In the top 10 levels of football in England there are currently 1,004 teams, playing in a total of 46 leagues. Starting at the bottom of this ladder in a league such as the Toolstation League Division One would mean some serious effort to even get to the Conference level, let alone to the Football League. No team has come from the depths of the Molton Spartan South Midlands league yet, although AFC Wimbledon’s rise from the Premier League of the Combined Counties in 2002 (level 9 on our scale), playing against teams such as Badshot Lea, Mole Valley SCR and Raynes Park Vale where attendances rarely break the three figure mark to a play off spot for promotion to the Football League, and playing the likes of Cambridge United, Darlington and Luton Town in front of selling out crowds.
Obviously football in the lower levels of the non-leagues is a constant fight for money. Clubs cannot run on fresh air and with little in the way of advertising and sponsorship opportunities, the clubs are often funded by the facilities in their grounds. Take Lincoln Moorlands Railways FC for instance. They currently play in the Northern Counties East League aka Kool Sports Premier Division. They get average attendances of 60, each paying £5 meaning match day revenue rarely breaks £250 (including concessions) which is hardly enough to pay their ample keeper’s half time snack bill.
So where do they find the money? Sure, this season they have enjoyed a meteoric FA Cup run that saw them beat Friar Lane & Epworth, Glapwell, Gresley and then get a bye (thanks to Ilkeston Town’s demise) into the 3rd qualifying round of the cup, meaning they scooped a mighty £9,750 equivalent to 1,950 people paying to watch the team, which at the current average attendance is nearly two seasons worth of gate revenue! (to put this in context Man Utd make £500m per annum out of gate receipts so it would be like them winning £1billion). However, it is their social club that keeps the club afloat, offering a 7 days a week venue for the local community including function rooms that are hired out for weddings, snooker tables and the ubiquitous big screen TV’s.
So why is all this important? Well, for clubs like Lincoln Moorlands Railways they understand the importance of not getting ideas above their station (snigger, snigger). They control their costs and have invested in off the field income streams. So with this in mind, why on earth would a club at this level go out and rent a 10,000 seater stadium when they average around 110 for each game? An average occupancy of 1.1% makes Wigan Athletic’s attendances look good. Why would a club give every one of their supporters the choice of 91 different seats EACH? And how can this make financial sense? You think I am joking right? Well read on as our friends at Beat The First Man tell us of a tale of Great Expectations.
“When a club gets relegated, one of the fears the fans have is that have to go to places they have never heard of. And the lower you go, the more obtuse they become. Forest Green, Three Bridges, Mickleover. For the record, near Stroud, near Gatwick, near Derby.
One such place is Glapwell. Exactly.
Should you, for whatever reason, ever find yourself driving in to Mansfield from junction 29 of the M1, you will have driven through Glapwell. You probably wouldn’t have noticed. It is, to all but the hardened observer, just a hill. But there, just behind the Young Vanquish pub, lies Hall Corner, home to Glapwell FC. Currently flirting with the play-off places in the Evostik Division One South, having lost in the Final last season to Chasetown. Yes, they of the FA Cup giant-killings, near Birmingham.
Since there is nothing to commend Mansfield to the nation’s hearts, other than swimming sweetheart Rebecca Adlington, and kids TV bad-boy Richard Bacon, there is even less for Glapwell to boast of. Although it did give the world Jo Guest (calm down at the back) which should in my book lead to knighthoods all round.
And as befits such an awe-repelling place, crowds at Hall Corner have not been great, despite constant on-pitch progress over the last few seasons. As with so many of the clubs around here, the heart of Glapwell was the local mining community, and when that went, the spirit in the village was ripped away. But the football clubs remained. Testimony to another time. And something for locals to rally around. Only, in Glapwell, they haven’t. Crowds have resolutely stayed in double figures, which, even spread around Hall Corner, is poor. Indeed, their attendances when battling for promotion out of the Northern Counties East League two or three seasons ago, were actually better. All of which makes their decision to play their games at Field Mill, home of Mansfield Town, capacity 10,000 earlier this season, very odd.
So let’s see what the motivation might have been, shall we kids?
The first thing you need to know about Glapwell is that it doesn’t really know where it is. Most certainly it is on the way to Mansfield. But then it is about as close to their fiercest rivals, Chesterfield. It sits in the Derbyshire / Nottinghamshire / Yorkshire hinterlands. Houses at one end of the town have a Mansfield phone code, at the other, Chesterfield. And it has a Sheffield postcode.
This lack of identity is clearly something which the powers sought to alleviate. By aligning themselves to Mansfield Town FC, they tried to signpost to the Mansfield public that Glapwell should be their second team. Something that Rainworth (pronounced “ren-uth”) might have an opinion on. Not to mention Sutton, Forest Town, Kirkby Town, Blidworth and the rest. But the proliferation of clubs round here is for a whole other post.
By using the Stags’ ground, the management instantly alienated a section of their potential support, as threads on an independent Chesterield FC site clearly demonstrated. By staying at Hall Corner, they had the opportunity to tap in to both sets of fans. The move instantly cut that potential in half.
And what of that support? If they weren’t coming to Hall Corner, why would they suddenly rush to Field Mill? Football fans do not support a ground, they support a club. And equally, they choose not to support a club too. Glapwell FC have been ten minutes away from Field Mill all their life. Fans who wanted to see them have made that journey already.
No doubt Glapwell paid for the privilege of gracing the Field Mill turf. But no-one seems able to identify how much. You would hope, for Mansfield’s sake, that it wasn’t purely a cut of the gate receipts. Earlier this season versus Lincoln United, there were 62 people through the turnstiles. At £7 a head, that’s not enough to cover, well, pretty much anything. Let alone if decimated by financial agreements. So assuming the average attendance was 80 Adults and 20 juniors their gate revenue for the season would be £10,920 per season. With Mansfield themselves losing circa £10,000 a week, and paying rent on Field Mill to the ever-vilified former owner, Keith Haslam (therein lies another tale), it is hard to imagine they extended the gracious hand of benevolence to their tenants.
Which leads one to conclude that Glapwell must have been paying out of their pockets. But whose pockets were they?
Well, the chairman is Dr Colin Hancock, a Harley Street dentist, and former Chairman of Aldershot Town. He took control of the club in 2008, and with ties to the area, he was a popular arrival. But, when the aforementioned Haslam was on his last legs, Hancock was very interested in buying the club. That he failed in his attempt could be seen as either a blessing or a curse, for both clubs, of course.
Hancock instantly gave the club a more professional outlook, appointing Kevin Gee as Commercial Director, and looking to tap in to the local community. Promotion to what is now the Evostik leagues followed, crowds were pushing 150+, and things looked rosy.
But Hall Corner was struggling to cope with this new approach. The clubhouse, despite boasting one of the comfiest sofas in all of non-league, was barely big enough to swing a cat in. Access to the ground was limited, and if you missed your space in the carpark, roadside parking an absolute nightmare. There was a collection of portakabins within the ground fulfilling a variety of functions, from PA to canteen to boardroom. Everything had the air of temporary although not dissimilar to many other non league grounds.
And with a ground that needed a fair degree of TLC, the new fans drifted away. Had Mansfield, or even Chesterfield, been doing well, you could understand this. But neither were setting either the Conference or League Two alight (prior to this season and the latter’s move to their new stadium). So where did all the fans go? Glapwell were still pushing at the top of their new division. Further proof that throwing money at the team, rather than the infrastructure, is a very short-sighted business strategy in football.
At this level, on field success does not translate into bigger crowds until you get to the upper echelons of the non league ladder. Histon have risen through the ranks with remarkable speed but their crowds have only increased moderately from their days in the Southern League. Away followings are much bigger – Glapwell only saw a dozen or so away fans visiting Field Mill for the games versus Leek Town where as Mansfield welcomed a few hundred from Barrow the weekend later.
This season, Glapwell announced a partnership with a local PR company, who were tasked with increasing the profile of the club within Nottinghamshire and beyond. They also had the job of pushing season ticket sales for the new season at Field Mill. This season’s average attendance? 97 (a figure boosted no end by inviting schoolkids in for free for a game against Romulus which “boasted” 232 in attendance). Their task?
“Parker PR was chosen thanks of its local connections and knowledge of local football. It will lead a proactive marketing campaign that will focus on growing the home crowd attendances.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not bemoaning a club trying to better itself. But throwing money at a poorly supported club, in the form of player wages, shiny stadia, or whatever, has proved itself time and time again to be a folly. Bringing a PR company on board is a mildly creative step, and for this they should be applauded. But the people who would follow Glapwell are likely to be those switched off from the bigger game because of sterile surroundings, over-paid primadonna players who care nothing for the shirt, and Chairmen who treat the club as a play thing rather than the community asset it should be.
Football + Logic = Confusion for everyone
Earlier in the season Glapwell had taken on the mighty Derby County in the Derbyshire Senior Cup semi-final. It is not often that such a big club would come visiting so you would expect Field Mill to be moderately full? Wrong, the game was actually being played at Hall Corner, for two reasons. Firstly, Field Mill is actually in Nottinghamshire and thus cannot host a Derbyshire Senior Cup game, and secondly as part of the rent row with ex-Field Mill owner Haslam, the club had returned to their more modest Hall Corner, meaning everything you have read above is completely irrelevant, but that is what you get for being organised and preparing your work weeks in advance!
Crowds since the relocation back to Hall Corner have justified the madness in the original plan. A hundred for the game against Shepshed Dynamos has been the highpoint of April, with other gates of significantly less. For their final game of the season they entertained Belper Town. Seventy fans came through the turnstiles, although a fair few may have been curious to see a gorilla in a Glapwell scarf playing the drums in the clubhouse.
So what now for Glapwell? Will we see a return to more sensible and realistic plans next season? Perhaps if the focus this season would have been on the field rather than off it the club could have made the playoffs. But football is never so clear cut is it? Repeat after me – Ambition + Sense = Success.