Since the Premier League was founded in 1992 ‘going to the football’ has become an increasingly expensive activity, certainly not something many students can afford on a regular basis. But fear not, there is a place where football is still affordable – non-League.
Nottingham is blessed with a wide variety of non-League clubs that offer football on many different levels of the non-League pyramid. At the top sit Notts County – the oldest professional football club in the world – and a team that is looking to escape the National League as swiftly as possible. Further down, you find Radford, who are the closest team to City Campus. And in the middle of those two are Basford United, who played Banbury United in the FA Cup third qualifying round on Saturday. I was there to take it in.
Basford isn’t far from uni either, if you take a tram you can be there in 25 minutes. Most non-League clubs will do student tickets – so remember to ask. Mine for this match was just £3. That’s the same price as a pint Carling in Shooters on Super Sunday.
There is a certain romance in a non-League club with a ground that’s a bit run down. The pile of rubbish in one corner, a ramshackle-looking bar or stand and an incomprehensible PA system. Basford’s Greenwich Avenue has none of those features, though. It’s well-kept, with a 4G pitch, some nice small stands and a PA system that’s clear as day. It may lack romance, but there’s also pleasure in visiting a ground that people really care about and look after.
The match against Banbury was one of the biggest in the history of Basford with a win taking them within one victory of the FA Cup first round and the opportunities that brings. Most enticingly, a game against Notts County. The ground was pretty full, thanks to an attendance of 514 and a decent travelling support from Oxfordshire.
The visiting fans were very vocal early on. It’s always surprising how much noise a group of 10 men can make when they really want to. Their chants ranged from “I’m Banbury till I die, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Banbury till I die” to “Shall we sing a song for you?”. These football clubs really matter to the fans, the fact so many of them made the near two-hour journey, in the middle of a fuel crisis, shows that.
Maybe thanks to all the vocal encouragement, Banbury started the better team, pushing Basford back. Their first real chance came thanks to some excellent skill from their winger Ben Acquaya, who turned two defenders in one movement, but the shot from his cut-back only found the hands of Basford’s keeper.
At this point your reporter decided to go and investigate the food options at the ground – important journalistic work. I can very happily report that the range of hot food is good, you can get a classic cheeseburger and chips, but for £2.50 you can have a ‘high-quality farm shop pie’ and for only £2 you could have chips and gravy.
I returned to my standing position, chips and gravy in hand, just in time to see Basford have a goal disallowed. An inswinging corner was headed into the net only for the referee to whistle indicating the goalkeeper had been fouled in the process.
Half-time came and the club’s bar was visited. £4 for a pint of Carling; not great, but I have spent more at the City Ground.
In the second half the Basford fans came round to where I was standing and reminded me how much of a laugh football supporters can be. Abuse of officials is a part of every game at every level – you can’t escape it. Some fans go try to fit as many expletives into a sentence as possible, but Basford’s were witty with their comments. “BTEC Collina” they shouted at the bald referee. The linesman on our side had opted for a spiked-hair style that really hasn’t looked good since the early 2000s. He was labelled “spikey bonce” or “Rhodesy” after TV chef Gary Rhodes. “What are you cooking tonight Gary?” was just one of the barbs thrown in his direction. This one of my favourite things about non-League. The fans kept people entertained while Basford started to become more dominant in the game.
As the clock ticked down, discussion around me began to turn to the increasingly likely looking trip to Banbury on Tuesday night for a replay. Lifts were being sorted. One fan told another that he should let his boss know that he said he should leave work early. One of the lads was planning out how he was going to try and convince his wife to let their five-year-old son come to the game.
Then in the 89th minute Banbury earned a free-kick just inside their own half. In characteristic non-League fashion, they lumped the ball into the box and the ensuing pinball led to a tap-in at the back post for Ethan Johnstone, sending the away fans mental.
The Basford fans near me were clearly gutted, but one raised a valid point the rest agreed with, “Oh well at least we don’t have to go to Banbury now.”
I got all this entertainment, including food and drink for £9 – money well spent.