The Experience of Non-League football: What’s it like with the Coronavirus?

As a Bradford City fan and an avid lover of the beautiful game, I sat at home on a Friday night wondering what to do as the Bantams game against Grimsby Town was postponed due to a singular positive test within the Mariners squad.

Following a quick social media search, I found myself with the solution – non-league.

The iFollow system has been undependable so far with people complaining on social media in regards to it reliability and it either being laggy or just not loading up whatsoever, and with that being said it costs £10 for a match pass, whereas I could go to a live game for just £5.

Just like that, I headed to Plumpton Park to watch Eccleshill United versus Liversedge FC in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division.

Despite the torrential downpour and freezing circumstances, myself and a few others (who braved the weather to join me on my journey) arrived in the village of Wrose to take in the joys of non-league football.

Eccleshill currently play in step 9 of the English pyramid, meaning fans were allowed into the stadium as long as social distancing guideline were met and supporters filled in the track and trace information required of them, with certain seats crossed off in the stand so that fans wouldn’t be too compact, with the hopes that the virus could be contained and we could get closer to more supporters being allowed into stadiums and some form of normality.

One thing non-league football is renowned by is its hot chocolates, a feature which stampedes on the EFL and Premier League clubs, who just produce watery overpriced reincarnations of hot chocolate. But Eccleshill’s was perfect, affordable and wasn’t even too scorching hot so that I didn’t have to wait half an hour before I could muster the courage to even get near to it. Oh, it’s ideal for warming up your hands too.

However, instead of being smart and remaining under the dry shelter of a stand, I opted to move to the opposite side of the ground by the home and away dugouts, as that way I could listen to the shouts and commands of both managers whilst listening to the difference in tactical outlooks compared to the higher leagues. I was actually fascinated by how much louder they were, it was interesting to hear the manager joking around with the subs and the referee officials whilst also using a harsher tone and ordering his players around. There was a moment where Lee Elam, the Eccleshill gaffer, shouted at his player “You’re winding me up here, just play the simple f*****g ball!”.

As soon as the referee blew the whistle to get the game underway, the game fulfilled all of the generic non-league stereotypes; the rock hard mitre balls being hoofed into the sky, the frighteningly hard slide tackles that would end a players career in the Premier League, and the linesman having to run on the actual pitch because the rain had created a mudbath sort of swamp down his wing. It really did attain the roots of football. At one point the huge defender Kevy Tarangadzo of Liversedge put in a ferocious sliding tackle that I found myself wince at- yet not one call from the opposition for a free-kick.

Tarangadzo had the game of his life in fact, netting twice from centre-back as Liversedge exploited that Eccleshill’s weakness was defending set-pieces and so he use his brutal strength and towering physique to break away from the clueless Eagles defence before netting twice for the Sedge.

However his class man of the match performance was challenged by another Liversedge defender, which was convenient as they ended up winning 4-0, as Adam Porritt found himself with two assists and a goal to the delight of his manager Jonathan Rimmington (quite the character by the way, was actually having a good laugh with his bench and the supporters).

But the main thing was that Liversedge defenders weren’t just providing the goals, they were also stopping them. A clean sheet is huge at this level as one mistake means everything, the pitch was bobbly and sliding all over the place with the weather, so defensive errors were likely but Liversedge looked like they couldn’t be penetrated. If they could keep this up they could be a real force this campaign.

Nevertheless, the whole experience of watching live football, whilst also meeting the coronavirus guidelines, made me realise something- whilst EFL and Premier League clubs have to wait for football to return, the football on show at Eccleshill was gripping and action-packed. It’s not football that analysts will watch because it’s not exactly pass it around the back before a world-class whipped ball to split the defence, it’s more of a hoof or a overhit ball into the feet of a stocky attacker, but that’s the joy of it. It’s unpredictable, incalculable and arbitrary. And most importantly, it has a low attendance so the spread of the virus is going to be minimised and contained, as the world needs right now, and hopefully as a shared community (because at the end of the day that’s what we are, one large footballing community) we can make the appropriate steps into getting our beloved sport back- not from our sofa’s, but rather from the stands.