Non League football- It’s like having a affair with an ugly woman.
Currently sitting 15th in the 8th tier of English football, Valerie Park is the home of Prescot Cables FC.
Dating back to 1884 the Cables can be found in a small suburb of Liverpool and Valerie Park is where you can find a small crowd of loyal fans who love every single minute of following the Evo Stick North Division side and today is no exception.
With the game only getting the go ahead after a 10.30am pitch inspection I met a group of Cables fans in a local pub.
It turned out that this group of fans had a few surprises up their sleeve for one of their own, Chris, a Liverpool fan who has fallen out of love with top flight football and developed a huge crush on Prescot’s finest football team.
The game today is part of Chris ‘at home stag do’ before he ties the knot in a few months. We leave Chris in the pub and head to the ground so the final preparations for his big day can be finished.
In the first 30mins of entering the ground we must’ve spoken to every member of staff or should I say volunteer who keeps the club running, from the guy on the turnstile all the way to the club’s owner who is busy moving barrels of beer.
The clubs megastore where you can purchase all your Cables related merchandise is right next to the Chilli con carne which the staff have put on for Chris and his mates and is staffed again by volunteers. Straight away you feel a sense of belonging and familiarity within the club that keeps people albeit a small number of people coming back every week.
As the bar starts to fill up I begin asking the relatively young group of supporters why they have turned their backs on going to watch their main teams and started watching the non-league Cables.
Andy, a 29 year old Everton fan who has been all over Europe to watch his beloved blues told me ‘I like coming here and being able to have a pint whilst watching the match. I know that the standard is pretty shite but even if they lose its not going to ruin my weekend like it does when Everton lose.’ He added ‘I’d rather pay £7 watch the lads and have a few pints with my mates without getting stressed and worked up like I do when watching Lukaku and Stones.’
After a few more pints and a few more questions, he comes up with the perfect analogy ‘Watching non league is like having an affair with a slightly uglier and fatter girl whilst your missus is doing the shopping. You know that she’s a minger but she has a few other perks that keep you coming back. Everton is my missus and Prescot are my bit on the side.’
The relationship between club and fans is very close and the fans feel that they have a responsibility to keep the club a float with many donating £20 to sponsor a section of the pitch, another supporter donates £100 a month to the club just to help keep them going.
He gets nothing in return other than being able to continue watching his favourite 2nd team play and have a pint with his mates whilst doing so.
Highlighting the close relationship with their fans, the club have named a beer after Chris for today and little does he know that it has also be arranged for him to don his beloved Cables strip and lead the team out as footballs first 33 year old 6ft 2 mascot. He will also be taking penalties with some of his mates at half time. Where else would a club more or less allow a group of lads to have free reign for the day.
The game itself is an entertaining affair with Prescot running out 4-2 winners against Harrogate Railway with in form forward Robert Doran who looks like the scary bouncer that you don’t bother trying to have any banter with on a night out bagging all 4.
The win extends the clubs unbeaten streak to 5 games and adds to the misery for Harrogate Railway who lost 7-0 to league leaders Warrington Town last week. Prescot played well on an extremely bobbly pitch and took a 4-1 lead by half time, Harrogate were reduced to 10 man on 63 minutes when Harry Coates was sent off for pulling back Lloyd Dean when he was through on goal. Harrogate pulled another one back when Dan Barrett who with his questionable haircut was named ‘Pineapple head’ and was subsequently pelted by the Prescot Ultras for the entirety of the 30 minutes he was on the pitch. However he took this extremely well even pointing to and rubbing his awful haircut after he headed in Railways 2nd.
After the game, the beer was still flowing and once the bar had shut we took ourselves to the next boozer a whole 50 yards away and continued to celebrate the Cables massive win which resulted in 20 grown men dancing to a karaoke version of Pulps Disco 2000 whilst swinging Cables scarves like lunatics.
Whilst sipping what felt like my 15th pint but was more likely to be my 4th I concluded that the likes of Prescot Cables and the other non-league clubs allow Chris and Andy to feel connected to football like their dads and granddads did used to before the words commercialism and marketing were ever used in a sentence about football.
Its gives them the sense of belonging and the feeling that they are more than just a customer like the modern fan is for the majority of top level clubs. Without the likes of Andy, Chris and all the volunteers including the players most of which don’t get paid anything other than expenses the likes of Prescot Cables would not be in existence and that alone would be a massive shame for English football.
Matthew Campbell is a UEFA licensed coach and has experience working in elite level football. Matthew Campbell is one of our "Across the Pond" correspondents. Hailing from Liverpool, he waxes philosophical about all things footy on his blog The Full Hit.