Me & My Team: A Non-League Story

Tuesday, September 08, 2009 | View Comments

It’s great to have the EPL back. The famous names and great teams have returned - Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool - as have the not-so-great and not-so-famous - Bolton, Wigan, Fulham, Burnley. Still, even at the bottom, you won’t see my team there.

Dig deeper. Drop lower. Have a peek through the Premier League’s trap-door down at the Championship table. Again, there are some big names here – Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United... It’s a good league, the Championship. Separated from the EPL by just a promotion/relegation corridor it’s not hard to see how some of the shine of the top flight has rubbed off. You won’t see my team there, though.

Keep descending, keep dropping through the lower divisions of English football. It’s getting murky, and with each step away from the EPL’s dazzle it grows a little grimmer. We’re in a strange land now, a land filled with Huddersfield Towns, Accrington Stanleys and Dagenham & Redbridges. The third and fourth levels of English football come and go in a blur of Pukka Pies, hoofed clearances and creaking terraces, but, still, you will not see my team.

We’re here! Far beneath the bright, shiny Premier League, deep below the fresh, ultra-competitive Championship, and even below the muddy, muggy no-man’s land of League 1 and League 2 is a strange division. Amazingly, even at this depth football blossoms. Congratulations – you have just reached the Blue Square Premier, England’s fifth division – a bustling, quirky 24-team skirmish that grips its dedicated but slightly misguided fans every Saturday from August to April.

And, yes, half-way down the table, you will find my club: Rushden and Diamonds FC - the 103rd best-team in England.

I’m aware that a site mainly intended for American soccer fans is probably a bad choice of platform for an article on the BSP. But down here in the warm, serene half-light of non-league football we fans enjoy an unusual position in English football, and an unusual perspective. At the lowest point of the English professional game, in a league overshadowed by the EPL, nowhere is the divide in the modern game reflected upon more than down here.

Attendences and monthly wages are often triple-figured, while, without wanting to fall into the trap of patronising the league, strikers can deliver the goals on Saturday and deliver the neighboroughood milk on the Sunday. Retirement signals employment wilderness – a thirty-something year-old with nought but “footballer” on his CV is a worrying position to be in. Fans, too, must sacrifice. Travelling hundreds of miles on a wet Tuesday evening to see Barrow play Eastbourne instead of enjoying a cosy evening in front of televised Champions League football can be as unrewarding and uninspiring as it sounds.

Don’t get me wrong. Non-league football is great, full of idiosyncrasies and local heroes and memorable incidents. Like the time a striker for my club has his goal ruled out due to a combination of poor eyesight on the referee’s part, and a poor quality goal net. Or that Pancake Tuesday when a group of fans were pelted with eggs and flour thrown over the terrace wall (someone forgot the milk, it seems). A picture doing the rounds of the non-league forums (below) shows how a group of fans made full use of the ample space in the terrace to tell the opposition goalie what they thought of him. Only in non-league.

Allow me to make a barely tangible link to the Little Mermaid song:

“You dream about going up there,
But that is a big mistake,
Just look at the world around you,
Right here on the ocean floor,
Such wonderful things surround you,
What more is you lookin' for?”

It’s true. All teams aim for promotion but, simply, the BSP is not that bad. It’s competitive, it’s got great fans and the best mix of teams and quality than is most other leagues. What’s not to like? Yes, if I was offered the chance to see my team promoted to the heady heights of League 2 I’d jump at the chance. But, right now, it’s not too bad at all.

Other than the clearly inappropriate reference to the ocean floor, there are few better pieces of music that sum up life in the lower-league than the one sung by a talking Jamaican crab. And that, I can’t help but feel, is entirely suitable.
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