Matt Ball: Why non-league clubs should do more with their clubhouse and bar

Matt Ball playing for St Albans City against Gosport Borough in October 2016.

Matt Ball playing for St Albans City against Gosport Borough in October 2016. - Credit: LEIGH PAGE

With everything that is going on right now - and everything that isn’t - there is no better time to write about non-league football from a player's perspective. 

Just to clarify, I think there are a lot more important issues in the world and in our society than the subject of non-league but that doesn’t mean that during this pause we can't look at ways to improve the game when it returns. What can be done about the game to make it more enjoyable, open, welcoming and exciting for those involved, and more importantly, for those not already involved? 

Having spent most of my younger years dreaming of becoming a professional footballer, I finally achieved that goal in 2011 with Norwich City, a fantastic club I had spent five years with. 

Had to get that in. 

Matt Ball on his full debut for Stevenage in 2013

Matt Ball making his full debut for Stevenage against MK Dons in 2013. - Credit: HARRY HUBBARD

After getting released a year later I joined Stevenage and after two years and a massive two appearances, I found myself in non-league and seven years and over 250 games later, I have grown to love the game at this level, or what some may rightly call non-elite football. 

Why is it called non-elite? Well frankly because if you watch the players at step three (the Premier Division of the Southern and Isthmian League, and below they either have a beer belly but are good on the ball, have a six-pack but can’t kick the ball very well or they can run really fast but usually dribble the ball off the pitch. 

However, the simple truth is they love playing football and love that feeling of being part of a team trying to win three points on a Saturday - not so much on a cold Tuesday night in February after a long hard day at work though. 

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This all leads to entertaining viewing for supporters and from my perspective I think it is very important to reciprocate this support and that my teammates and I go into the bar after any game, win, lose or draw. 

Matt Ball playing for St Albans City in 2016

Matt Ball believes non-league players and clubs should do more with post-match festivities. - Credit: LEIGH PAGE

We will more than likely have been paid for our efforts and supporters have contributed to this by paying the entry fee to watch the game so it shows we appreciate them. It is the least players can do. 

For me, this is vital to the success of any club and you can normally tell how well a club is doing if none of their players are in their clubhouse after the game. But there is definitely more clubs can do to generate more footfall in the bar after the game, and generate some much-needed revenue. 

Well firstly I believe all managers and captains should insist that every player stays in the bar to a certain time. A game is normally finished just before 5pm so after a quick shouting at from the gaffer about how poor you are and a quick shower, normally a cold one as the hot water hasn’t been turned on, a player can get in the bar for 5.30. 

Surely they can stay for another 30 minutes? Of course they can. 

Matt Ball in action for Biggleswade Town

Matt Ball during his time with Biggleswade Town. - Credit: DANNY LOO

There will be odd time when some need to shoot off but managers can demand that players stay or they get fined simple. Or if you’re a club that pays players cash in hand, and I know some do, don’t pay them till 6pm, I’m sure they will all still be waiting around then. 

The clubs themselves could put in place happy hours, £2.50 a pint or £2 if your team has won? Do something that makes people want to stay after the game, it will only increase revenue for the club. 

Get the 5.30 game up on the TV as well and those supporters who would usually go home to watch it, will more than likely stay and guess what, they are more likely to spend some money on drinks and food too as well as getting the chance to speak to the players about how they kept kicking the ball out of play. And all because the manager has insisted that ALL the team stays. 

Why do I think this is important for the growth of non-league football? Well because that feeling of camaraderie between players and supporters is the biggest success factor of non-league football. It isn't felt as much as you move higher and higher up the football pyramid. If non-league clubs want more spectators from their community to come to games, like families and young children, then make it worth their while. Make it feel like a day out, something they look forward to every other weekend. Otherwise, they will go elsewhere to find it. 

To managers and players, if you’re not going in the bar after a home game or not demanding it of your players or teammates, then don’t be surprised when you don’t get paid bonuses for cup runs. The club needs to get money somehow. 

We are all entitled to our opinion but for non-league to grow, for it to attract more spectators and to be able to sustain these excellent pillars of our communities, it is important that everyone in non-league, now more than ever, does their bit when football returns. 

I do welcome your own thoughts & opinions on this subject and before you ask, yes, I will buy you a pint at a non-league ground in the not too-distant future. 

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