For non-league supporters and their clubs, one of the biggest frustrations they face is just how little they see of the money being thrown about by the FA and those involved in league football. This is especially prevalent in times such as these when a defender can be sold for £75 million, or the rights to show Premier League matches can go for nearly 5 billion. Discussions about what the league should do for grassroots football are heard everywhere, from social media to the pub, and will no doubt continue for a long time to come, yet with most of the focus being on money, you’d be forgiven for thinking the ‘us vs them’ mentality was a modern phenomenon, but as it turns out, this isn’t the case.
The article below was found in the British Newspaper Archive (many thanks to David Parram for allowing me access) and I thought it was an interesting little snippet which despite coming from the middle of the last century, shows how little things have really changed.
Taken from ‘The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury’ and dated Saturday, October 17th 1953, the article discusses ‘The Yorkshire League’ – the predecessor to the Northern Counties Leagues as we now know them.
The Yorkshire League was founded in 1920 and initially featured just a few clubs. Selby Town was in there as well as their recent cup scalp, Bradford Park Avenue (who went on to become the first ever champions). Some teams were semi-professional but many like BPA played their reserve teams in the league, giving their reserves competitive matches in which they could hone their skills and keep match fit.
As you can see from this article, even in 1953, just 33 years after the Yorkshire League’s inception, there was already frustration between league and non-league sides, with the author stating that, “nothing matters to the 92 clubs other than what affects and interest them”. In many ways this is true, with the lower levels of non-league so far removed from that of those above that they aren’t worth a thought. Yet despite this, the writer is pleased to discover that:
”the smaller professional clubs like Selby Town, Scarborough and Goole Town for instance, had ambitions just as keenly edged, hopes just as quickly raised and as suddenly deflated as Leeds United, Sheffield United and Hull City ever entertained.”
So it just goes to show that no matter how much money is thrown at the league, how fancy the coverage is on tv, or how much focus is placed onto the celebrity side of football, fundamentally the passion and the desire is shared at every level, and it was the same then as it is now.
It’s interesting to note just how shocked this writer seems to be at discovering just how similar football clubs are at heart, whether league or non-league. Especially as now, 65 years later, very little seems to have changed, and despite the FA Cup helping to increase awareness of non-league football, I wonder how many football journalists even now truly have an interest in the game at lower levels?
The truth is that even if the FA increased support in funding and publicity for the grassroots, it’s always going to be tough in non-league, such is the draw of the big, shiny stadiums, and celebrity footballers and their wives.
Yet let it be known, that “ football means just as much to these smaller professional clubs as to the giants”, and in fact, stood out in the open on a freezing winter night, cheering on those eleven local lads of your home team as they struggle on sodden pitches, I’d say it means a hell of a lot more.