Football fans across the world have all experienced the beautiful game at (for want of a better word) the lowest level. We have all gone along to a family members youth match on a Sunday morning, or even played on a wet boggy pitch where you can’t even see white lines of the pitch, and where the ball no longer travels but simply sticks in the mud. Some of us even pay to play!
Football at a grass roots level will always be magical in my eyes. Whether its watching big Dave in goal eating a pasty at half time, your top scorer throwing up on the sidelines after a heavy night out, or that tricky kid doing fourteen step overs before being cleaned out by Gav, your 6ft 5 monster of a centre half who moves slower than your 85 year old Nan. It’s simply magical.
In recent years however, the levels, professionalism and standards have improved in these lower leagues. Clubs are being built with foundations and ambitions. They create investments from the local community who adore their football team more than your Manchester United’s and Liverpool’s. They dedicate their lives to following their local towns football team, they feel a part of it and worship the players just as a Chelsea fan would worship Eden Hazard. There is a real sense of community, family and feeling a genuine part of the club.
A day in age where there is so much money floating around in the professional leagues, its somewhat refreshing to watch your local teams playing with pride, passion and a genuine love for the sport.
Some local teams will be lucky enough for one of their supporters to be in a fortunate position to be able to invest in his local club, generate some real belief that they can climb the leagues, and get near the dizzy heights of the professional level. It’s become more than just a laugh with your mates on a Saturday afternoon, it’s become a laugh with your mates, but actually being able to see a future in climbing the leagues.
Take my local club for example, Bradford Town FC. Based in the South West plying their trade in the Toolstation Western Football League, featuring players who do get paid to play, yet a modest amount. They’re in step 5 of the football pyramid and dream of climbing to the reachable League Two.
Fairly new in terms of only being founded in 1992, the club have ambitions and are a professional grass roots setup. They have a hardcore local following of fans who recently travelled a 600 mile round trip to watch their team play Marske United FC in Round 5 of the FA Vase. The Bobcats as they’re affectionately known as, unfortunately lost the match 2-0. But what an achievement to get that far in a competition that ends up at Wembley. And what a memorable trip away this will have turned out to be for the players, coaches and supporters – who would have all gone back to their full time jobs on the Monday morning.
But for Bradford Town, who currently sit in third place in the Western Premier League and are 5 steps away from professional football in League Two, getting as far as round 5 was a huge achievement. I managed to get Manager Danny Greaves to provide some words on his experiences running a non league grass roots team and how he got into Management. The former professional footballer who now works full time as a Senior Merchandiser for a Cruise Ship Retail Concessionaire, had this to say…
“I started my career at Bristol Rovers before moving on to Forest Green, and then non league Mangotsfield, Cirencester and Clevedon as a player. I was given a great opportunity by Lee Lashenko to join his coaching team at Bristol Manor Farm, moving up to assistant after only a few months. I had always enjoyed the coaching side, and knew I would want to be my own man, so after 2 enjoyable years at BMF, I moved on to manage Bradford Town”.
“The players do get paid to play at Bradford, we have a modest budget, it’s not massive money for the boys, but any money for playing football is a bonus. It is a fairly big commitment with training, and travelling, so it’s not about the money for most lads at this level, but it helps”.
“It would have mean’t everything for any team to win the FA Vase. Players and managers at most levels can only dream of playing at Wembley and winning a major, national competition. Over 300 teams entered from the start”.
Danny and his Bradford side knocked out a strong Newport team in Round 4, Danny said..
“It was a massive win. It was a roller-coaster of emotions due to how the game played out. Playing with 10 men for 70 minutes and winning it fairly late on was a great thing to be a part of. To see what it meant to not only the players, but the fans and committee made me very proud. Was certainly up there with one of my best moments in football so far”.
Danny finishes up with describing his admiration for the fans and the grass roots game..
“I enjoy how much it means to the supporters and volunteers. The love their local clubs, and a good performance on a Saturday can make or break their weekends. You are all together as one, management, players, supporters, and committee members which you don’t necessarily get in pro football”.
“Our fans make the club. We get great support. They love an away day and it’s great for the players to see and hear that support”.
“Our ultimate aim is to get promotion into the Southern League, move into a purpose built sports complex which will home the entire Bradford Youth set up under one roof which will be great for the town”.
The ambitions are clear for the tiny town of Bradford FC tucked away in the Wiltshire countryside. But this purely describes the passion, the commitment, the love and desire that goes into running a non league club at this level – and this is happening all over the world on a weekly basis.
The love and magic surrounding grass roots football is simply just a very special thing, its a hobby, a lifestyle, and for many, an obsession. I encourage you all to support and get to your local sides this weekend through rain or shine and soak up the magic.