An international break traditionally means a few things. England being rubbish, Scotland being worse and the Germans winning with ease. But a new trend has started on these weekends – Non-league Days. James Doe, a QPR fan, was the brains behind the idea for supporters of Premier League and Championship teams to visit their local non-league side when they have a week off. So with the mighty Addicks not having a game I dragged my brother down to Maldon and Tiptree to see them take on Ware in the Ryman league North.
The score was 4-3 to the home side in what turned out to be a thriller but this was only half the story. A Saturday afternoon at the Wallace Binder Ground was completely different to one at The Valley that I am so used to. With tickets at a reduced £5 each I was already in a good mood as I entered the ground and after a brief conversation with the guy on the turnstile I knew I was in for a good day. A few words about why we were there and a cheeky jibe about rather being there than at more local Colchester United was all it took to realise staff appreciated every person they serve when the attendence is closer to 100 than 20,000.
Free entrance to the club bar with proper beer on tap rather than the watered down rubbish you get at the higher level grounds was also a positive. While sitting in the bar we came across a couple of the more ‘eccentric’ local fans. The first of which neglected to actually introduce himself and decided to fast forward straight to the fact that one of Maldon’s players was a distant relative of the great Jimmy Greaves and we should watch out for him. This was one of those situations where you either stand there hoping a hole is going to appear in the ground and swallow you up, or you embrace the character that has approached you and humour them. For some reason we chose the latter and the conversation continued on to Maldon’s manager Terry Spillane who has apparently come from Redbridge in the close season and brought 7 players with him. One of the quirks of non-league football that you just don’t get in the professional game. Although I imagine Redbridge aren’t overly happy about this as we later found out the are second from bottom in the same league as their former manager’s new employers!
Having escaped the grasp of what appeared to be Maldon and Tiptree’s biggest fan we took our seats and the football started. Despite the quality of play being noticably lower than that of the professional game there is something about non-league that really is enjoyable although a bit odd. Sitting in the stand people are discussing the other scores of the day, both in the same league and other local clubs. It is also nice to hear people with an unbiased view at a football game. A smaller attendence also means that you feel a lot more involved in the game. You can hear the remarks made by the players and officials which does add something to the atmosphere.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not going to cancel my season ticket and join the nutter in the bar at Maldon next season but it was a good day out! So next time England disappoint on a Friday night, get down your local non-league ground and try something completely different. You never know you might get the non-league bug!