As I sat down to write this, a retweet appeared in my timeline. The picture within it showed a grin in a suit, pointing at a huge yellow screen, genuine smugness on his face as he gestures at a number. £800,550,000. An obscene amount of money. The national debt of Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic combined. And, ludicrously, the amount spent by Premier League football clubs in the latest transfer window. With three hours still to go. This isn’t football; it’s commodities trading.
Yes, ok, football has always been a business, from the Victorian mill-owners looking to keep workers sweet to boot payments and Dennis Compton’s brylcream, but it wasn’t always so crass and so narcissistically vulgar. Today’s transfer spending is no different to braying city boys bragging over obscene bar bills. It matters no more where the money goes, just so long as it goes, in inflated sums, that can be totted up and gleefully touted in HD as if they serve some kind of self-endorsement for grown men who like to yell at monitors about what is effectively paperwork. ‘The biggest day in football’ 5 Live called it. No, it’s just the most overpriced day of admin. I like football. I don’t like banking.
Transfer Deadline Day is not football; it is instead dramatised business for people with no sense of business. It is The Apprentice basically, a steady on-screen procession of bellends whose business past suggests they should know better, making pressured and ill-considered decisions in a vague attempt to justify themselves and appease an even greater bellend, lauding it from behind a desk. “What kind of a person takes a purple dildo or a blow-up sex doll with them to stand in the back of shot outside a training ground?” Exactly the sort of person Sky has spent decades pitching its coverage at; an unthinking, all-consuming, banter-hunting, dullard. You reap what you sow and all that. “Them nut jobs outside training grounds want locking up,” tweeted a friend. To be fair, they’re just trying to earn a living.
Football, for a vast majority of those who follow it, is this circus, because the game itself will never be watched in person. I’ve always wondered how people can be so entrenched with a sports team they never see beyond a screen. The truth is of course they’re not hooked on a sports team, they’re hooked on the concept. Hooked on a pre-packaged drama, on the constructed heroes and villains that allow them to take what they need to slide into social conversation. Hooked on the key characters, and the minor ones, the slick presentation, and the manufactured controversies. Results are ‘plot twists’, and at each match the ‘scene is set’. A whole generation is now consuming football in a manner no different to the way they watch drama series. For a season of Premier League football read a box-set marathon of Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones, or whatever else I’ve failed to get into.
But of course it doesn’t have to be like this. And I’m not preaching to those who hang around car-parks of an evening yelling obscenities and miming sexual acts over the shoulders of Sky Sports reporters. There’s no point. It is safe to saw we’ve already lost them. They’re The Lad Bible and Soccer AM’s problem now. Instead I am talking to you, the sensible and reasoned people who’ve made it this far into this article and actually like football, the game itself, not ‘the greatest league in the world’, nor Super Sundays, but the actual sodding football.
Because if you like football, you can find it elsewhere. It doesn’t have to be coming out of that box in the corner of the room, or the rectangle hung above the mantle-piece. It lives in your town as you know, and it also lives in the villages around it too. It is the same game. The same rules. The same concept. You know it inside out. But instead of being interpreted by half-arsed millionaires trying to keep sponsors happy, or depreciated by Mark Lawrenson, it is instead being played by people like you. By people who are for the most part of their lives, teachers, or roofers, or joiners, or postmen, but come Saturdays and occasional Tuesday nights from August to May they are footballers.
You will, in the run up to Non League Day this week, read much unintended patronization of non-league football, from tourists taking a break from staring at their club jumbotron to guffaw at the nature of dogs in grounds and tea in china mugs. Non league football is not the poor relation, it is instead, in most cases, the ideal. Lads from your community backed by volunteers from your community, taking on the world, one pit village at a time.
Yes it has its character, and that does deserve to be celebrated. In recent years at non-league football, I have been roundly cheered for keeping a ball in the ground. I’ve seen a 4-4 draw with seven goals in the final quarter of an hour. I’ve seen a wayward ball strike a guttering and soak half a dozen spectators, and I’ve seen a fat goalkeeper fall through a fence. But it also has community and sporting standing that needs to be acknowledged; many Doncaster Rovers mainstays began their careers on local pitches; Ken Hardwick, Brian Makepeace and Dave Moss at Rossington, Gary Jones at Armthorpe, Steve Gaughan at Hatfield Main, and Russ Wilcox at Frickley.
Non-League Day, now in its fifth year, gives you an excuse to refamiliarise yourself with all of this, with community, with history and with character, to dip your toe in, and decide whether you like it enough to return on other Saturdays rendered free by distant away trips or unforgiving shift patterns. Clubs here won’t ever have gurning pillocks bouncing around for cameras outside their gates, and they will never need the sort of finances that spin on HD screens. Instead they just need your money, to go from one football fan to another, whenever you can make it. Remember, local football is not just for Non-League Day, but unless you support it, it will not be for life either.
Where to get your kicks this Non League Day.
The highest ranked of our local clubs Frickley finished second in what is now the Conference Premier back in 1985-86, but now reside more modestly in the Northern Premier League where their start to the current campaign had been far from ideal. Frickley are yet to win in the league this season so will have their work cut out when they welcome a Skelmersdale side yet to lose. For Non-League Day, season ticket holders at any Premier League or Football League club, can watch this game for just £1 upon showing their season ticket at the turnstile.
3pm, Westfield Lane, South Elmsall, WF9 2EQ.
Another Yorkshire versus Lancashire clash at Oxford Street as perennial Northern Counties East League side Rossington Main begin their FA Vase campaign against AFC Blackpool. The Mechs, as the side from across the Pennines are known, reside a division above Main in the pyramid so Rossington will need to stabilise their early season form in order to progress. Match admission at Oxford Street is £4 for adults and just £1 for under 16s, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of their match programme, voted best in the league for four successive seasons.
3pm, Oxford Street, Rossington, Doncaster, DN11 0TE.
‘If we were given 0.001% of the money spent in this transfer window by Premier League clubs, we’d probably survive another season!’ tweeted Armthorpe Welfare on Monday evening. And you can help them edge towards that total by popping along to their Northern Counties East League Premier Division fixture against Pickering Town. Welfare’s have only won one match thus far this season, defeating Guisborough on penalties in an FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round replay, but with The Pikes also struggling at the wrong end of the table this could be an opportune time for Armthorpe to get some points on the board.
3pm, Church Street, Armthorpe, Doncaster, DN3 3AG.
Though Doncaster boasts five sides in the Central Midlands League north Division, only one of them is at home on Non-League Day with Harworth hosting Glapwell at The Recreation Ground. Harworth have lost more than they’ve won in the opening few weeks of the new CML season, and have a tough tie at home to a Glapwell currently in second place as they continue the long route back to the Northern Premier League, following their forced demotion back in 2011.
3pm, The Recreation Ground, Scrooby Road, Bircotes, DN11 8JT