NLD writer Guillem Balague writes about the unbridled passion for non-league and what Non-League Finals Day represents
As someone used to the heady, elitist, hypersensitive and frequently conspiratorial, world that is football’s top table, it never occurred to me before that out there was a whole world of commitment, dedication beyond the call and unbridled passion that manifested itself in lower league soccer.
I now realise that competitions like The FA Vase and FA Trophy are the embodiment of that passion; what separates English non-league football from other countries throughout Europe and make it the very best in the world.
Spain, for example, has no comparable competitions and as a consequence non-league football in the country of my birth is the poorer for it.
This season we were lucky enough to be the first club visited by the FA Cup as it went on a nationwide tour. In what was my personal ‘eureka’ moment the penny dropped when I saw the hordes of people queueing outside the club just to see and have their photograph taken with the iconic trophy.
In that one moment I realised just how important history and tradition was in the mindset of every football lover, irrelevant of the level, and how not to embrace it was as disrespectful as it was potentially dangerous.
The Vase and the Trophy are the raison d’etre for many players, fans and volunteers alike with a place at Wembley the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after a nationwide tour in the earlier rounds following the fortunes of your beloved football club.
For the clubs talented or fortunate (or both) enough to earn themselves a place at the Holy Grail of English soccer it will be a day they will never forget.
Fifteen minutes of fame, their night at the opera, call it what you will, essentially both competitions are the sporting glue that help to bind communities together; a throwback to those special days when the town spruced itself up and the population put on its Sunday best, climbed aboard the charabanc and headed en masse to the big city.
For the players they are the reward for those long winter nights spent training under watery lights on pitches resembling ploughed fields; for those rockets received from their bosses when asking to leave off early so they can drive 80 miles to play an away evening game for the club they love.
For the volunteers it makes all those hours spent walking up and down touchlines with whitewash markers or swilling out mud-caked dressing rooms all worthwhile.
For the supporters this one day is the justification for all those times spent far from home watching their team being trounced while simultaneously being pelted by the vagaries of the English weather as they desperately try to warm their hands around a polystyrene cup filled with boiling, milky tea.
This year for the first time ever non-league finals day will be a one day event held on Sunday May 22, the day after the FA Cup final.
At 12.15 Hereford and Morpeth Town will contest the FA Vase final before Grimsby Town and FC Halifax Town battle it out for the FA Trophy from 4:15.
I wish them all the luck in the world but would like to make it clear at this point that my envy knows no bounds.
Why’s that you may ask? Well, the late, great, Terry Pratchett summed it up much better than I ever could when he said, “The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.”
Article: Guillem Balague (@guillembalague)