Continuing our series on what can be done to improve Non League football, the genius that is Beat The First Man raises the subject that clubs themselves are sometimes their own worst enemies.
You know what gets my goat in non league football? Well, apart spurious ground grading regulations, inept officiating, and clubs playing fast and loose with the financing rules. It is clubs, well-meaning so often, not utilising the skills base that presents itself to them on a fortnightly basis.
Clubs need fans. Of course they need their monies over the gate, over the bar, at the tea hut. But they need them in other ways, and all too often they are reluctant, unwilling, or simply too pig-headed to ask.
The old cliche of fans ganging together to pay the wages, or paint a fence, is one which we are all far too familiar with. On the one hand you would hope that clubs learn from the errors of those who went before them. But equally there is something “blitz spirit” about everyone rocking up to the ground in mid June to spruce up the changing rooms. And we do it because we want to help, to be part of the club in any small way we can. Non league football is run by volunteers, after all (at least, the *real* non league is).
But why should it stop there? On any given matchday, there will be an assortment of men and women with all manner of skills standing on the sidelines. All with their own lives, true. And not all necessarily willing or able to give their time to the club for free. But it doesn’t have to be free.
If there are builders, get them quoting for ground improvements. If there are painters and decorators, buy their remaindered stock off them for the changing rooms, the clubhouse, the boardroom. Electricians? Sort out the PA. Office workers? Spread a bit of the admin around.
When I helped a non league club a few years ago, I was setting up the Supporters Club, one of the fields we put on the membership form related to the line of work/expertise the individual brought with them. Through that, we found folk to demolish the old dugouts, and rebuild them on the other side of the pitch. We found painters willing to donate paint for the goalposts. We found someone qualified to totally overhaul the clubs’ bookkeeping. We discovered that we had contacts in the drinks industry, a local butcher whom we eagerly tapped up for matchday rolls and pies. We even had a fully qualified FA official standing around, unutilised. What price his half an hour of his time with the first team every now and again?
You may say, quite rightly, that it is easy to find most skills if a FC United crowd, or a Luton crowd. But what if you struggle to get over 50? I would argue that is still 50 people who should be asked. Not asked if they can help, not asked for money, but just asked to think if they can do anything for the club. I live in the heartland of Maggie’s legacy, and old miners are ten a-penny at old miners welfare clubs like Rainworth and Clipstone. Their skills may not be transferable, but their presence could invaluable. Who do they know? By conducting so much of their business behind closed doors, clubs are limiting the pool of people who can help. So often so quick to ask for money, I would argue that time and expertise is much more valuable with non-league football.
Ask, and more often than not, people are happy to help. Sometimes for free, sometimes for “mates rates”. But people assume, laughably, that those who run football clubs know what they are doing. The opportunity to include, rather than exclude, is one that any forward-thinking chairman should be looking at embrace.