It’s been another fantastic season of non-league football for me, from Racing Club Warwick in August through to Coventry Copsewood in April. I have seen some great matches, some not so great matches, some superb goals, some howlers, one day of sunshine and many of rain, wind and freezing temperatures. What has been constant throughout though is the value for money that non-league football represents. In total, this season, I have visited 31 previously unvisited grounds, travelled over 3,000 miles, seen 128 goals and paid a total entrance fee of £247. So, that is 3.28 goals per game at £1.93 per goal with an average admission cost of £6.33.
I can’t begin a season review without a special mention for the United Counties League (both Premier and Division 1). The UCL, for me, has been a revelation this season. I know that any seasoned followers of UCL teams will be thinking ‘Yeah, we have known this for years’, but as far as value for money goes, I think the league has been exceptional this season. I visited 11 new UCL grounds this season and have seen some superbly entertaining games (including my game of the season) for very fair admission prices. I would urge any ground-hoppers out there who haven’t sampled the UCL to give it a go.
I thought that I would make the review into a sort of end of season awards ceremony. Bear in mind that, with the exception of Team of the Year, every other award is based purely on my experiences this season. So, if I don’t mention a particular incident, team or player, it isn’t because I am ignoring them, it is because I didn’t personally see them. Anyway, it’s just for a bit of fun.
So, having said that, I will start with the section that doesn’t represent my first hand experiences, Team(s) of the Year. I have been selecting a Team of the Week for the website each week and this award pretty much reflects those weekly choices.
Step 6 Team of the Year – AFC St Austell. As with most of these choices, the Step 6 TotY was a difficult decision. Sporting Khalsa deserve a mention in the West Midlands Regional Premier, Welwyn Garden City in the Spartan South Midlands Division 1 also made the short list. Northampton Spencer made a big impression this season, as did many other teams at this level. However, AFC St Austell took the title in their league and, at the same time, made the semi-finals of the FA Vase. A colossal effort by any measure.
Step 5 Team of the Year – Glossop North End. The Step 5 award was probably the most difficult one to decide. The list of possible winners is way too long to mention here. However, GNE have won their league and cup double and, to top it off, have a date at Wembley on May 9th when they take on North Shields in the FA Vase Final.
Step 4 Team of the Year – Burgess Hill Town. The Hillians didn’t lose a league game until well into March. They won the league with 4 games to spare with 109 points, scoring 105 goals and only conceding 39. Having lived in the town for 4 years, I feel some attachment to the club. However, their season speaks for itself. Worthy winners of the TotY title for Step 4. Spare a thought for Harlow Town in the Ryman North though. Two consecutive seasons of gaining over 100 points and still no promotion. Good luck to them in 2015/16.
Step 3 Team of the Year – Corby Town. The Steelmen not only made a late and successful push from the Southern premier title, they also managed a similar feat in this award. Three weeks ago FC United were nailed on to be TotY for Step 3. However, Corby kept plugging away and with a superb 3-2 win at Poole on the last day, took the title. Considering where this club was a year ago this is a remarkable achievement. Congratulations to everyone at the club.
Step 2 Team of the Year – North Ferriby United. The Step 2 choice was also extremely difficult to decide. Bromley’s promotion charge must get an honourable mention. AFC Fylde’s story could still continue in the play-offs and Hemel more than held their own at this level. However, the Villagers victory over Wrexham in the FA Trophy Final swung the decision in the end.
Overall Team of the Year – AFC St Austell. Champions of their league, Cornwall Senior Cup Winners, a superb FA Vase run under their belts and only charging £1 to see their last home game as a reward to their fans. Not only did the club make this wonderful gesture but they also donated the gate money to a local charity as well as the players donating their match expenses. That’s what it is all about. Hats off to all at AFC St Austell.
Now onto some my own personal season awards. Remember, these are based upon the matches that I have witnessed and do not represent a wider view of non-league.
Most Entertaining Match – Northampton Sileby Rangers 3 Thurnby Nirvana 4. A damp November evening in Northamptonshire may not sound like the ideal setting for an evening out. However, on this particular Tuesday Sileby Rangers and Thurnby Nirvana proceeded to lift the autumn gloom with a captivating display of football. I tried to do the quality of the game some justice in my blog entry (http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/smells-like-team-spirit) but I think testament to the entertainment level was the fact that each half felt like they lasted about 10 minutes rather than 45.
Best Team Performance – Thurnby Nirvana. The Thurnby display on the night of the Most Entertaining Match also has to go down as the best team performance that I had the pleasure of witnessing this season. There were a number of displays that ran this one close, Wellingborough Town’s goal-fest against Huntingdon and both Northampton Spencer and Biggleswade United in the FA Vase spring to mind. However, Thurnby played a fantastic brand of football, accurate, crisp passing and, despite going behind, they had the conviction and self-belief to continue with the same style of play, ultimately winning the game.
Favourite Stadium Visited – The Grove, Halesowen Town. Up until Easter, Northampton Spencer’s Kingsthorpe Mill was in pole position for this award. In my blog I think I referred to it as a green oasis. It really is a delightful place to watch football. However, The Grove ended up edging it in the end. Maybe it was because of the local derby atmosphere on Easter Monday. There certainly was a pretty large crown present and the weather was good but what really stood out was that The Grove is a ‘proper’ football ground. Terracing around two sides of the ground, a noisy, covered home ‘Shed’ end and a nicely proportioned covered seating area. It’s a great place to watch football and judging by comments on Twitter most away supporters in the NPL agree with this fact.
Goal of the Season – Curtis Tilt for Halesowen Town at Stourbridge, Boxing Day 2014. It pains me to give this award to a goal scored against my own team but it was a fantastic strike from way out. What made it even more remarkable was that it was no hit and hope fluke. Tilt looks up before he hits it, sees Coleman slightly off his line, and hammers the perfect strike from 45 yards. My tongue in cheek Tweet that it was a 40 yard miskick was purely that, a tongue in cheek comment. The effort drew applause from all around the ground despite it being a late equaliser in a local derby. My blog (http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/no-turkey-for-boxing-day) described it, but the Halesowen Town website video (http://ht-fc.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3824:26-dec-2014-npl-stourbridge-1-1-halesowen-town&catid=81&Itemid=200147) shows it in all of its glory.
Best Supporters – Abingdon United. A hastily re-arranged trip to Kidlington brought me into contact with Abingdon Ultras. With their team struggling near the bottom of the Hellenic Premier a group of Abingdon fans decided that vocal support was the way to drag their team clear of relegation. They partially achieved it on the night I saw them (http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/a-game-of-two-halves) putting up a very brave fight before finally succumbing to a Kidlington side pushing for promotion. I am pleased to report that Abingdon did escape the relegation mire and live to fight another day at Step 5 level.
Friendliest Club – Irchester United. From the moment I arrived at Alfred Street, for the Romans clash with Buckingham Town, I had a good feeling about Irchester United. Being greeted at the gate by two local gentlemen who were clearly happy to welcome anyone to their club, through friendly tea bar staff and a ground that was (sparsely) populated by polite and friendly characters. Maybe I caught the place on a good night, maybe it is always like that. I don’t know. All I know is that I left there with the impression that it was one of the friendliest clubs I had ever been to. Well worth a visit.
Highpoint of the Season – Getting an article in the Thurnby Nirvana matchday programme. Having regular articles on the web site plus writing up ground-hops and match reports can be extremely time-consuming and there are times when you wonder why you do it and if anyone reads any of it. However, having an entire blog entry re-produced in a match programme not only gives you a big boost, it also confirms that at least a few people read some of the stuff you publish. So, many thanks to Ian at BooksInDesign for publishing the Sileby v Thurnby report in the December 6 edition of the Thurnby programme. BoosinDesogn produce very professional programmes at affordable prices. Take a look at www.booksindesign.com or mail them on email@example.com.
Lowpoint of the Season – Missing out on the Beduff Broth. I’ll be honest. I hadn’t heard of Beduff Broth until I went to see a game at Bedworth United and even then, to my misfortune, it was only at half-time that I discovered it. Unfortunately for me, by the time I had made my way around to Debz Shed it had all gone. Since that time I have heard a number of stories regaling this esteemed soup. I will be back to sample it next season in the Premier League.
Cuppa League Champions – RC Warwick. The Cuppa League was a tight run competition this year with Racing Club Warwick and Buxton finishing level on points at the end of a long season of tea sampling. There really was nothing between these two superb brews but a decision had to be made. The Buxton match was played on an extremely cold and foggy December day whilst the Warwick game was on a damp August evening. Therefore, I am taking the view that the Buxton score was slightly slanted by the need for a warming beverage to survive the second half. Consequently, it is Racing Club Warwick who become the second Cuppa League Champions and assume the crown from Chippenham Town.
Finally, a huge thank you to all who click on my website from time to time. The number of visitors to the site has grown enormously this season, as has the number of Twitter followers. The website is now averaging over 6,000 page-views per month and just over 2,000 unique visitors per month. This is way, way beyond the numbers that looked achievable a year ago. The Six of the Best and Team of the Week features seem to be quite popular so they will continue into next season, maybe with a slightly different format, maybe not. If anyone has managed to get this far down the blog and wants to suggest something that might be a useful addition then please send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org