Non-league football may not have the glitz and glamour of the Premier League, however, as we will see in this article, many famous football names have attempted to make a difference in non-league football, with some more successful than others.
Money talks in football nowadays, and that statement is as true in non-league football as it is in the top flight. Salford City FC is perhaps the prime example of famous footballers becoming involved further down the pyramid.
In 2014, the then eighth-tier club were bought out by businessman Peter Lim and five members of Manchester United’s legendary side of the 1990s – Phil and Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, although it is questionable how much of an influence these players have on the club itself.
Gary Neville’s main commitment is as a sports pundit for Sky, and he has not yet had a frontline role at the club. Likewise, Giggs is a popular choice to manage Manchester United, and given the current negativity surrounding José Mourinho’s managerial tactics, the fans may support a managerial change at Old Trafford. 888sport are always evaluating team tactics and managerial methods, and on their blog they have discussed Mourinho’s training routine, which no doubt many non-league teams will draw inspiration from.
Although the Class of ’92’s role was strictly limited to the boardroom – all had retired from football by that point, while the previous manager was retained – the club have experienced phenomenal success in the three years since, being promoted to the National League North and featuring in a BBC documentary. While there is still a long way to go – and there are some critics – there can be no doubt that Giggs and co have raised the profile of non-league football in the north-west.
Playing and managing
In years gone by, ageing players would ply their trade in non-league football, but with the growth of the American and Chinese leagues, this is becoming more unusual. Billericay Town recently made headlines when they snapped up ex-Premier League pros Jamie O’Hara and Paul Konchesky, but, considering the wages the pair are reported to be on, the Essex club’s example isn’t one that can be followed by all non-league clubs.
More commonly, ex-players become managers at non-league clubs. Perhaps due to the fact that they’re used to working and training with better players, the results can often be mixed, as a certain Paul Gascoigne will testify.
In 2012, as part of Budweiser’s newly announced sponsorship of the FA Cup, Wembley FC, a semi-professional club based in the same area as the national stadium, received a boost ahead of their cup campaign. Premier League winners Ray Parlour, Martin Keown and Graeme Le Saux were drafted in as players, while Arsenal legend David Seaman acted as goalkeeping coach and Terry Venables became technical advisor.
Despite the undoubted abilities of their new recruits, Wembley FC fell to Uxbridge in the FA Cup preliminaries, much to the joy of other non-league clubs, who had criticised the publicity stunt as “unfair.”
Non-league football is in rude health, with attendances for fifth and sixth-tier games occasionally topping those seen in League 2. While Salford City continue to benefit from the financial backing of their famous owners, it could be argued that ex-pros might do with leaving the grassroots game well alone.