NLD 2011 "a big success"

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The brainchild of a few fans, Non-League Day emerged blinking into the sunlight in 2010 and proved a great success. Timed to coincide with September’s international weekend when many fans are at a loose end, NLD encourages supporters to get along and explore their local non-league clubs. It’s a beautifully simple idea which has snowballed spectacularly. NLD 2011 took place on 3rd September and the Football Supporters’ Federation spoke to Mike Bayly, one of the main men behind the day, to see how it went.

The FSF: Non-League Day is now into its second year, how was it for you?

Mike: I think the big difference this year is that the national media really got behind it. There were two articles on Sky Sports news, and having Blue Square’s Alan Alger involved gave the campaign coverage on radio stations such as Talksport. We even got a mention from Martin Tyler during the Bulgaria v England match which was fantastic! The Blue Square hop was a big success although I have to confess that standard of football in the first and last games wasn’t the best.

What would you say to a fan who’s teetering on the edge of going to see their local non-league side?

It really depends what your expectations are from the matchday experience. If you only want to see world class players - a term that is banded around far too easily these days - and are prepared to pay extortionate amounts of money for the privilege, non-league football could be a hard sell. For some people non-league football just isn’t their thing.

However, if you are a supporter who is increasingly concerned over escalating matchday costs or the erosion of the game’s traditions, you could do a lot worse than try your local non-league club. As one Weymouth fan recently noted, ‘There are no poncy egos here. That nippy right-winger you idolise from the terraces? You’ll see him the next day emptying your bin.’

As importantly, you can really make a difference at non-league level. Many clubs are always advertising for volunteers to help in a wide range of areas, from coaching youth teams to writing the matchday programme. Fans talk idly about how they would like to change the game, so to those who feel they have something to offer, make yourself known at your local club. What’s more you even get to meet the odd celebrity. I shared a beer with ex-Grays Athletic manager Julian Dicks last year after the match at Wingate & Finchley. It’s an experience that keeps on giving!

Many above average or record-breaking crowds?

Some clubs such as Hyde and Bishop’s Stortford doubled their average attendance, and there were reports of some sides getting their highest attendances for years. Rugby Town attracted easily their biggest gate to Butlin Road this season. Unfortunately some also recorded lower than average crowds, which was disappointing, especially where there were documented efforts to encourage fans to come along.

In terms of an overall analysis it is very difficult to measure. I think arguably the most informative way of doing it is to compare a crowd for a match on Saturday with the same match last season. We did this quickly with all the games in the Blue Square Bet Premier and they all saw an increase, some like Darlington and Wrexham by 1,000-2,000. Even clubs like Kettering and Hayes who groundshare saw significant increases.

Is there anything fans can do to help you promote or organise NLD 2012?

Absolutely. We need the press across the country to back this, from the broadsheets down to the village editions. If you could write an article for your local paper about non-league day, highlighting your local clubs and why people should go there, it would make a huge difference. We found too many papers simply copied our generic press release, and without a proper context it doesn’t really have the necessary impact. We also need supporters to help us compile the ultimate non-league club database – more on this at a later date.

Lastly, we noticed Chris Waddle is now an ambassador, a player who himself came through the non-league ranks. There are plenty of other examples too – Stuart Pearce, Ian Wright, Stan Collymore, and most recently Carl Jenkinson at Arsenal. Who’s the “next big thing”?

I rarely watch football above Ryman League level so it’s tricky to comment. However, I understand Crystal Palace were at Cray Wanderers last Tuesday night looking at a couple of players. One who really stood out for me was Cray’s Danny Phillips; very skilful and direct. Whether he - or indeed anyone else currently at this level - can go on to grace the top flight is another matter altogether.

Wealdstone’s Jermaine Beckford is a recent example of somewhere who played at this level and scored goals in the Premier League so it can happen. The margins in football are incredibly fine. What I think you will see a lot more of are players from professional academies starting their careers in non-league and working their way back up again, largely because the globalised competition for places at elite clubs is so intense.

Mike, thanks for your time and best of luck with Non-League Day 2012.

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