Our co-founder and executive producer, Luke Prior, joined Will Gavin on talkSPORT’s Extra Time Show on Monday, following Manchester City’s exit from the FA Cup to League 1’s Wigan Athletic, to discuss his love for non-league football.
WG: What would you say to someone who has never been to a non-league game – about getting out there and giving it a go?
LP: I think you can expect the same drama, excitement, passion and action as any other football game. At the end of the day, football is the same game no matter what level you play at. So if you’re going to go and watch a non-league football match, you can expect the same debates with your mates about decisions, tactics, and who’s the best player; it’s the same game – and really, the players are just as talented in non-league, as they are at any other level of the game.
WG: There was a price of football survey released, which showed the best and worst teams to follow from your wallet… National League clubs are incredibly cheap – you’ve got teams like Sutton United, who with an early renewal, you can pay just £85 to go and see them for the season.
LP: It’s amazing isn’t it! It’s a no-brainer really. There’s so many local clubs on your doorstep, that I’m sure many people just don’t know about. For such a cheap price, you feel wanted by the club. Some times when you go to a Premier League game, with the TV deals they have nowadays, sometimes it feels like it is just better that you’re not there – they’re moving fixtures to Monday night, Friday night, and it’s just inconvenient for you, whereas, if you go down on a Saturday to a non-league game, pay £10 on the door, and you feel wanted.
WG: How important is Non-League Day?
LP: It’s great for highlighting it. I think non-league football is so important to the modern game. People are now really starting to realise the importance of it – the Jamie Vardy Effect – and everyone points it out, but how players and fans are starting to look down to the non-leagues. Young players need to get their chance, to play the game, and the argument is, is it better to be playing in a top academy or to actually be playing games every week and moving to a non-league club.
WG: In the general game you go and see, what is the general quality of football like? Not just necessarily the drama, but the quality of the product on the pitch?
LP: I think it varies, really. The area we cover – we’ve got the Step 3 – the Bostik Premier, and Step 4 as well – I would consider comparing that to the Premier League and the Championship. You’ve got players who are in the Bostik Premier who are being scouted by clubs like QPR, like Niko Muir who plays for Hendon and has scored 26 goals so far this season. There are players making that jump from Step 4 as well. There are also players who are making their way down at the end of their career, Billericay Town for example, have the likes of Konchesky – good players, who have played in the Champions League. Then there’s the young players coming up as well, and trying to make a name for themselves, and push their way into league football.
In cup competitions, the media are very quick to label non-league players by their day job, by their profession, whereas I think if these players were training everyday, just like the professional players, with the high quality standard of coaching, and learning tactics, there’s no reason why they couldn’t be just as good.
WG: You’re an Arsenal fan by tradition, but how does an Arsenal fan go from being an Arsenal fan to going to watch non-league football week out, and covering it? How did that happen?
LP: When you go to non-league grounds, most non-league fans do have a Premier League or Championship club that they also associate with. For me it’s a case of almost being priced out. You see lots of interviews, and talk to people, and they will tell you that they can’t afford to do it every week anymore. You go to a non-league game once, and you just see the quality that is there.
If you can add value to a club, and feel valued at the same time then you’re more willing to want to go there and be part of it.
WG: How much do you think there is that element of 200 million pound players, 250 thousand pound a week contracts in the Premier League – are people just getting a little bit sick of where the top levels of football are going? – and maybe wanting to connect with something a bit more real, more authentic?
LP: Exactly. When you see the new TV deals that have just been signed, and the 4 billions – you can just go to your non league ground; and you can stand at the sides, you can talk to players/ managers in the bar area after the games.
You can listen to the full interview here: