When two worlds collide: Premier meets non-league

TRYING to attract more supporters via marketing initiatives is a worthwhile exercise for non-league clubs. Projects like Non-League Day and reduced admission for certain games have their place and have proved very fruitful in most cases. Indeed, their success does raise questions around the pricing structure for football outside of the Football League. If non-league was cheaper, more people would surely attend games. 

Coalville from the Southern League launched a £ 5 admission day when they met Hitchin Town on February 5. The response was particularly good, Coalville had an excellent crowd of over 800, with only a dozen or so coming from Hertfordshire. Football for a fiver had clearly appealed to a lot of local folk.

However, while filling the ground and creating a buzz, Coalville drew a lot of fans who were unaccustomed to non-league football. It was very noticeable these spectators really did not understand the attraction of the game at this level for those that attend regularly. 

Non-league, generally, is a more sedate affair, there is a good natured atmosphere at the majority of grounds and civility tends to dominate. This seemed lost on the horde of fans who concentrated on foul-mouthed abuse of the Hitchin team and the gaggle of supporters who travelled up to Leicestershire. To be honest, the language was worse than any Football League/Premier League ground I have visited in the past few years. 

Clearly, they were not Coalville fans, for their chanting also included “We hate Forest”, which implied they may well have been Leicester City fans. Nottingham Forest were hosting Leicester the following day in the FA Cup. It is doubtful they were fans of Coalville, because Forest do not move in their immediate circle of clubs!

The Hitchin fans were a little intimidated and their expressions told the locals they were not impressed. “If you don’t like it, f*** off to the way end,” said one fan. Again, this comment only served to confirm the influx was largely unused to the non-league system, where fans change ends to stand behind the goal their team is attacking.

Meanwhile, the high-vis gang who were stewarding the game just stood and watched as abuse poured from the terrace. What is the point of employing security staff if they do nothing but grin? 

It has to be said, there were no prudes among the Hitchin contingent, but essentially, the age group is late 50s, early 60s. In other words, they were not going to trade insults with dozens of teenagers and 20-30 year-olds. They did Coalville no service, which is a great shame as the club itself was as friendly as any non-league outfit. Coalville took a bold decision to cut prices to encourage more local football fans to come along and it worked. Unfortunately, cultural differences undid them to a certain degree, even though they did get the three points.

Hitchin have had their own experience of Premier fans turning up and making a nuisance of themselves a few years ago when a gang of Everton supporters, on route to Stevenage for a FA Cup tie, barged their way into Top Field. For those who went to Coalville, they must have returned home appreciating their own club.