Volunteers truly are the life and soul of grassroots sport, putting in considerable amounts of their own time and money to ensure spectators have something to enjoy weekend after weekend, writes Tom Howe.
Their tireless efforts allow a community to thrive and keep institutions alive with stories of days and players gone by.
It is a far more common trend in the modern day to see clubs relying on volunteers to survive as the hustle and bustle of everyday life draws people’s attention elsewhere.
Non-League Day, set-up by James Doe in 2010 after being inspired by a pre-season trip to Devon to watch Queens Park Rangers play Tavistock, provides a platform for clubs to promote the importance of affordable volunteer led community football while giving fans across the country the chance to show support for their local non-league side.
Quite simply, they say: “Many non-league clubs are almost exclusively volunteer run, with money taken at the turnstiles often funding thriving youth set-ups, projects and facilities which are of benefit to the whole community.
“The level of skill on offer at non-league grounds will never compare to that at the Emirates Stadium or Old Trafford, for example, but there are other sides to the experience, from which the smaller club will always win hands down.
“The vast majority of games still kick off at 3.00 pm, ticket prices are realistic, you can often stand (and drink!) anywhere in the ground and will always be guaranteed a warm welcome by people who run their clubs for a love of the game.”
However, what happens when those volunteers, for whatever reason, miss a fixture and the behind-the-scenes work which some come to expect goes begging. An email newsletter from Southern Premier South side Poole Town arrived in the Independent’s mailbox this week discussing just that.
“I was away last weekend,” it starts, “and at this time of year, time pressure is a real problem. For non-league clubs like ours, volunteers are the oil that keeps the engine running as well as the engine itself.
“Last week the mainstay of our media team was out of action on health grounds (get well soon Ben). Ben has been providing match commentaries, Twitter and Facebook updates and an improved presence on Instagram. All this in addition to helping on the website. Ben is ably assisted by a number of other volunteers. However, it would be wrong to concentrate just on our media team.
“Of course without the efforts of The Three Rs (Chris Reeves, Arthur Robbins and Clive Robbins) in the ‘90s and the current Board today, we would have no club and for that we must all be grateful. However, being grateful is not enough to keep the club running. We would be in trouble without the volunteers that run the turnstiles, the club shop, sell programmes and 50/50 tickets, not forgetting the PA announcer and the person that changes the ‘next match’ board. Without any of these and many more, the club would not run smoothly and would be poorer in many ways.
“If you can help in any way it is appreciated, if you can’t spare a thought for those who can, and do, help the club on a regular basis. So please forgive us that there was no one at Chesham to write a match report or do a radio commentary. This weekend (weather gods permitting) we will have both a radio commentary and a match report, not by magic but by hardworking, unpaid volunteers.”
Sadly, Poole’s game at home to Hendon yesterday (Saturday) did fall foul of the inclement conditions, more on which can be read on page 22.
As the Non-League Day statement continues: “A lot can be achieved when football fans work together for a common goal.”
Always scheduled to coincide with an international break, Non-League Day provides a platform for clubs to promote the importance of affordable volunteer led community football while giving fans across the country the chance to show support for their local non-league side.
What the initiative achieves is wonderful, there is no doubt about it but more needs to be done to ensure those communities, institutions and stories stay alive. There is said to be 5,300 football clubs in the English league system alone and many of those are calling out for support from local hands to ensure further chapters can be written into their great histories.
Using the beautiful game as an example, the Football Association have a handy tool that can be used to find out the clubs in your area, with contact and venue details to lead you directly to the source. So why not get involved and help benefit not only your local club but yourself and your community as well? For more information, visit www.thefa.com/get-involved