are almost exclusively volunteer run, with money taken at the turnstiles often funding thriving youth set-ups, projects and facilities which are of benefit to the whole community
The level of skill on offer at non-league grounds will rarely compare to that at the Emirates Stadium or Old Trafford, for example, but there are other sides to the experience, from which the smaller club will always win hands down. The vast majority of games still kick off at 3pm on a Saturday, ticket prices are realistic, you can often stand (and drink) anywhere in the ground and will always be guaranteed a warm welcome by people who run their clubs for a love of the game.
What has been your favourite memory from Non-League Day over the years?
Being involved with the NLD campaign has given me some great opportunities and experiences. Being at Dulwich Hamlet last season was particularly memorable as absolutely everything that could have gone right pretty much did.
The south London club offered a masterclass in how to put on an NLD event. With a pre-match fans parade from a local fete, an attractive ‘pay what you want’ ticket deal, a charity element and a catchy poster advertising campaign in the local area and online.
At the time they were averaging attendances of 500-600 but on NLD they got the best part of 3,000 through the turnstiles which was truly sensational.
Aside from that, being asked to help promote last season’s FA Trophy Final at Wembley and seeing our logo up on the stadium’s big screens and in the match programme was also a special experience.
In previous years clubs participating in Non-League Day have offered fans various incentives from a punnet of mushrooms to free entry to those with “van” in their name. What initiatives are clubs doing this year?
Several clubs are running ‘Pay What You Want’ schemes or offering reduced admission of some sort which is fantastic but we haven’t received reports of any Bungayesque mushrooms so far.
Clubs should definitely consider doing something a bit quirky as it can create international headlines – the aforementioned mushrooms saw Bungay covered by all the big newspapers in this country and several overseas so it’s well worth doing.
I hear you partner with Prostate Cancer UK, how much have you been able to raise so far for the charity?
I don’t have a precise figure on this as individuals have put money into collection tins and donated online themselves but Vanarama gave in excess on £7,000 last year alone.
This year we’re asking fans to take the NLD pledge (http://prostatecanceruk.org/get-involved/find-a-fundraising-event/non-league-day) – you just need to tell us where you’ll be watching a match and you get a free badge. We are also selling special NLD t-shirts with 15% of proceeds going to the charity (http://www.creativemidfielder.co.uk/shop.php?c=t-shirts%20and%20hoodies).
How do people find out more information about Non-League Day?
The main source of information for what we’re up to is our website (www.nonleagueday.co.uk). The most important section is the match map where you can enter your postcode and find the nearest game to you.