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The Future of Non League Football – Flexibility in Kick off Times to Boost Takings

By Stuartnoel @theballisround

Today’s idea, which follows the same principal as all of our others in being filed in the section “Not rocket science” comes from the ever amusing Putajumperon who combines watching Watford with local grass roots football.

The ritual Sunday morning scouring of the fixtures pages in Non League Paper has become an obsession for me, and a concern for my wife. I’m optimistically looking for two things; the perfect midweek game to go to, and the possibility of a second game at the weekend.

Like so many other football supporters (notice I didn’t say “fans”) I was dragged to football by my forefathers and am now dragging my young son along too. The team that was chosen for me was an average Division 4 Watford side; not a glamorous club, but it was a step up from Isthmian League Wycombe Wanderers games I’d seen thus far. Fast forward 35 years and I’ve started watching non league football again. I’d even say I’ve fallen in love with football again as a result. I won’t give up Watford (I can’t) but now I want to see as much football as possible, and I mean real football not the self-satisfying top league… And this brings me back to the NLP’s fixtures pages and my goal: two games a week, with or without Watford.

With midweek games it’s easy, there’s always something nearby to sate my desires, but Saturday is a serious problem. With Watford at home I can only optimistically hope there’ll be an early, or late, kick-off nearby so I can get two games in (there’s five or six teams right on the doorstep). I know I’m not alone in this quest, and I know I’m not alone in being disappointed. The thing is if all these (non-televised) clubs could work together they could very easily tweak kick off times so supporters could attend two games.

The Future of Non League Football – flexibility in kick off times to boost takings
Take Saturday 14th April. At 2.15pm 87,231 supporters left Wembley Stadium after the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Everton. 45 minutes later (when most of those fans were standing in hideously lengthy queues for trains outside Wembley Park) Hendon FC kicked off an important play-off chasing match with just 224 supporters watching.

When you add to the mix that, showing one’s semi-final ticket, admission to the game was only £5 it’s staggering that, as far as I’m aware, I was the only one at both games. Given that Budweiser sponsor both the FA Cup and now Wembley FC where Hendon play you’d have thought some promotion of the latter’s game could have easily drawn at least 100-200 supporters over from Wembley, to watch Hendon, and The Grand National, and use their bar. Of course this is an extreme example but with the need for cash lower down the game, I’d have thought promotion of games to get fans in is essential, after all 100 extra fans at this game would’ve resulted in £750+ extra on the takings. (The crazy thing is, when I left Hendon there were still supporters queuing for trains home from Wembley).

The Future of Non League Football – flexibility in kick off times to boost takings
At the moment Leagues teams are more than happy to send their youngsters out on loan to Non League teams so surely a bit of promotion, in return, for those down the pyramid really wouldn’t go amiss. I’m certainly not suggesting endorsing an advent of feeder clubs (that would be a disaster for the identity of clubs and supporters alike), but connections already exist between clubs. Watford have this season had strong links with both Harrow Borough and Wealdstone amongst others. We have some great academy stars who’ve really benefited from this opportunity. In our case I know there are a fair few Watford supporters that try to see these non leaguers play, but sadly game times don’t always permit it.

Its true Watford and Wealdstone have gone someway to building the relationship with a joint “At Your Place” fans forum but let’s be honest supporters want to watch live matches. I suggested this season to both clubs that this could’ve happened when Wealdstone’s home FA Trophy Semi kicked off at the same time as a Watford home match but being the only one asking it fell on deaf ears.

As I see it this can only work if this comes from the clubs primarily, but with league approval. At present leagues, and clubs, seem to fall over themselves to move any game to other days for TV audiences, (usually at the expense of their own fans), so how about moving games to boost attendances and increase the coffers of the lower league teams. I’m not suggesting a “Tranmere Friday Night” scenario for the “smaller” club, but just a couple of hours movement so supporters can, for example, roll out of Vicarage Road and get to The Sun Postal Sports & Social Club in time for kick off (or vice versa). And whilst we’re at it let’s get reduced entrance for season ticket holders in both directions..

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