Non-league day is an annual event created by James Doe in 2010, the inspiration came when James travelled to Devon following his supported club Queens Park Rangers play non-league side Tavistock. Originally starting as a social media experiment the event grew into a notable date within the football calendar and is backed by both Premier league and Football league clubs, MP's, media organisations and charities. Non-league day is organised to coincide with international breaks, of which no professional league clubs from the top two divisions play, this only benefits the cause as participating fans are not missing any of their followed clubs action. The event allows volunteer led community football to come to the forefront, attracting communities to watch their local non-league sides and experience what non-league is all about. The country consists of thousands of non-league clubs of which a large percentage are volunteer run. Money taken at the turnstiles is used to run the club, create community projects and most importantly fund youth setups.
Non league day welcomes donations and raises money for charities including prostate cancer UK, this is a great example of what the people who come together to support football can achieve, even at the sports lowest levels. Non-league football brings people of various professions together, creating a network of communication within media. Notable publications such as "The Bootiful Game" covers life in non-league and is sold at most clubs. Social media also plays a huge role, allowing everyone involved such as journalsits, photographers and of course the fans to communicate instantly.
"Non–League Day is a chance to celebrate the 40,000 semi-professional and amateur clubs in the UK and I am honoured to help fly the flag" - Martin Tyler, English football commentator.
James Doe interview
So first of all James, why did you start non-league day?
Back in 2010 I made a trip down to Devon to watch QPR in a pre-season friendly at Tavistock. It was obvious how important the match was for the hosts with adverts all over town and the hospitality we received was fantastic. The finances generated by the hundreds of extra visitors probably set them up for the season.
Soon after, I made a trip back to Harrow Borough, the club I had followed as a teenager, and they were raising funds for new floodlight bulbs. I was particularly struck by this, thinking that such a cost would be covered as a matter of routine. At that moment I realised that there must have been lots of other clubs in a similar position, given the poor financial climate that everyone was experiencing at the time, and that something should be done.
Noticing an international break was coming up early in the new season I formulated the idea of trying to drive all those extra people that would be without football to go and check out their local non-league side instead and generate some well needed extra funds. I speculatively launched the idea among friends on Facebook to see what would happen and the rest is history.
Do you feel it is important for people to support grassroot football, if so why?
Yes of course. Many non-league clubs are almost exclusively volunteer run, with money taken at the turnstiles often funding thriving youth set-ups, projects and facilities which are of benefit to the whole community. The level of skill on offer at non-league grounds might not compare to that at the Emirates Stadium or Old Trafford, for example, but there are other sides to the experience, from which the smaller club will always win hands down. The vast majority of games still kick off at 3pm on a Saturday, ticket prices are realistic, you can often stand (and drink) anywhere in the ground and will always be guaranteed a warm welcome by people who run their clubs for a love of the game.
Non-league day is all about encouraging people to spectate a local non-league game. Do you think people feel more inclined to watch these fixtures due to projects such as this one?
I’d love to think so. I’ve heard from individuals where I know it has made a big difference (i.e. they’ve checked out a game on NLD and gone back week after week). Some clubs have also let me know that NLD has provided a great platform for them to grow their presence in the local community.
To me it seems the profile of non-league football has risen since 2010 but that might be because I’m more personally involved and I’m paying more attention.
As journalist Tony Incenzo remarked recently, a good non-league crowd used to be 1,000 now crowds frequently exceed that in Steps 1 & 2. Lincoln City managed over 9,000 for a National League game recently as they pushed for the title.
Ive heard you're partnered with prostate cancer UK, how much money have you raised for this charity?
That is hard to quantify as a lot of individual fans and clubs have raised their own funds and donated directly but our own efforts must have raised close to £20,000.
With the success non-league day has had so far, what aspect do you think has influenced the most?
For me, the most important thing has been to pitch the event correctly. I have purposely intended it to be a universal event which celebrates all that non-league football has to offer. I have strongly resisted any attempt to make it a protest as a lot of other supporter-led movements tend to be. As a result I have been able to work with people, clubs and organisations at all levels of the game.
Do you see a positive future for non-league football?
Yes – but it will require those running the clubs to keep up their hard work and be able to adapt to the times. The clubs which have enjoyed the most success on NLD and grown steadily throughout recent years are those which have been open to new ideas, those which have adopted social media and those which have made a real effort to engage with all groups within their local communities. This does take a lot of effort and even a bit of risk taking but also requires a good pool of dedicated volunteers who can come up with the ideas and deliver them.
And finally how would people find out more information on non-league day?
Our website is probably the best place to start, we’re intending to announce the date of this year’s event after Non-League Finals Day on 21 May so keep an eye on the site for updates.