In the bright cold dawn of the New Year, after the Golden Haze of 2012, with Olympians lauded not only for their sporting prowess, but for the fact that the vast majority of them were not Premier League footballers, it seems to this columnist that football’s reputation is not quite doomed yet. While football fans have had to deal with the innumerable bores who continually slag off our noble game due to the antics of a very few Premier league players (yes, Mario, whenever you burn down your bathroom, or choose to get off with a glamour model as your ex gives birth to your baby, we, the fans have to defend our game because of you), it does eventually become a tiresome chore if one’s team is overendowed with, for want of a better word, knobheads (think Manchester City since 2009, the Sunderland class of 2006, or any team containing Kieron Dyer and Titus Bramble).
This column therefore proposes a whole scale abandonment of the Premier League, and an exodus of fans to the green and muddy pastures of the non-league.
This might at first seem rather drastic. The football purists in particular will moan that the non-league is no place to watch good football, quite rightly pointing out that if the players in the Blue Square Bet Premier are so good, why aren’t they in the league? But to these naysayers I would suggest that no one who attends live football matches actually goes for the aesthetics. Most people who go along to the actual games go along whether the football is good or not. Instead, I contend, we go along because live football is actually never about the football itself. It is instead about those funny, amazing moments where the fans, the players, or anyone else in the ground does something that you will remember for the rest of your days.
The moments, such as that fantastic match (at which I was a thrilled observer) where York City drew 2-2 with Halifax Town, thanks to a last-minute equaliser, after which Yorkie the Lion, our mascot and champion, goaded the Halifax captain to the point where Yorkie was assaulted, and both were then arrested after the ensuing 22-man brawl. Or the day, at an away game at Ebbsfleet United, where wet, cold and drunk , after a miserable loss (and a round trip of 500 miles), the manager came down to the touchline, and personally apologised for the performance. Which I found quite touching. Or the great day Corby Town turned up en masse, took the lead, and then started singing “Can you hear the ballboys sing? Nooo, ooo, can you hear the ballboys sing? I can’t hear a fucking thing, woooah shh!” (God knows what the ten-year-olds had said).
The main thrust of this argument is that the non-league has an eclectic charm which is no longer found in the Premier League. The mascots at Old Trafford would never be allowed to take such an entertaining part in the proceedings, Fergie would never say sorry for a bad game at Wigan, and you can bet your bottom dollar that in the great, silent cathedral of the Emirates, the ballboys would never be subjected to amusing if strange chanting (but then nobody is the subject of anything that could constitute a chant at the Emirates), and they’d certainly never be assaulted by irate Belgian prima donnas. The non-league retains an integrity which makes it far more entertaining to follow than the Premier League. As a fan of York City, my experience has been far more fulfilling than that of a top-flight fan. The wins meant more, the fun was unadulterated by heavy-handed stewarding and the club was a family. So the next time you feel jaded by the antics of Premier League players, or hear some bore drivel on about their wages, head on down to the non-league. If nothing else, the stories are that much more entertaining.