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11th October 2012

By FABRICE DOWLING

As the old saying goes, “Football is a funny old game”, which nobody can argue with but it’s also an expensive old game depending on who you support. We all love to follow our teams but these days the cost of going to watch the superstars live in action has risen to extortionate prices and even if you manage to get a ticket, the games can more often than not be pretty mediocre considering the salaries these guys are on.

Since moving to the UK from Ireland, and being a self confessed football fanatic (just ask the wife), I spent my first season here visiting The Emirates at considerable expense. So I wanted to experience the other spectrum of the English football pyramid: non-league football.

This Saturday 13th of October is officially ‘Non-League Day’. Now it’s no coincidence that it’s also an international weekend and none of the major leagues are operating, so it’s the perfect opportunity. This ‘day’ is the brainchild of James Doe, a lifelong QPR fan and follower of Harrow Borough F.C. His idea is to get all the fans who would normally be out supporting their favourite popular teams to go and visit their local clubs and taste a different kind of football, and to also help them out in the financial department.

You may be thinking: “Non-league football? I’d rather go shopping with the missus”. But non-league football brings together everything that the modern game is killing: the enjoyment of going to a football match. Nowadays a visit to a Premier league club will set you back at least £50 per ticket, with seats up in the heavens while also paying over the odds for poor beer and terrible food. And the most infuriating thing for me – being forced to sit down for 90 minutes with no atmosphere. If that’s what you like then fair enough, but if you are one of the purists then go to your local non-league club and see what an enjoyable experience it can be.

You can expect to pay around £9 on the turnstile to get in, with easy access to a well-stocked and reasonably priced bar, some decent food from local sponsors and being able to stand and enjoy the atmosphere with the rest of the fans. It’s not all about the football you know. In fact most of the time it comes second to the banter and camaraderie between fans, players and even the officials.

I follow Enfield Town F.C. They are a fantastic little club owned by supporters who really make the match-day experience for the fans. There’s no exploitation, no overcharging or dumping of support from fans if results don’t go their way.

Would you be able to have a drink with Arsene Wenger or Lukas Podolski after an Arsenal game in the club bar and give them your opinion on how the game went? I doubt it, unless you own a large slice of the club that is. The beauty of non-league football is that you can do exactly that.

I remember after one game where Enfield had been well beaten after a good start, the manager and captain were getting a load of stick from some supporters in the bar afterwards. Things got a little heated; nothing too serious, and everything calmed down when Steve the manager said he’d buy the protagonist of the argument a pint and one of the famous pies. No need for tweets or investigations; a pint and pie will solve all problems!

Non-league football will never top the major leagues in it’s quality or intensity, but it’s certainly more appealing in a lot of other areas.

Go on, take the plunge. I promise you won’t regret it!

For information on your local club and fixtures for Saturday visit the Non-League Day website: http://www.nonleagueday.co.uk.

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