With a massive game approaching on Saturday, there was unsurprisingly a big turn out from all the boys at this evenings training session, as everybody looked to gain a starting spot for the weekend. Despite the rain falling down, the whole squad managed to get down to the RAF camp in Ruislip for our weekly Thursday evening training session/kick about. Even our very own Mario Balotelli managed to make the 5 minutes journey from his house: the one and only Kurtney Brooks!
Now a little word about my good friend Kurtney. I have known ‘Brooksy’ as he is known by everybody at football, for nearly six years beginning with my time spent with him at Watford. A tough tackling central midfielder, Brooksy is undoubtedly the worst semi-professional footballer I have ever had the fortune of meeting… and to be known as a bad semi-professional footballer that really is saying something. He is constantly late, never trains, never washes his boots, eats McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has a terrible left foot (as his very own song goes, sung to the tune of Kumbaya: No left foot my lord no left foot, no left foot my lord no left foot, no left foot my lord no left foot, oh my Brooksy no left foot!) I am sorry mate but it is true. But, and belive it or not there is a but, he is an exceptional footballer. And it is this sort of quality that is evident at Non-League level that I want to focus on.
Non-league football is often frowned upon by those ignorant enough not to give it a chance. It is stereotyped as a place where big bruiser’s flourish and where the ball spends more time in the air than it does on the grass. But I disagree with this. I think the amount of talent available at a lower level is staggering and simply needs exploiting. Players such as Brooksy are everywhere. People with unbelievable talent, but for whatever reasons they haven’t yet had their lucky break in the professional game. An interesting statistic to consider is that out of the 10,000 boys enrolled as full-time professionals at clubs every year, only 1% will go on to make a living out of the game! So what happens to the other 99% of talented players who didn’t quite make it? They filter down to the Non-League teams, in the desperate hope of making it back into the professional game. Just take Wealdstone for an example. As a club we are well-known for giving unwanted players a fast track back into the full-time game. Premier League footballers such as Stuart Pearce and Jermaine Beckford are just but a few to pull on the famous blue jersey, and certainly won’t be the last. I could name you dozens of players who have left fellow Ryman League teams to go on and excel at teams higher in the League, and this is evidence of the esteem this League is held in by those higher up in the game. Of course there are teams who play the occasional long ball but that is the same everywhere, for example Stoke City in the premier League. I get a neck ache every time I watch them I have to look up so often! But that is football. There is so many talented footballers around at Non-league level, that just need a chance higher up.
Another example is Luton Town. Being one of the biggest teams in the Non-League structure, they are often seen as the standard-bearer for this level. And didn’t they do all of us proud this season, reaching the last 16 of the FA Cup, beating Premier League Norwich City in the process. In doing so they became the first Non-League team to beat a team from the top flight in the Premier League era. They did this by playing good, attacking, quality football and certainly not by bullying their far superior rivals. As a system, during that epic cup run, the whole of the Non-league was completely behind Luton. By them doing as well as they did, it sent out a message to those who sneer upon this level of football. A message saying something along the lines of ‘we are Non-League AND we can play football. ’
One final bonus about snapping up a player from a lower League is that there is certainly no prima donna’s! To excel at this level you have to be willing to shower in the cold and play on muddy pitches, so any move to a club with even lukewarm showers would certainly be seized upon.
So next time you bemoan a lack of English talent, or a lack of passion get yourself down to your local Non-league team and I can almost guarantee you that you will be impressed, and potentially even witness the next player to make the giant leap into the professional game.