You may remember me talking about the crowd at Metropolitan Police in my last blog post, or more to the point the lack of it. The Police are one of the few teams in the Ryman Premier League, where the travelling support will often outnumber the home. This not only baffles and frustrates me, but also makes me wonder how a club like this can successfully function and it is this that I will be looking at in the following post.
From the Premier League down, the fans are the lifeblood of any club. A club without fans would be like a boat with no rudder. It would have no direction, just a floating empty vessel. The fans give a club a meaning and an identity, as well as buying the tickets which pay the wages. The Metropolitan Police, for example, average only 140 fans for a home game, the second lowest in the League. What makes this even more surprising is that the Police are not a bad team and every year are looking to challenge for promotion. This year for example, they are sitting in 8th place and 4 points from the play-off’s. Margate, who sit one place above the Police average over 200 more fans per home game. If you consider this in terms of revenue, with an average ticket costing £10.00, an extra 200 sold a game could generate an extra £2000 for the club. At this level this amount of money goes a long, long way. I guess what I am trying to get at is how do teams like the Metropolitan Police afford it, and more to the point is it healthy in the long run?
To answer this question I want to look at a couple of other examples. Firstly, Carshalton Athletic. Three years ago, Carshalton, also of the Ryman Premier League, were taken over by a local businessman with a bucket full of money he apparently wanted to waste. His dream was to establish Carshalton as a Non-League force. The catch was (there is always a catch) that he wanted sole ownership of the club, completely taking away any power from the fans. In return he promised big name signings and of course success. He certainly delivered on one front with a series of highly paid, excellent players arriving at the club. Furthermore, the new owner also made himself the manager, the coach, and the physio despite having no prior experience, simply because, well, he could! Fast forward three years and the Carshalton dream is far from a reality. With the wealthy businessman no longer at the club, they are facing administration and languishing at the foot of the Ryman table. Not only this, but the once loyal fans became so fed up with what the club had become, even they are no longer there. I could list nameless other clubs who have had similar fate: Truro City, Croydon Athletic, Kettering Town all now bust after being swooned by a new wealthy owner promising the World, but forgetting what is really important at a Non-League team, the fans!
Now, I am going to blow the trumpet here a little of our own fans at Wealdstone who I believe are some of the best in Non-League. There is a popular saying in the Non-League game which is it is a game for fans who are more than just a seat number. This simplified means at this level the fans are not just people paying ridiculous prices to watch a game and then going home, like they are in the professional game. They are people who the players know and who do what they can to help the club. During my time at Wealdstone I have witnessed this first hand. The amount of times they have chipped in helping with work around the club, on Match days and also financially is staggering. Some of my best memories at the club consist of good wins on the pitch then enjoying a drink with the fans in the bar after the game. This season for example, the fans introduced a scheme called ‘pints4promotion’ where every drink brought at the club bar went directly to the playing budget to help us achieve promotion. This is a fine example of real fans helping a real club function successfully within its mean.
It is because of this that every time I go to somewhere like the Metropolitan Police or Whitehawk who appear to be doing well on the face of it, I question how long it can last. Because there is one thing in football you simply cannot buy, and that is fans who love the club.
Any club who wants to be successful at this level need real fans and we are fortunate to have them at Wealdstone. Forget an owner promising to pay players ridiculous wages because that won’t work in the long-term. Unlike the professional game where fans are often discarded by the players and ignored by owners, at Non-League level they are just as important as the ball we play with. So forget your glitz and glamour, your big name signings and your big wages, if you want to be successful at this level what you really need is a strong fan base and players who appreciate them.
Below is an example of our fantastic fans in full voice, after we beat Cambridge United in the FA Trophy last season: