NLW #1: Non-league week begins on The 72
It is Non-League Week for a reason. Saturday 4th September marks Non-League Day, when an international weekend means a short break for the top two divisions.
Hopefully it will just be the first of many. You can read all about Non-League Day and the games available to attend on the website set up to promote the event.
In the run-up to Non-League Day, The Seventy Two will be devoting a whole week to the amateur game, as well as a one-off match report next weekend on an as-yet-undecided non-league game!
I recently tried to write about why I love non-league games for Danny Last’s European Football Weekends blog.
Sadly, I got distracted by a strong desire to try to describe how AFC Wimbledon striker Danny Kedwell closes down opposition defenders and the tactical intricacies of his manager Terry Brown.
Take two, then.
People often make the mistake that the league system in this, or any other, country is perfectly organised in order of footballing ability. The best players play in the Premier League. The not-quite-as-good ones play in the Football League. The dross all kick lumps out of each other in the non-league pyramid.
There is obviously a certain element of truth in this view, but there are so many other factors that contribute to a player’s career.
To me, the main one is consistency. A player who might be fantastic “on his day” is, in this horribly pragmatic modern era, increasingly seen as a luxury. The reliable benefit and maverick talents are discarded. And they end up in non-league football.
Not all of them, obviously. The Northern Counties Eastern League isn’t absolutely jam-packed with inconsistent versions of Lionel Messi. That pretty much goes without saying.
But still there are players who are capable of fleeting, flashing moments of true football brilliance. As long as you can stick out the twenty or so games in between these happenings, you can do it. You too can appreciate the beauty of non-league football.
Professional footballers are so boringly, well, professional. There might be a few who seem, on the surface, controversial and dangerous. Aside from the occasional nutcase, though, it’s all very safe in reality. These are very highly-paid, very high-profile men, many of whom enjoy the orchestration of their every breath in the name of image and financial gain.
Again, I’m not suggesting that non-league football is full of nutters. Just that it has a raw quality which brings with it an unpredictable nature. Matches can be dull, but there will always be some kind of talking point.
Part of the reason professional footballers “make it” in the game is because of their organisational skills. Mistakes happen, of course, but they are less frequent and punished more often.
In non-league football, meanwhile, mistakes happen all the time and are punished on a less regular basis. It makes for a more frenetic game, in which a player can look in total control of a situation one second only for the ball to end up in his net within moments.
If forced to pin down the attraction of non-league football to one quality, however, it would have to be the complete lack of frustration involved. This is not just because my team is not playing. If a Premier League, La Liga or international game is poor quality, it is easy to feel short-changed. You know they can do better.
Non-league players often can’t and, as such, you have no option but to sit back and enjoy the game for what it is. Twenty-two blokes kicking lumps out of each other in an attempt to put a ball in a net.
And what could be purer than that?
You can also follow Non-League Day on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/non_league_day