Grassroots Josh whittaker

"Thats Entertainment"

Athersley Recreation are a non-league football club founded in 1979 and are based in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England. They are proud members of the Toolstation Northern Counties East Football League.

"Athersley Recreation take the lead"
"More than just a club"

"The Penguins" pride themselves on their traditional values and outlook on football, they believe their footballers should play for the badge and not for a weekly wage slip. This is quite a bold philosophy, especially as most other clubs in the same league pay wages. However the club earn a lot of respect from both players and fans, sticking to their beliefs is quite compelling. The clubs hierarchy are doing a lot right, Athersley Recreation are in a song position in all areas, league form and an excellent home stadium to name a couple. Currently sitting 9th in a highly competitive league situated just five levels below the professional level of the National League shows the good work is paying off. The home stadium Sheeren Park has a capacity of 2000, of which 420 is covered and 150 seated in its three main stands.

The ground also provides excellent facilities maintained by an array of friendly staff who all pitch in to keep the club running. Everyone from the bar lady to the car park attendant who greets fans with "welcome to the rec" contribute and give visitors a warm welcoming. Sheeren park also boasts a club shop and a clubhouse equipped with affordable food/ drink along with indoor and outdoor seating areas. An excellent pitch with great floodlighting are two key aesthetics which give off a professional look and feel to the stadium. Loudspeakers also provide spectators with information on starting lineups and substitutions along with music played before and after the match. The club also run two youth squads for under 8s and 14s, the "little penguins" play fixtures against other club youth teams. This cements the clubs involvement with community and displays just what non-league clubs provide for "grassroot" football.

"Sliding in"
Athersley Recreation club honours

Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League

- Champions 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2004–05, 2006–07, 2008–09, 2011–12

- Division Two - Champions 1997–98

- League Cup winners 1997–98, 2005–06, 2008–09

Barnsley Association League

- Champions 1991–92, 1992–93, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97

Barnsley Junior League

- Champions 1986–87

Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup

- Winners 2013–14

Sheffield & Hallamshire Association Cup

- Winners 2007–08

Athersley Recreation Records

Best League performance: 10th, Northern Counties East League Premier Division, 2013–14

Best FA Cup performance: Preliminary round, 2014–15

Best FA Vase performance: Second Round, 2013–14

Record attendance: 753 vs. Shaw Lane Aquaforce, Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup, 2014–15

"Down the Line"
"Passion not Fashion"

For many non-league football provides everything the sport at professional level has somewhat strayed away from throughout its evolution in the modern age. It's no great secret that the beautiful game has gone through huge transition, especially in the last 20 years. The English game proudly stems from a working class background, and many believe football is losing connection with its grassroots, in doing so losing its identity. Global interest leading to an increase of money within all areas of the sport has hindered the connection between supporters and their local clubs. What was once a spectacle that provided cheap and sociable atmospheres has now become unaffordable for the average working class citizen. This may be why so many are turning to non-league, which still provides affordable football with an old school feel. Some notable events in history has aided this transition of football spectatorship, the Hillsborough deserter of 1989 led to full stadium redevelopments. New stringent safety regulations meant that professional league clubs had to legally re-structure their standing terraces into all seated areas. This change saw a rise in ticket prices, pricing out many loyal supporters, fans across Europe began to hold protests concerning the cost of match day ticket pricing, they claim to be treat as nothing more than customers.

In 1992 the English Football Association along with BskyB rebranded the countries top tier, implementing broadcasting plans meant a large portion of the seasons fixture list would be given live television coverage. BskyB's television deals for Premier league clubs created a substantial wealth gap between top flight clubs and clubs from the lower devisions, this has made it harder for lower league clubs to compete. A substantial rise of money within football through media and ownership of clubs has been quite consequential for smaller clubs. High demanding wage bills for players means league clubs are required to charge more for tickets in order to sustain league status. Unaffordable football for the working class meant many would instead stay at home, as watching on television was a cheaper alternative, this is when many passionate supporter groups turned to non-league football with some clubs even being fan owned. The term "passion not fashion" was branded to oppose fans staying home rather than being involved in live community football.

Globalisation throughout the internet age has broadened financial opportunities, football has become hugely commercialised where clubs have even reshaped themselves into brands. Sponsorship is now seen within all areas, this has caused upset for many loyal supporters who claim the money has affected the identity. For a group of Manchester United fans this transition became all too much and in 2005 they moved away from Manchester United to form their own club FC United of Manchester. A feeling of disaffection became apparent when United were taken over by American businessman Malcom Glazer, with many supporters already infuriated with previous interest from BskyB to purchase the club. The group of supporters soon reignited their passion and identity as FC United brought back the traditional values of football, including 3pm kick off times. Spectating a non-league fixture provides a unique experience where many claim to feel more involved and connected with the whole event. Everything from partaking in raffles to having a chat with the officials, players and fans in the clubhouse gives off a sense of belonging and togetherness. This is a feeling many have lost when supporting bigger professional clubs.

Athersley Recreation extend the lead
Match complete
"Cross it in"
"One up"
"Last ditch"
Non-league day

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.

"From behind"
The future

What the future holds for non-league football and the sport in the broadest sense is uncertain, football has changed dramatically throughout its history with this transation mainly occuring in the last twenty years. The economic and culture boom of the 1990's saw football advance along with society itself, it was a time where certain players of top clubs became celebrity icons. The influx of media involvement and the evolution of technology through the modern age has also changed how we perceive football. What was once more community focused and engaged is now more centralised within the globalised age of the internet, this has made the game more topical on a larger scale. Technology has also been implemented onto the sports rules, this has changed the game in certain areas but mainly for goal line decisions. First trialed in international tournaments, goal line technology is now used in the Premier League and is being introduced to the Championship for the season 2017/18.

Technology within the game is one aspect that has the potential to advance further, this advancement could drive footballs rulebook down the path of transformation. Trial runs for offside decision replays have now been tested in international fixtures, this technology could be the next stage of change introduced to the game. These changes are implemented to help match officials make correct decisions, however some disagree with this restructure and claim it is hindering the free flowing side of football, which the game is universally known for. The future for non-league football remains unclear, however the exisitance of strong spirited clubs provides a positive outlook. The communities that come together and support each other will be pivotal towards non-leagues continued valuable existence.

Next issue

Worsbrough bridge photoshoot feature

The Non-League Paper exclusive

Created By
Josh Whittaker
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