Guisborough Town play their football in the ‘Northern League Division One’ and it would be a fair assumption to make that a trip to the KGV Stadium is not quite the same as a visit to the Nou Camp or the San Siro. Supporters often choose to stand pitch side throughout the 90 minutes and it is safe to say that crowd don’t ‘sing their hearts out for the lads’. It may seem odd to a football fan visiting for the first time to be amongst just 200 supporters with a TV camera nowhere to be seen and the players on show may not roll off the tongue like David Beckham or Lionel Messi. But this is grassroots football at its best. The pies are reasonably priced, the atmosphere is friendly and good natured, you can walk right up to the chairman and have a conversation and ultimately your support is greatly valued.
At this level of the football pyramid a supporter can feel a genuine connection with the players on show. These footballers live in the same world as you and value every minute they are present on the field of play. Unlike many of the modern day millionaires in the top flight, they have to support their families by working 9-5 and are willing to discuss the game with fans over a pint of bitter in the clubhouse. In addition to this, for those reminiscent of their farcical presence during England’s 2006 World Cup campaign, there isn’t a WAG to be seen. Finally there is no over-zealous stewarding, making you feel like a naughty schoolchild as opposed to a fanatical football supporter, and you are liberty to move freely around the ground viewing the game from various perspectives.
There are of course the downsides to being an avid supporter of a Northern League football club and media coverage is not exactly extensive. If you are unable to attend a game at the KGV you will not be able to find out how the game is progressing from Jeff Stelling and the boys on Gillette Soccer Saturday. Unfortunately you will instead have to really on your mobile phone reception and the hope that your mate will fulfil his promises of texting you detailed updates throughout the course of the 90 minutes.
Any non-league supporter will be quick to tell you that the magic of the cup is at its best throughout the qualifying stages. There is an extensive list of advantages to a FA Cup run for a Northern League outfit. There is a chance for a giant killing, the opportunity to play teams across the country for the first time, the valuable media coverage every team craves and of course the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow so vital to clubs in the modern economic environment. The financial incentives are vast and £750 is available for just overcoming the extra preliminary rounds. If a club reaches the dizzy heights of the ‘First Round Proper’ its bank account could be boosted to the tune of £20,000 and that is before taking into consideration the extra money coming in through increased attendances, the extra refreshments being sold and the sponsorship opportunities which all of a sudden become available. My local non-league club, the previously mentioned Guisborough Town, captured the attention of the local area and reaped the benefits of a cup run during the course of the 1988-1989 competition. The ‘Priorymen’ progressed to the ‘First Round Proper’ and clocked up a Match of the Day appearance along the way, along with the unprecedented attendances of 2000 people.
The FA Vase is another cup competition highly valued amongst the non-league community and these match days will be highlighted in any avid supporters calendar. The financial incentives may not be as lucrative, with semi-finalists receiving just £1500, however it does give local teams a genuine opportunity to reach a final and ply their trade at the massive stage of Wembley. The attention of the town is once again easily captured when a team progresses through the rounds and clubs crave the increase in publicity and fans coming through the turnstiles. Once again one of Guisborough Town’s finest moments has come in this competition as they reached the Wembley Final in 1980. Despite the side being beaten 2.0 by Stamford on the day it remains the finest moment in the history of the club and an achievement for all those currently involved to aspire to match.
There is a real family feel amongst the club’s at this level and this is proving increasingly valuable in the current economic environment which has seen even the biggest of clubs, in the case of the Glasgow Rangers, nearly go to the wall. This proved to be vital in the case of Billingham Town in spring 2010 when supporters from across the Northern League united in the fight to ensure the club would not be liquidated. The club’s financial dilemma came about when Hartlepool United took the club to court claiming they were owed up to £10,000 following an agreement between the sides which allowed Hartlepool Reserves to play their home fixtures at their Bedford Terrace home in exchange for the football league side maintaining the pitch. Billingham were taken to court over a disputed loan made to a former club official and a court date was set when an agreement could not be reached. There was an outcry from supporters of clubs throughout the league and even an unforeseen protest outside of the court organised on non-league forums across the internet. Eventually the court case fizzled out and an agreement was reached to suit all parties involved but it has to be said that the local football scene was the real winner on the day.