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10 Things You’ll Only Understand as a Non-League Football Fan

In a country dominated by the Premier League, football celebrities, and cold, hard cash, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole world of football that smells like team spirit and chip grease.

Non-league football and its fans are a special breed. These are the people who are willing to put themselves through some special miseries for the chance at a joy that only exists in an uncovered stand, on a Tuesday night and in a torrential downpour.

Sound like you? Here are our top ten emotional stages every non-league supporter will experience at some point in their fandom.

1.Judging an entire club on chip potential

Food is a big part of the non-league experience. Whether it’s pies or burgers, finding some decent grub can be a big consolation after a humiliating drumming. But above all, the chips are the most important part of any club.

We’ll bow to the superior wisdom of Non-League Chips in how to grade your chips. You want to be looking at price, portion size, range of condiments, and – of course – crispness. Be sure to get onto your chairman if your own club is falling down here.

2.Being smug about how affordable it all is

We all know this one. A Premier League fan mentions how much they paid for a ticket at the weekend. Cue a huge sigh from you – the kind you’d take when a plumber lumps you with a huge bill. You’ll say something like, “You could get entry, three pints, a pie, chips AND reserve goalkeeper for that down Southwick FC!”

3.Having Encyclopaedic knowledge of pubs in provincial towns

Supporting a non-league team (especially the further down you go) means travelling to towns and villages you’ve never heard of – let alone visited. And, by extension, this means visiting some of the weirdest and most wonderful pubs in the whole country.

From the old faithful Wetherspoons to tiny alehouses, you’re often at the mercy of what’s on offer. Some of the places you end up in will only have the one pub, so you will all squeeze in together, getting side-eyed by the local who just came in for a quiet pint. On the other end of the spectrum is the ‘spoilt for choice scenario’ and you’ll spend at least an hour before kick-off trying to round everyone up across town.

While pubs can be quite hit-and-miss, you’ll sometimes find such a gem that you’re already looking forward to the same away fixture next season – especially if the drinks are cheaper than back home.

4.The away travel itself

For any football fan, there’s something special about travelling away and getting up dead early for a car, coach or train. There’s nothing quite like getting a few cans in a bit earlier than you should do and letting the excitement build as you travel across the country to offer support.

Sure, all clubs have away fans, but are they travelling through the backwaters of Essex, taking three trains and a replacement bus? What about sprinting through Gosport on a Tuesday evening to catch the last ferry back to Portsmouth? Unlikely.

Non-league travel is more rough and ready and leaves you with a true sense of accomplishment. This feeling of achievement doesn’t only come from planning the trip and actually getting there. Instead, it stems from wondering how you managed to corral 100 people to travel 100 miles to support a team in the ninth tier of football. There’s nothing like it.

5.Having to explain who your club is

“Who?” is a word regularly heard by non-league fans. It’s a fair question, but it can be a bit tiresome as more questions usually follow about where they sit in the league structure and – more importantly – why you bother to follow them.

But, it’s worth it. And, every so often, you might just pull a new person to the next game. In that case, they can start answering all the questions for you.

6.The chance to take on one of the big clubs

It’s not exactly special for a Chelsea fan to watch them take on Arsenal: it’s a regular fixture. But to a team in the lower echelons it’s like a dream come true. It’s even a massive deal to get a team in League One.

Of course, all non-league fans were watching Sutton take on the Gooners in the FA Cup last season with a mixture of jealousy and genuine support. That competition always offers a bit of hope to clubs struggling to get by financially. Plus, it’s a huge reward for the fans, especially when they’ve been supporting a team through thick and thin.

7.Dealing with called off matches

It’s incredibly rare for a Premier League game to get called off, but look further down the pyramid and it’s altogether too common. Between October and February there’s a constant fear of a match being called off last minute due to a frozen or wet pitch. It’s always such a disappointment and you feel at a complete loss as your plans fall through.

But on top of that, it means a mad rush of games towards the end of the season as the postponements add up. Suddenly, you’ve got two games a week, three times in a row. That’s a huge amount of work for part-time players and it makes everything 100% tenser. What was once a good promotion run can soon turn into a relegation battle.

8.Knowing everyone’s names

From the fans up to the chairman, after a couple of seasons there isn’t a single person you don’t at least nod to and say “You alright?” when you see them. The bar staff know what you drink as well- although this is usually easy to tell because 90% of people drink beer and there’s only three taps.

Non-league clubs are often small operations, so knowing everyone’s names isn’t too surprising. It’s all much more close-knit and it’s one of the main reasons non-league is so special. You get to meet a range of incredible people who you’d never cross paths with otherwise. No one can knock that.

9.Having a pie with the team

It’s a common sight at non-league grounds up and down the country: fans are sitting in the clubhouse post-match and before long the players all come in for their chips and a cup of tea. The players you were just screaming supportively at are now right in front of you – and it’s no big deal.

Trust us, that’s not something you get in the upper tiers. Being able to console or compliment a player in person is something special. Plus, it means even more when you can see proper joy or disappointment in their eyes as well. You get to see upfront that they care, just as much as you do.

10.The pure and beautiful ingloriousness of it all

Cancelled trains. Broken floodlights. Flooded toilets. Sold out chips. A ten-nil decimation. Crashing out of the cup. Relegation. Freezing evenings. Wet weekends. Low turnout. High expectations. Tinny speakers. Sloping pitches. Half-built stands. A third postponement in a month. No action replays. No money. There’s no doubt about it: non-league couldn’t be any other way, and we hope it stays like that.