A guide to the Lower Leagues for Premier League supporters
So you're a fan of a Premier League club, who watches Premier League footage of The Premier League on Sky's Premier League package, in your Premier League clubs shirt in your Premier League pub. But something is missing. I know it, you're just desperate to sink your teeth into the lower leagues, to build your extensive knowledge of football (which actually began in 1992 you know?) and really impress your mates by knowing the average home attendance of Stevenage FC, or which player dons the famous number 10 shirt for Macclesfield Town?
OK, maybe not. But that's fine, I don't blame you, it's the way things are now. Let's face it, The Premier League is just too damn exciting with it's electrifying atmosphere and world class players. So here is my simple guide to eight key things you need to know about the lower leagues, in the only way that you can relate to them: The Lower League's, in Premier League terms.
1) Notts County are the lower league Manchester United
Sort of. They aren't a worldwide branded company with millions of supporters the world over and international superstars, but they do have one crucial thing in common. Everyone hates them. But whilst everyone hates Manchester United because they are a worldwide branded company with millions of supporters the world over and international superstars, everybody hates Notts County because they sort of cheated to win League 2 and that Lee Hughes bloke plays up front for him. Ah yes, Lee Hughes. For those unaware of Hughes' past, he was imprisoned for six years due to death by dangerous driving in 2004, and so the fact he is even playing football is sickening enough for us, but after a viewing of his goal celebration, the intolerance levels will reach even higher. So point one, Hate Notts County
2) We don't like our 'Nani's'
I am fully aware, that Luis Nani, Manchester United winger, has never graced Vale Park (home of Port Vale. Essentially The Stadium of Light but about a quarter of the size) on a cold wet Tuesday night, but there have been enough players who play like him to send old fashioned, bitter football fans into absolute overdrive. Twinkle-toed wingers are the apple of the Premier League pundits eyes, but they aren't viewed quite as favourably in the lower leagues. Hence why so many club hero's are full backs. When a trickly little winger with pink boots comes up against the resident shaven-headed nutter of a full-back, everyone is willing that full-back to win more than ever. Sometimes even the supporters of the team with the winger. It's all about principles in the lower leagues you see.
3) The Cup
It's quite odd. If a League One or Two team draws Fulham in the FA Cup, it's the equivalent of Fulham somehow getting in the Top Four and pitting themselves against Barcelona. We've actually heard of the players we're playing against, which (unless you're a lower league loving freak like myself) is a rarity to say the least. What makes it even more odd, is that we will never win it, but we absolutely love it. Again, think Fulham in the Champions League, if it were to ever happen. Which it probably won't. Sorry Cottagers.
4) Don't be fooled by Blackpool
Following on from that Cup mentality, the only exposure you're likely to have had from distinctly lower league fans will have been in the cup, or from the odd team that comes up for a few years but clearly are out of their league (quite literally), in the form of Blackpool or Hull City. But don't be fooled, these games are massive for these fans. We really aren't that passionate, as it's quite hard to be enticed and enthralled by a midweek tie at Dagenham and Redbridge. Most football grounds in League One and League Two have the same atmosphere level as the DW Stadium.
5) Lower league football hurts. Alot.
Be prepared for dullness and utterly soul crushing Saturday afternoons after seeing your team defeated. What's that? It's the same in the Premier League? No it's not. Arsenal were beaten 8-2 by Manchester United, but can take solace in the fact they were beaten by Europe's second best club team. When you're beaten 7-0 by Shrewsbury Town, there's nothing that can make you smile. For days. Nothing at all. I'm trying my best to relate this to The Premier League, but no matter who beats you in the Premier League, they are usually a decent side. In League Two, it's usually Morecambe.
6) The big boys aren't always the big boys
In the Premier League, we have recently seen the 'big four' develop into the 'big six'. You know who the main players are, the teams who win the most and finish near the top of the league each year. It's not quite the same further down the leagues. The big hitters are the likes of Charlton, the Sheffield clubs, and Bradford. Former Premier League clubs, with huge attendances, that really are bigger and better than their current positions may suggest. But the difference is, the smaller teams raise their games for these matches. And due to their position, they can only attract players that suit their current league position, leaving the big boys often floating around mediocrity in a league way below there true level. The closest thing the Premier League has seen to this was Liverpool in the first half of last season under Roy Hodgson, were they were beaten by the likes of Blackpool who raised their game due to the stature of the club they were facing.
7) We feel no sympathy.
When Blackpool were promoted to the Premier League last year, everyone essentially adopted them as their second team. Plucky little club punching above their weight mixing it with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. But the lower league equivalents, like Dagenham and Redbridge for example, don't get the same treatment. Particularly if they beat you. Expect to hear 'Have you seen their ground? They shouldn't be allowed in the league anyway' or 'They're a bloomin pub team, kick and rush all of it!' Even though Dagenham and Redbridge are one of the better footballing sides in League 2. We yearn for the 'Proper League teams' that are languishing in the Blue Square (I know you don't know what the Blue Square is, but no time to explain!) like York and Cambridge, rather than laugh like you laughed at Leeds. (Though it was quite funny...still is.)
8) Clubs and Players
So, you know the basics, we'll finish off your quick guide with a comparison of some lower league clubs and players, to Premier League clubs and players.
Oldham Athletic (and about 14 other clubs) are... Stoke City
Big , ugly and get results from physical football. Not pretty, but effective
Gary Jones is... Steven Gerrard
Rochdales club captain and record appearance holder, the talismanic midfielder is the driving force behind his team.
Bradford City are... Newcastle United
They really ought to do a lot better with that fanbase. Two massive clubs that should be even bigger.
Jack Lester is... Darren Bent
Scores absolutely shed loads of goals, but no higher team really seem to want him. No disrespect to Villa of course.
Crawley Town are... Manchester City
They were absolutely harmless until the investors came in. Now look set to take League 2 by storm.
Matt Harold is... Peter Crouch.
Massive striker who gets goals wherever he goes but can't seem to hold down a first team place.
Accrington Stanley are... Wigan Athletic
A quaint little club who consistently punch above their weight. A romantic story behind both clubs rises.
Lee Hughes is... Joey Barton
Nobody likes Lee Hughes.
And so you are now prepared to take on life as a lower league supporter. But take my advice and don't bother. Save yourself!