Where is the pure football?

How the non-league game is a far removed from the glamorous, wealthy, over-hyped image of English football presents to the overseas football fans through their consumption of the Premier League?

Football is essentially a second religion for many people in England and around the world. The British football industry is the most advanced and successful in the world. There are multiple levels of football leagues in the country, however, with so many leagues and divisions, it would be simple for someone unfamiliar with the system to become perplexed about the English football pyramid.

Despite the low standard has its low position in the football world, there are plenty of reasons why non-league football is well worth watching, particularly in England where the lower leagues are taken much more seriously by fans and players than elsewhere in the world outside the UK.

Non-league football often gets an unfair label of being fairly agricultural in comparison to the Premier League. Playstyles might differ between the top and the bottom of the football pyramid but passion runs deep throughout. While it’s clear the quality in non-league football is below that of football league teams, there is still plenty of great action to witness.

To experience the distinctive ambiance of the local football scene, hear interesting tales, and have some intriguing experiences need to go to the scene in person.

Clearly, the stadiums in non-league football certainly don’t have the facilities, size or glamour to match those that you’d find in the Premier League, but that isn’t the point of non-league football. It’s all about the charm, and the passion, which is better demonstrated at non-league stadiums than anywhere else in football.

Stadiums like Champion Hill, Meadow Park and The Hive, have a certain element of comfort about them that simply can’t be replicated by a bigger team with a bigger fan base. You will have a totally different experience to watch the game at the home of a non-league team.

The Hive Stadium, the home of Barnet Football Club, a professional football club based in North London. The team compete in the National League, the fifth tier of the English league system. In this field, people can even stand very close to the grass of the stadium to watch the game, with beer in their hands, and also dance, as if they were celebrating a festival. There were also some fanatical fans who form a circle and sway to the music and sing the team’s exclusive cheering songs as if they are the main characters in the stadium. We absolutely can’t see such a scene in the Premier League clubs game.

FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round in The Hive Stadium
Recorded by Junsheng Xu

In fact, there were almost 2,000 fans standing in the stands. It was hard to imagine that this side in the UK’s fifth level football league has such a large fan base. You remember the entire day, not just the game being played on the field, and non-league clubs definitely have more memorable individual details than most professional ones.

In a game held in that stadium, a teenager who stand in front of me and looks very energetic, he said “I am a local of Barnet and live nearby. On every match day of Barnet, I always come to the stadium with some friends to watch games and almost never miss them. This has become our daily life habit for a long time.” He swayed joyfully with his friends again. I even thought he was at a party right now.

“We gather here to support the players on the field, which is like our entertainment way to release pressure.” he added.

Barnet FC fans celebrate scoring a goal
Recorded by Junsheng Xu

People don’t think they come to the hive stadium just to watch the match, but they see it more as a social place in this block. Here, they can enjoy their favourite activities including singing, dancing, drinking, and making new acquaintances. 

In the modern day, where loyalty seems to be a dying quality, it is of great comfort that there are still those people out there who seek to support their local sides rather than simply selecting a random big-name team to support, with no emotional attachment to them, simply because they think they’ll win trophies.

The latter is no type of football fan, whereas the former is more likely to have some genuinely emotional and enjoyable experiences while supporting their local team, because of the history that’s there and the attachment to the local area.

There is a sense of pride when watching your local non-league team win, as you realize it is mainly comprised of people from the near surroundings and may even contain some friends, or you may even have played for this team as a youth.

During the halftime of the non-league club Barnet FC home game, a middle-aged fan named Charlie told me

“I came to watch the match with my father today. He is a veteran fan of Barnet FC and has supported this team for more than 30 years. I was influenced by him and fell in love with this team since childhood. We really enjoy cheering for this hometown team here”.

By contrast, most supporters of bigger clubs don’t quite feel the same attachment towards their own team. You feel as though you’re not only supporting your team, but also your town when you go to watch your local non-league team, and this feeling cannot be underestimated in a time where people are attempting to take the heart from football and treat it solely as a business. The purest football is the most advanced enjoyment.

Ticket prices in English football are probably the worst thing about it. The cheapest adult ticket for the West Ham United on home vs Arsenal game I watched before was £65. That’s an absurd amount of money to regularly pay to watch the team they love, and many fans are forced not to watch their Premier League teams because of the horrendous prices, as West Ham are not alone in having high prices.

Compare this to the game I attended recently, Barnet FC vs Weston-super-Mare, where the price of admission was only £10 for what turned out to be a fantastic match, with several goals ensuring a 3-0 win for the home side. The home team successfully entered the next round of the FA Cup. It was a good game but at such cheap prices, it’s well worth attending a match.

Full Match Score: Barnet 3-0 Weston-super-Mare
Football and money closely linked

As we are all aware, Premier League has a very strong and profound football culture, and the competition atmosphere is excellent. With the gradual commercialization and maximization of benefits, the Premier League has shown more high brand value and huge profits, which has lost the significance and essence of some football itself. In non-league games, we can continue to enjoy the most primitive and pure football, place ourselves in the team, integrate ourselves into the club, and experience the real charm and happiness of football.

23 February 2009: Fans of football team show their dismay at the influence of big business on football prior. (Photograph by Joern Pollex/ Getty Images)

Non-league football is inclusive and community driven with supporters just as passionate about their clubs as their professional counterparts. Going to a non-league game opens you up to a world of unique footballing experiences no longer available at your average Football League or Premier League match day.

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