Non-league football offers alternative to pricey Premier League


SW Londoner’s Thomas Duffell looks into the rise in popularity of non-league local clubs.


By Thomas Duffell

He picks the ball up just inside the opposition’s half, he glances left and right before surging forward.

The first tackle comes in but he brushes it off with consummate ease. At full speed now he powers into the penalty area and with the most delicate of touches he clips the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.

A backtracking defender at full stretch attempts to clear it from the line but the ball finds the back of the net bringing the jubilant crowd onto their feet.

A contender for goal of the month for sure, but you won’t find many replays of this as it wasn’t scored by Wayne Rooney, David Silva, Robin van Persie or any other Premier League star for that matter.

This was a goal from Craig Dundas, Sutton United striker, in a 5-0 hammering of Blue Square Bet South League rivals Salisbury City at Gander Green Lane.

Having witnessed such sumptuous football at the non-league outfit, famed for their 1989 FA Cup upset when they knocked out top-flight Coventry City in the third round, I asked myself ‘why don’t more people come to watch their local non-league club?’

Well according to their Chairman, Bruce Elliott, they are starting to.

Bruce, whose day-job is as an accountant, said that in these tough economic times Sutton United have picked up supporters from the top-flight clubs in the area, such as Chelsea, Fulham, and QPR.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that we have got new supporters over the last few years because people haven’t been able to afford it.

“It’s not just the cost of the ticket but it’s also the fact you have to travel there, and when you get there you buy a programme, and to eat and have a drink is difficult,” Bruce says.

“Many times I’ve seen people and gone over to say hello and mention that I haven’t seen them before and they say they used to go to Chelsea but it got too expensive.” 

It’s no surprise the there has been a rise in attendance as the cost of the cheapest ticket to see Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is £57. For this you could go to Sutton United, eat, drink and buy a programme and still walk away with some serious change in your pocket.

But this rise in attendance isn’t solely down to the price of the elite clubs in the area.

“It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of foot slogging, getting leaflets out there, reaching out to the community, and to the local residents letting them know exactly what we are trying to do,” says Bruce.

They have capitalised on the situation, and with themed days, local residents days and school partnerships the club are looking to get even more people through the turnstiles.

Bruce hopes the other local clubs follow suit and try to attract more fans by reaching out to the community and persuading fans to watch them when they cannot make their ‘first-team’s’ match and make the local club their ‘second-team’.

He says: “I suspect some clubs are doing a similar thing, but others will be sitting in a corner at a table waiting for someone to approach them and moaning about people not coming to watch them, and I personally think this is the crux of what this is all about. It’s actually all about putting the word out.” 

The enjoyment you get from the game is no different. The sound of the crunching tackle, the rippling of the net, and the spring in your step after a win is the same at this level as it is in the Premier League.

So every football lover who can’t get, or afford, a ticket to one of the ‘Big Clubs’ of South West London it is time to turn off Soccer Saturday, get off the couch and get down to your local non-league club.

This is austerity football and you will not be disappointed.

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