Foreward: Non-League is the game’s essence

Steve BrownNCJ Media Non-League Football Writer Steve Brown has kindly accepted an offer to write a foreward for ‘For the Love of Football’. Brown, who writes for the Evening Chronicle, Journal and Sunday Sun is a vastly experienced Non-League writer and is well known around the grounds.  Everyone at FTLOF thanks him for his time, effort and contribution to our website.

“CONGRATULATIONS on the promotion,” went the text.  It was 2009.

I’d just ended nine years of covering Middlesbrough – folk get less for murder etcetera; I’d call nigh-on a decade of Teessiding  just the prohibitive ticket to get tough on crime – by switching my journalistic attentions, for the Chronicle, Journal and, chiefly, the Sunday Sun, to local, non-league football.

Eight Wembley visits later, the gist of the texter – Whitley Bay chairman Paul McIlduff – has proved to be comprehensively and categorically on the money.

Three FA Trophy and five Vase finals: six wins.

It could even have been more; I missed Gateshead and York City’s play-off finals, Barrow’s Trophy and Spennymoor Town’s Vase.  No wonder they call me: Steve Brown, Wembley Correspondent (They don’t – Ed).

What have Boro done in that time? What have Newcastle United, or Sunderland?  No, non-league’s where it’s at, now, in the North East.

For while ambition has long since flown the Magpies’ nest, while the Mackems continue to flit between great escapes and the dizzy heights of mid-table and while Boro are, well, Boro, the region’s lesser lights shine on…

…and yet do so basking in the warmest, most welcoming of glows.

Disenfranchised by the Premier League?  At the likes of the International Stadium, the Brewery Field or Grounsell Park, you’ll be made to feel part of the fixtures and fittings.

You might end up fixing the fittings.

Pay a fraction to get in, get a pie and a pint – quite often with the manager, the chairman (McIlduff always gets them in) or, even, the star striker fronting up after chuffing a last-minute sitter.  Can you imagine Jozy Altidore doing that?

No, in non-league you get to share in that pain, but also in the good times.  With new friends.

And with that proximity, that closeness, comes the chance to empathise in a way now impossible with elite football’s preening prima donnas.

It’s a connection. Community. It’s in part why football began, and a bigger factor in its original yet enduring popularity.

Here, in non-league, you can see a sport stripped to its essence.

You can see it for real.  You can see that it matters.

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