Event takes place this weekend
2 September ~ Non-League Day, the campaign to promote semi-professional and amateur football, returns for a fifth consecutive season this Saturday. Although initially founded to channel supporters of Premier League and Championship clubs to their local non-League club by virtue of there being a "blank" post-international weekend, the event has evolved over the last two seasons to be more inclusive. In the past, some of the more geographically isolated non-League clubs have argued that with no big sides on their doorstep, the event had no relevance. To a large extent these were valid criticisms, which is why the focus has shifted.
Instead of solely concentrating on attracting regular Premier League and Championship supporters, the idea is to use Non-League Day as a platform for clubs to promote the importance of the non-League game, particularly as an affordable, accessible alternative for fans who may be unable or unwillingly to keep up with the increasingly unrealistic ticket pricing in English football's top tiers.
Given the intense spotlight on football finances, notably via Save Grass Roots Football and the Football Supporters' Federation's Twenty's Plenty, it would be easy to view Non-League Day as another protest movement. However, the organisers, who run the campaign at their own cost in their spare time, are keen to stress it is, and will always remain, politically neutral.
In recent years the event has benefited hugely from Premier League backing and has been hugely grateful to the support shown by the country's leading clubs. This has manifested itself in a number of beneficial ways, including promotion on official social media channels and gestures of goodwill, such as Arsenal lending Boreham Wood FC their team bus. Moreover, as the event grows in stature, it has enabled significant amounts of money to be raised for local and national causes. Many clubs will be running fundraising initiatives for their chosen charities, while Vanarama, the new Football Conference sponsors, have pledged 10p to Prostate Cancer for every fan who turns out to watch a Conference game on the day.
The message the campaign wants to promote is simple. Non-League football is an essential part of the national game's structure but at times is woefully overlooked and under resourced. There are thousands of volunteer-led semi-professional and amateur clubs across the country providing pathways for local children or a second chance for players who don't make the grade at professional academies. Others simply act as focal points for the local community. Yet all too often, these clubs struggle to meet basic operational costs, with an increasing number taking voluntary demotion or winding up altogether.
Non-League Day serves to highlight the importance of these institutions and ultimately to plant a seed; if you're at a loose end one evening or weekend and not watching your own club play, there is almost certainly another near you who would value your support, even if it's just a few times a season. Mike Bayly
More information about Non-League Day, including a tool to find your nearest game, can be found at www.nonleagueday.co.uk