Jamie Vardy. The biggest story in the Premier League this season. Record breaker, goal scorer, cult hero. And now Premier League winner, but where did it all begin for the man on top of the world? Non-league football.
From £30-a-week at Stocksbridge Park Steels, to a household name today. Vardy now plays in front of thousands every week, under club owners with millions in pocket change.
However, away from the dizzying heights of the Premier League, a revolution is happening. Non-league football is growing. Fans are rebelling against the corporate machine, the airline-stadium sponsorships, and instead are opting to cheer on their team of local semi-professionals.
Unlike the cut-throat nature of the Premier League and football league, where managers and players are expected to deliver in the volatile pressure cooker, hostile stadium atmospheres are becoming more commonplace when things don’t go right.
Fans are being swayed towards non-league, where they can enjoy a drink in the stand and swap ends at half-time without the need for crowd segregation.
Although the crowds are nowhere near as big as the likes of Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, the non-league community have some of the most passionate people you will meet.
There are dedicated fans and volunteers like myself who travels far and wide to watch their team, whenever, wherever, whatever the weather. Win, lose, or draw, we sing, we chant, and we have a laugh. We’re a rabble, but without the intimidating stigma that comes with so-called football league ‘ultras’.
The growing appeal of non-league football is an interesting subject. On the one hand, people want to regain their identity as a football fan, and not just become someone who adds to the trickle of revenue that finds its way into owners' back pockets.
Non-league fans want freedom to stand where they want, even with the away fans, and be part of a greater footballing community, rather than be just a bystander. More importantly than this, we want to build a better future for the English game. As a passionate fan of grassroots football I know I definitely do.
Without people that care, the lower echelons of English football could soon disappear. This is where people power pays dividends. From maintenance and fundraising, to rekindling the ashes of a former powerhouse (Hereford and Darlington come to mind), the love for non-league helps make these changes happen.
James Doe, an advocate for non-league football, wanted to illustrate this passion. He's created a day to enlighten the UK public on the joys of non-league.
Over the past six years, Non- League Day has grown from a small time Facebook event to an annual national campaign which has grabbed the attention of clubs, leagues, the media and most importantly the fans. It was a personal catalyst for my love of non-league football.
This year, the campaign aims to encourages the non-league community, and those who are curious about the game, to come together at the home of the English national team, Wembley Stadium.
On May 22nd, both the FA Vase and FA Trophy finals, where Morpeth take on Hereford and Halifax take on Grimsby, will take place at the national stadium on a day that promises to be a great spectacle as the best non-league teams, at their respective levels, show off their talent at the cauldron of English football.
The best non-league has to offer, on the hallow turf.
The event will be of great significance for non-league football as it gets full exposure for all to see. The day is set to be a celebration, and could be a major platform for the growth of the grassroots game.
Despite the UK government investing more funds into the Chinese game than in English grassroots football, through the love and passion shown by all those involved at this level, the excitement of the game lives on.
Through the Non- League Day initiative, hopefully more people will become interested in a highly affordable game filled with twists, turns and unpredictability. And who knows? You might be there to witness the next Jamie Vardy.
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