Monday, 13 July 2020

Southend Manor FC

Founded in 1955 as a boy's football club, Southend Manor FC compete in the Essex Senior League and are hoping to reach out into their local community and further afield when the 2020/21 season gets underway.

Admission prices have been reduced from £7 to £5 for Adults and from £5 to £3 for Concessions with free admission to all NHS employees as well.

Speaking to the club website, media officer Andy Wilkins commented: "We hope this reducing of prices will mean more people will be enticed to visit us at our Southchurch Park home whether it for the first time or 100th time."

With Southend United having endured a very poor season perhaps one or two of the disillusioned Roots Hall faithful may look for a different football experience next season.

The future of programmes is a keenly-debated topic among the non-league fraternity and Southend Manor are sticking firmly with the printed version, available for £2 on matchdays but for £1 plus P&P for those from further afield keen to get hold of a copy.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Altrincham v Chester – Fan Powered Play-Off

Moss Lane, home of Altrincham FC and a place I know well, would usually be bustling for a meeting between the Robins and Chester FC.

A fairly short distance between the two places, direct train links and supporters able to stand on terraces make for what you might call a ‘proper’ football occasion.

Things will be different next Sunday (19 July), ironically given that it will be a hugely important game with plenty at stake in the National League North play-offs.

The J.Davidson Stadium, as it is now known, will be closed to all but the players and key officials in a scene we have become familiar with over the past few weeks.

But the fact that the game is being played at all is a triumph in itself, firstly on the part of clubs in both the National League North and South who managed to get an original decision that play-offs wouldn’t be taking place overturned and on the part of supporters who have raised funds to help their respective clubs take part and help meet the costs of testing and increased safety measures.

Both Altrincham and Chester, already strongly rooted in their respective communities, have had very successful fundraising campaigns since the suspension of football in March, money that will go a long way to securing each club's future, but that has not stopped their fans from rallying around again in the past week or so to give them a shot at promotion.

It is hoped that the game will be available on a pay-per-view platform and I'll put details on Twitter as and when they are known.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Good Value in The Far Corner

There are plenty of contenders for my favourite football book of all time but there is a clear winner for the one that I have re-read more than any other.

Harry Pearson's The Far Corner is the author's story of his travels around grounds in his native North East of England during the 1993/94 season.

To me it deserves every superlative ever given to it and like many other people I've often wondered whether there would ever be a follow-up.

The Farther Corner is the answer to that and although its publication has been delayed by this year's events it will be gratefully received when I do get my hands on it.

The Northern League provided the main focus of the original book and, at a time when it was still relatively affordable and easier logistically to watch Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the author has since said (in an interview with Mundial) that looking back it was perhaps the lowest ebb in the fortunes of Non-League football locally.

Harry was in melancholy mood after a visit to once-mighty Willington and pondered at another point how so many clubs had shown the resilience to survive in an area continually battered by economic storms.

Survive they have, however, and thrived in many cases as people seek out a cheaper, more enjoyable matchday experience.

In common with so many clubs all across the UK there has been a big fundraising drive over the past few months and an astonishing response from supporters (of the clubs themselves and the game in general).

Having hopefully now come through the curtailment of the 2019/20 season, attention is now slowly turning towards a 2020/21 campaign that may yet look familiar in terms of its length and spectators being allowed to watch.

Season ticket offers that I have come across in the North East so far include £25 at Middlesbrough Women, £35 for an adult at the re-born Newcastle Blue Star (of the Northern Football Alliance and whose classic black-and-white kit is selling very well) and a discount of £15 for Sunderland season ticket holders from the current campaign at Seaham Red Star.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Something to Report!

Caution still abounds but clubs in England are making tentative plans for both a pre-season and a 2020/21 campaign that may yet look familiar.

The arrangements in place at present still have plenty of caveats attached but friendlies are being announced and season tickets are being put on sale.

A word on Northwood FC of the Isthmian League who have featured on these pages previously with their tireless efforts to get more people through the turnstiles at Chestnut Avenue.

For the coming season there are season tickets on sale at just £45 for all league matches and the Woods have also linked up with Donate a Ticket to raise funds.

Monday, 22 June 2020

The Importance of Fans is Laid Bare

Two different ways of consuming Sunday evening's Merseyside derby made for an interesting contrast as I listened to Five Live out in the garden for the first half before watching the second on the television as it had been made available free-to-air.

There was no pretence to the radio commentary and with no added crowd noise it was left to John Murray and Mark Lawrenson to get across what was happening on the pitch while also painting a picture of the unique circumstances surrounding the game.

To me they did so successfully and it had the feel of Test Match Special in that the importance of the match wasn't overstated and the idea of real life continuing outside the ground was acknowledged.

In contrast the television commentary seemed lost in the midst of the piped atmosphere (I know that this option can be turned off if you have Sky itself) and I find it curious that the broadcasters have such little faith in the action on the pitch to hold the attention.

The importance of the crowd to the TV coverage has been laid bare over the past week or so, not just as a visual backdrop but also for the context it gives to the key moments that take place during the game.

Clubs have paid due lip service to the importance of their fans but will it mean anything in practice when spectators are allowed back into grounds in terms of season ticket and matchday prices and the availability of tickets to different age and social groups.

Like so many aspects of life at the moment we can only wait and see.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Club & Fans Work Together at Grimsby Town

Wembley Stadium ahead of the 2016 National League Promotion Final
I was at Wembley four years ago then Grimsby Town won back their Football League status with an exciting win against Forest Green Rovers in the National League Promotion Play-Off and saw at close hand what it meant for those connected to the club.
Similar to when Tranmere Rovers were victorious in the same game two years later it seemed to be relief rather than elation that poured out upon a return to the 92.
The glory is in the cities but the fabric of football in this country is often to be found in towns up and down the land where the local club can still be an important part of the community in which it stands.
Grimsby’s experience since the suspension of League Two action is the perfect example of that.
Those in charge of the club have the unenviable (even before the coronavirus outbreak) task of trying to run a steady financial ship, put a competitive team onto the field, make ticket prices affordable enough to keep the loyal fanbase coming along to matches and reach out into the local community to try and attract the next generation of supporters.
A good working relationship with the hardcore support is vital, therefore, and the Town hierarchy have been very quick to praise the role of fans in raising funds over the past couple of months.
The Mariners Trust has been to the fore, promoting share ownership as a means both of generating funds and giving a feeling of genuine involvement in the club. 
There is also a crowdfunder in place while many fans have also opted not to take a refund for the unplayed matches on their 2019/20 season tickets.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

A Small (Contactless) Price to Pay?

One of the pleasures at watching football the further down the pyramid you go is that many of the traditional accompaniments to the game are still in place.

One of these is the old-fashioned turnstile with 'crooked piles of coins ready to be issued with an accompanying grunt for those fans paying with a note' as Daniel Gray writes so beautifully in Black Boots & Football Pinks.

It's not always as grand as a turnstile, of course, sometimes there's just a table and a friendly face ready to take a fiver or give change for ten.

But on the path back to watching football in the flesh then presumably more and more clubs will follow the trend that has been set over the past few months and embrace the world of contactless payments.

I recently completed a survey, devised by Ian Nockolds of the Toolstation Western League podcast which asks people connected to (or supporters of) football at Steps 5 and 6 of the pyramid in England to give their preferences for what they would be prepared to put up with in order to attend matches.

This is ahead of an FA meeting with leagues at those levels on 19 June in which the way forward will hopefully become a little clearer.

Contactless payments was on the list and although for me it is a small pleasure to hand over my money it will be a small price to pay to pass through the turnstiles once again.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Retro Action at Hitchin Town

The Canaries of Hitchin Town are a club I have written about a few times on the blog over the years especially during the battle to save their historic Top Field ground.

In existence since 1928, Hitchin have also moved with the times, offering online tickets for example.

I've always liked the regular updates from club secretary (and treasurer) Roy Izzard, on the official website, as they give a clear account of events both on and off the field and lots of detail, for instance on how the 'Pay What You Want' matches tried previously have compared to normal attendances and gate income.

With no date as yet as to whether and when the 2020/21 season will begin, Hitchin are looking to keep things ticking over during the 'normal' close season period and are showing a series of classic matches over the coming weeks.

The first game is a clash with Enfield Town from 1993 which will be screened from 7pm on Tuesday 16 June with tickets available at £5 and £2.

Local newspaper The Comet also seems to enjoy a good relationship with the club and reported recently on a financial boost given to the Canaries by their Top Field landlords.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Scottish Success Story Heads South

One of the most positive things to have come out of the suspension of football has been both the speed at which clubs have been able to come up with fundraising ideas and the strength of the response they have received from supporters.

Taking that a step further has been the Donate a Ticket platform, to enable clubs in Scotland to raise much-needed revenue, which has now made its way into the National Leagues in England.

I asked Ruaridh Kilgour, the founder of Donate a Ticket, how it came into being.

'The idea initially came about when thinking of a way to help my club, Raith Rovers. 

'I wanted a fundraising page that allowed supporters to rationalise a donation and also give clubs a narrative to ask supporters to donate their hard-earned money. 

'By using Donate a TIcket, it brings back a little bit of excitement and competition between clubs and supporters that we're all sorely missing. 

'The Scottish Cup virtual fundraising tournament, in particular, has been a great success and some clubs have even raised more from their virtual ties than they would from an average home gate.'

With no word as yet as to when football will resume the platform has widened its scope from the original idea of replacing matchday revenue from those games which were lost to the suspension.

Well over £100,000 has been raised to date and it is no exaggeration to say that the money will have been the difference between some clubs going out of business and living to fight another day.

The idea has now crossed the border with Woking and Eastbourne Borough amongst the clubs to have signed up, Woking supporters raising £500 already at the time of writing.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Next Step

Clubs from the Highland League to the Western League have had to quickly find new ways of raising money and many have been successful in their aims, getting together the cash needed to get themselves through to what would normally be the end of the season and in some sort of shape for the summer, usually a lean time anyway in terms of money coming in.

Just this week I have seen tweets from Melksham Town and Tooting & Mitcham United thanking supporters for meeting their fundraising target, a succesful afternoon for Workington AFC's 'live' screening of a 1958 FA Cup tie and many more good news stories.

The great unknown, of course, is when the 2020/21 season lower down the leagues will actually begin, what format it will take if it does and whether supporters will be allowed in to watch games if they do take place.

At the moment in England, with the Premier League due to re-start on 17 June, the Championship and potentially League One to follow, the focus is all on the top level of the game and there is precious little information about what will happen lower down.

In Scotland, although the move to end the SPFL season was done in a shambolic way it has allowed thoughts to turn to when the new season will begin and allow some hope in the lower leagues that there will be a 2020/21 campaign after all.

Northern Premier League chairman Mark Harris wrote an excellent article in last weekend's Non-League Paper about what the future holds and making it clear that the solutions will have to come from within as he warned: 'only the most naïve would truly believe that the professional game would act in tandem with Non-League.'

Whatever the next step entails I'm sure that clubs will approach it with the same sense of determination and innovation that they have shown so far.