For those of you who listen to the Non League Show on Radio 5Live, you may have heard and an article in which people said that they felt offended by the term ‘non-league’. It was suggested that this term should be replaced by the phrase ‘semi-professional’.
Back in 1974 the FA decided to make everyone ‘players’. Since then, the ‘non-league’ community appear to adopt whatever label suits their purpose best eg.part-timers, minnows (for FA Cup purposes) or even occasionally re-vamping the term ‘amateurs’.
But it is no longer an FA Cup surprise when a non league team eliminates another from the lower divisions of the Football League, because, increasingly, the non league outfit are as almost, if not, as well paid as their supposed ‘betters’.
One solution might be to return to the distinction between full time professional, semi-pro and amateur players.
In my view the FA Trophy should be the prize for semi-pro teams, whether they pay £10 a game or have players on contract. There is no difference, the players are all copping money out of the game and are ‘professional footballers’, though in many non-league cases, on a part time basis. (semi-pro)
The Vase should be the competition for the small clubs, the amateur clubs, of which there are many in and around the country. Clubs for whom players play without sticking their hand out for money. It’s been a long time since a team without a ‘wage structure’ has won the FA Vase and, unfortunately has become the competition for the semi-pro clubs who wish to continue to pay players but can’t pay enough to do well in the Trophy.
If the FA cannot spare the Vase for amateur clubs, then they should consider resurrecting the FA Amateur Cup. "A return to shamateursim" I hear you say. It doesn't have to be that way. All it needs is proper governance from the powers that be, but that might be asking too much.
Sadly, ‘Amateur’ is sometimes seen as an old fashioned, even derogatory term but not in my book. To my mind, a return and recognition of this code within ‘non-league football’ would not only be refreshing in a sporting sense but would also recognise those who are the ‘real minnows’.
By the same example, those who are happy to ‘imitate’ the professional ranks and are earning money from their talent or otherwise, in addition to their daily work, are welcome to the term, ‘semi-pro’.
Finally, there is regular reference on the programme that if a club comes into money they can ‘extend the budget and get better players in’. Since 1974 one can make a list of clubs and grounds that have been lost through financial mismanagement which has included paying ridiculous wages to players in the pursuit of silverware. For example, trophies may have been won at Leytonstone Ilford / Redbridge Forest but that’s all now forgotten, and the football grounds at Lynn Road, Granleigh Road and Green Pond Road, which were all sold and financed these teams, are all now housing estates. At the same time, East London lost three senior football clubs.
The boom and bust scenario for clubs chasing success on the field is a regular occurrence in non league football and whilst one eventually reform and call your club AFC “this or that”, I am sure it can never be the same.
This is the reason why I fully support the efforts of the Clapton supporters in wresting control of the club from Mr Vince McBean and returning it to the members. But they need act before it’s too late. So come on real Clapton FC, jump to it before he sells the club and the lease ! (He’s tried to do that already, even though he doesn’t own either).
The non league show is on at some unearthly hour on Sunday mornings so, those of us with a tender disposition, tend to listen to it or download it from the BBC website as a podcast during the week. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01m5gsx. It’s a great show and the contributors do a great job, so thanks to them.
30th October 2014
email Lew Listz
Back to Clapton stuff in my next missive. Just had to get this off my chest.