We love Non League Football here at TBIR Towers. It annoys me when commentators talk about “the beautiful game” when describing our sanitised, pampered Premier League game. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our beautiful game takes place in hundreds of grounds up and down far away from the Porsche’s, the WAGS and the Robbie Savages. Some grounds are full of character, others are just plain shit. But the thing that Non League grounds all have in common is that they are staffed by people who live, breathe, eat and sleep Non League football. The unsung heroes of our game. So we celebrate the top three Non League away days we have experienced this season. For sake of fairness I have excluded Lewes as I am a tad bias. So without further ado let’s get this Polar Express underway.
3rd best Non League Away Day – Bury Town
You cannot fail to go wrong by visiting a town where there is a brewery. Well, apart from Reading that is. And Bury St Edmunds has one of the best. Greene King has been brewing in the town for hundreds of years and is a fine reason to visit in itself. There is also the novelty of visiting England’s smallest pub, the Nutshell. But its football we are here to celebrate and there are few better places to watch a game as the sunsets than Ram Meadow, sitting in the shadow of the cathedral. Located just a short walk from the town centre, but still far enough to get diverted into a number of excellent pubs, the ground is full of charm and well worth the long drive.
2nd best Non League Away Day – Leiston
Suffolk has a monopoly on great away trips this season in the Ryman League and a welcome addition to Lewes’s list of roadtrips was Leiston. Hard to find on the map, the town/village can be missed in the blink of an eye as you pass by. It doesn’t even have a railway station, the nearest one is in Saxmundham, some 5 miles away. It is close to Sizewell nuclear reactor though, which probably explains the reason why they don’t need floodlights. Adnams is brewed locally and no visit here will be complete without a pint of two in the Engineers Arms close to the ground. The club have progressed through the county leagues at quite a lick but the reason why they are so high up in our list is the hospitality of the club and its staff. Top notch food, excellent beer and a welcome to all visitors in the club house. The model for success if ever I saw one.
Best Non League Away Day – Maidstone United
After years of toil, political intrigue and bargaining, the Stones finally moved back home in July this year. And haven’t they reaped the success. Going into the Christmas period the club sat proudly a-top of the Ryman League South, averaging crowds of 1,600 in their new city centre Gallagher Stadium. 1,600 – more than some teams in this league get in a season! The stadium has been built for a club on the way up. A decent size clubhouse, serving local Shepherds Neame beer, railway stations within a ten minute walk, decent pubs across the road and of course THAT pitch. The Stone were ballsy enough to challenge the FA and ridiculous rules on the use of 3G pitches and have reaped the benefits. On Saturday 22nd December they were the ONLY club in the Ryman League able to host a game, resulting in a crowd of more than 1,600. But it is the never-say-die attitude of the staff, the entertaining style of play and the ease of watching a game here that makes it our BEST NON LEAGUE AWAY DAY of 2012.