NON-LEAGUE football can be an unforgiving genre. Team Bath were despised by many clubs because they didn’t fit the non-league identikit. Yet they played marvellous football and had a good attitude. But they fell by the wayside, largely due to a rule that prevented university teams from progressing too far.
Yet Team Bath, in another era, might have been more readily accepted. Academic teams were once welcomed and respected – Pegasus, after all, were a team formed from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Another team, Loughborough Colleges, once reached the quarter-finals of the FA Amateur Cup where they were beaten by Hitchin Town. This story is among many that feature in a book about one of British football’s most unusual clubs: Learning Curve by Chris Evans, a Warwickshire-based journalist.
Loughborough used to be a breeding ground for decent non-league players. Bob Wilson, who played in Arsenal’s 1971 double-winning team, played in that 1961 Amateur Cup run and cracked some ribs in the process. Barry Hines, author of Kes, was also a Loughborough man.
Loughborough Colleges are now Loughborough University and they play in the Midland League. They represent a trend of university teams moving up the non-league ladder, which may actually upset some purists, yet chroniclers of the game will tell you that football began in similar surroundings.
Evans spent a year following the fortunes of Loughborough University and has produced an intriguing journal of his project. This is no ramshackle student team, though. The football club has two managers, one for non-league games and one for inter-university contests and is aided by sports scientists and nutritionists just as any major club in the country. It should be remembered that the concept of sports science took root in places like Loughborough. They also have a decent stadium.
The cover of Evans’ book promises that you get a glimpse “inside one of British football’s most unusual clubs”. It’s non-league, but not as we know it. Any non-league fan who wants to see what the future of the game at grassroots level might look like should pick up a copy.
Learning Curve by Chris Evans is published by Another League Books.