As 2015 draws to a close we look back on a typically frantic and electric year of football outside the professional league. We all love non-league football and the components that make it such a unique sporting experience, quite unlike another.
From the supporters and their passion to the match day experience which can be enjoyed with a beer and a ciggie all the while standing on a terrace as you pour your banter down on the visiting goalie. Your proximity to the ongoing match lets you hear every kick, swear, whistle and shin pad crunching tackle in near perfect acoustics, yes, non-league football is a peculiar love, enjoyed by us all.
Once in a while, it even unearths a Premier League goal scoring record breaker so, to celebrate the year of the Vardy, here’s our run down of the best five games in non-league football this year.
Halifax Town 1-7 Cheltenham Town
The town of Cheltenham is more famous for its magnificent horse racing festival, one of the highlights of the National Hunt season. But locals there are currently enjoying a fine non-league footballing side too.
In fact, at the time of writing, Cheltenham Town are proudly sitting atop the Vanarama National League, the highest position in nonleague football. One of the amazing results that have seen The Robins reach their lofty position was October’s thumping of Halifax. Inspired by a hat-trick from Jack Munns, Town thoroughly out played the home side and ran out as winners extremely comfortably in what was a surprisingly scrappy, if entertaining, game.
Southport 2-2 Tranmere Rovers
It wasn’t so long ago that Rovers were playing in the Football League and a “local” derby match might have meant Everton or Liverpool in the cup. Now, they occupy mid place in the Vanarama National League and are in the process of having a tipsy topsy season. For every step forward the side take, they seemingly take two back.
As for Southport, they are struggling in 21st place but, as in all derby games, they rose to the occasion back in September when they were visited by fellow merseysiders Tranmere. Rovers took a point away with them from the Merseyrail Community Stadium following a 2-2 draw in which the home side had taken a 2-0 lead in the first half through Gary Jones and Mike Phenix.
Rovers responded well though and goals from Jay Harris and James Norwood meant the points were shared. Southport were down to ten men by the end after having Luke Foster sent off in the second half but they held off the Tranmere pressure to claim a point.
Big games, big money – sport and football is all about adrenaline and for those who primarily spectate over a game, a great way of adding an additional level of amusement and injecting some adrenaline into a match is to place a wager on it.
Sports betting is booming right now and rightly so and with so many rivalling bookmakers out there and so many ways to make an easy bet, bookies are falling over themselves to offer punters, new and old, the best value in a game. That goes for the Championship league as much as the top non-league games too. It could even pay to predict the next Jamie Vardy, and my money’s on Gareth Bainbridge.
Farnborough 2-6 Canvey Island
Ryman Premier League mid-tablers, Canvey Island produced a great away day victory where a ruthless display saw the gulls put six past Farnborough in a 6-2 victory at The Rushmoor Community Stadium back in September. In a one sided match, Island were the better side all over the pitch as demonstrated by right back cum midfielder and Tambeson Eyong blasting home a hat-trick.
Despite the runaway victory, it was the home side that threatened first and would have been confident going into the match, as reflected in the pre-game odds which did not see the clinical performance from Canvey coming.
Eastleigh 3-2 Forest Green Rovers
Ross Lafayette’s injury time goal at the Silverlake Stadium saw Eastleigh grab a dramatic and extremely late winner against visiting Forest Green Rovers, currently second in the Vanarama National League. In a great game that perfectly demonstrated everything that’s wonderful about non-league football, this match had it all. It was hard to predict, end to end and with a late, late decider, it was the kind of entertainment that would cost an arm and a leg elsewhere.
Norton & Stockton Ancients 3-5 North Shields
In a typically exciting game, late goals from Gary Ormston and James Luccock ensured away side North Shields took the spoils in an eight-goal thriller at Station Road. Shields are the current FA Vase holders and are normally powered by Gareth Bainbridge, who boasts an astonishing goal scoring record, but even he didn’t make the score sheet that day. Just about everybody else did though in this Northern League classic.