Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Dark Side Of Non-League Football

Congratulations, of sorts, to Kettering Town, who became (after Chelmsford City last week) the second club in English senior football to win their league championship yesterday. Their 3-0 win against AFC Telford United yesterday was coupled with a 3-1 defeat for second placed Stalybridge Celtic at Boston United, which meant that the Conference North championship to Rockingham Road and guaranteeing Conference football there next season. The result, however, was overshadowed by considerable crowd trouble in and around the ground, as well as in the centre of Kettering itself.

Supporters of both clubs were keen to distance themselves from the trouble. The rumour currently doing the rounds is that hardcore hooligans from Wolverhampton Wanderers (who had a day off yesterday because of the FA Cup semi-finals) decided to travel down to down to Northamptonshire because their team had a day off. This has, for a long time, been a problem for non-league clubs. I wrote on here last year about the arrival of Brighton troublemakers at the FA Vase quarter-final between Whitehawk and Truro City, and a match between FC United of Manchester and Newcastle Town was disrupted by the decision of groups of "supporters" of Manchester United and Stoke City to use the fixture as an opportunity to renew old acquaintances.

Part of the problem is that courts will ban persistent troublemakers, but they will only ban them from all ninety-two Football League and Premier League grounds. Non-league matches, where security is less tight and there are often considerably fewer CCTV cameras about, make for fertile (and relatively risk-free days). As long ago as 1983, an FA Trophy match between Enfield and Ilkeston Town had to be abandoned with eleven minutes to play when rioting Derby supporters invaded the pitch with eleven minutes to play. Many clubs, however, do have small groups of people that cause trouble at matches, whether with a degree of premeditation or because of Dutch courage brought about by too much alcohol. The costs of policing means that clubs are often unwilling to bring in extra security and the fact that many grounds are circled by pubs provides a fertile ground for people that don't need much persuasion to get drunk have plenty of opportunity to do so.

Neither Kettering nor Telford's supporters are much loved in the Conference North (Saturday's events were as predictable as they were depressing - both clubs have taken trouble with them elsewhere this season), and neither club will be missed. They are the two best supported clubs in the league, but the attendant trouble that comes with them seems to outweigh the financial benefits that their visits bring. Ultimately, the fact remains that is very easy for all non-league clubs to blame their troubles on the supporters of "other" clubs, but such expedience is a short-sighted and dangerous game. Clubs such as AFC Telford United and Kettering Town should be looking to hand out a few banning orders of their own.


Anonymous said...

Should there be a Salary Cap in Football?
Personally I think there should be! It’s just getting to be stupid money in football at the top of the premiership!
It’s always the same teams at the top proving that football success is based purely on money which ruins the idea of it being a sport! They’ve done it in rugby, basketball, hockey and American football and it makes the sports more competitive and better to watch!
I do a little Spread Betting from time to time and most matches don’t hold much surprise who is going to win, its boring! I want to see a team at the bottom pulling off an amazing season beating last seasons winners in a close fought battle!
Make things fair! It shouldn’t be about money!
All there is all that money in the premiership and barely any of it stays in the UK so it’s not even helping the economy!
From my Spread Betting, if I ever win big (which is never, I’m unlucky) it’s still nothing compared to the average premiership players weekly wage!
This Rant was brought to you by Spread Betting Spike.

Spangly Princess said...

Ah, the joys of Turning a Blind Eye. If it's not on Sky it doesn't really exist. If it's not even in the league... well, we really are talking about some shadowy netherworld aren't we.

The issue of troublemakers from bigger clubs using non-league games as an opportunity for a ruck is a very interesting one, and a salutary reminder that all is not "solved" even at the top level of the game, whatever they might like us to think.

It also fits with my suspicion that hooliganism and its suppression have as much to do with economic issues as with repression: whether by pricing the unwelcome element out of the game, or by creating an environment in which no club can afford the financial cost of hooliganism.

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