Gary Neville recently talked about a “North-South divide in English Football”. Is he right? Of course, from the National Conference onwards the leagues are split between the north and the south, but what about the finances and quality of play?
Three out of the four teams to get relegated from the National Conference last season went to the Northern division, and this is not uncommon. Northern Clubs are finding it more and more difficult to compete with the richer, wealthier clubs in the south of England. With Non-league clubs having to spend a lot of their income on wages and keeping competitive, it is no surprise that some teams are walking on the wild side. To see teams at the bottom of the league with a star by their name is becoming less and less of a shock year after year. Two teams were expelled from the national league last year, meaning that the fans have to reach into their pocket a little more to fund their local teams.
In the recent BBC study of the “Price of Football”, there were some disturbing facts. A ticket for Altrincham comes up to £14, while that is still a bargain compared to Old Trafford, that is still more expensive than seats at major European clubs such as Paris Saint Germain or Bayern Munich. How can this be the case?
European football clubs generally do more to improve fan relations (the captains going over to their fans and apologising for defeats is relatively normal) with them sharing out the profits from TV deals more equally to becoming a member of the club, they are treated more like supporters, not customers. However, England has one of the most competitive non-leagues in European football competing alongside Germany for being the most football obsessed. But Germany has less of a problem with north and south, but more of a problem around the influx of the big Bundesliga teams having their second and third teams taking over.
The difficulties that the English Non-Leagues suffer with and the constant battle against the wealthier teams in the south, surely this is better than the monotony of a monopoly of football from the big teams? The individuality, the local spirit and the local rivalries that our Non-League system breeds is one that we should nurture and protect.
So, however hard those long Tuesday nights in November are when your losing 3-0 away, just be grateful you’re not losing to Manchester United’s third team.
Written for The Non-League Football Magazine