Football is one of the most popular sports in the world, with the top teams attracting crowds in excess of 50000 every week. The game has been around in England since the late 1800s, with large numbers of modern teams being founded as the workers teams, often coming from the mills.
As the popularity of the sport has grown over the years, the wages that players are paid has increased dramatically, the transfer fees for players have rocketed, and so too have ticket prices.
Many football fans believe that they are now being priced out of the game, with football “being sold to the highest bidder”. The ever increasing cost to watch top-tier football, coupled with the fact that broadcasting companies are constantly buying the rights to stream the match, and moving the game days and times around, is one of the reasons that there is now a growing support for non-league football. This growing support in lower league football has happened in the last couple of years in England, however overseas in countries like Germany and Italy, the support from the top tier of football, all the way down the leagues, is fantastic, with thousands attending every match.
Adam White, a nineteen year old Liverpool and Kings Lynn Town fan, was very quick to talk about the cost of football when asked why he follows non-league. “Liverpool has always been a working class city, the people here work to support their families, but every season the ticket price goes up and up and up”. Adam got involved with some of the protests at Anfield stadium in recent years “I never ever leave the football early, however we needed to make a point, the prices they charge are not acceptable” he said, “if you look across the board now, the twenty is plenty protest has been going on, but if the clubs don’t listen, they will lose the core fan base.”
It comes as no great surprise then, that non-league clubs have started to see an increase in attendances over the past few seasons. For some clubs this was to be expected, York City average a home gate of 2770. However York have traditionally been a Football League Club, and the fans have stuck with them as they have fallen down into the National League North.
A club in the National League North who have seen a dramatic increase in crowds is Kings Lynn Town FC- the Phoenix club of Kings Lynn FC. Kings Lynn earnt promotion to the National League North last season, and since then have seen their crowds jump up by 48%, averaging a home gate of 1429. This came as a surprise to Kings Lynn fan Nathan Ford, “when you look at the location of Kings Lynn, it is a small town on its own, but you can easily get to premier league football in an hour if you choose to drive to Norwich.” He went on to mention that a lot of the fans who are turning up week in and week out at Kings Lynn are people who used to watch Norwich, but due to increasing prices they now cannot afford to do so.
Ryan Lomas, another Kings Lynn fan does not think that the dramatic rise in support is just linked to the ever increasing prices of top flight football. “It was inevitable that the support would grow, this is the highest Kings Lynn have been in their history, and they are on track for yet another promotion.”
After discovering this dramatic growth in crowds at Kings Lynn Town FC, the benefits on the local community soon became apparent. Alec Marshall, who works in the ticket office at Kings Lynn Town FC, sees the football as a bigger social event now. “For a long time, this town didn’t have a lot going for it, there wasn’t much to do outside of work, and the social scene in this town wasn’t great. The football club has brought different communities together, you only have to look at the supporter coaches, seeing fans young and old socialsing and singing together, the success of the club has really boosted the community feel of this town”.
Adam White has played in the youth academy and the reserve team for Kings Lynn Town FC and said “the popularity of the football club growing has been hugely beneficial for the population of this town, more and more young people are getting active and getting involved in football, the club has a successful women’s team, and it’s great to see this club thriving in all areas.”
Unfortunately, non-league football has also got its dark side. A lot of clubs experience fan trouble regularly, which has been linked to fans coming from other clubs. “There’s definitely people at these games that you don’t see week in week out, and it’s always this group that looks to start trouble, they only seem to appear when the bigger teams in the area aren’t playing, and these so called supporters are ruining the image of the club” said Ryan.
“When Kings Lynn played in the final last year, there was large crowd trouble at the end of the game, we had bricks and portaloos thrown at us” said Aaron Wilmerson, “this was all going on and there wasn’t a copper in sight, we walked back to the coach with one copper in the end, but by this point a lot of fans were injured and the atmosphere had turned sour, the lack of control by the fans and lack of officials really ruined the day”
It will be interesting to see what happens now as the popularity continues to rise, will local authorities start allocating more police and stewards to these non-league crowds to try and prevent trouble from starting, or do what they appear to do at the moment and get the police out once the trouble has started.