Non-League Day, as you’d probably imagine, had very humble beginnings. Back in 2010, James Doe was watching his beloved Harrow Borough FC and was struck by the fact that his club had to raise money to buy new floodlight bulbs.
Akin to the pandemic-induced crises faced by the lower partitions of the footballing pyramid today, the 2008 financial crash caused a similarly grim toll.
At the time, James took to Facebook to encourage friends to watch their local club during an international break, only for the message to accidentally go viral. As James puts it: “my friends shared it and six weeks later I had a national event on my hands”. This eventually catalysed the now 12-year strong campaign. Non-League Day still carries the same incredibly important message: support your local club, support your local community.
When asked about the overarching aim of the project, Doe told PENALTY: “Quite simply, it's to drive up attendance at non-league clubs and help them generate extra revenue which in turn strengthens the foundations of our national game.”
With the help of Francis Duku (James’ right-hand man), Ian Bailey, Steve Scott, and the newest member of the team, Elsa Jones, Non-League Day is now a well-oiled machine. They decided early on to partner with a charity as soon as it was viable; currently working with Prostate Cancer UK and Kick It Out.
Doe said of their PCUK partnership: “They promote a vital men's health message which is really relevant to a lot of people involved in non-league football and it works really well for both parties.”
The elite tier of football are becoming incredibly hard to access. With ticket prices surging and the cost of living inflicted by the government becoming more and more suffocating, non-League football can provide a vital avenue into live football for many. James summarised: “The best thing about non-league football is the accessibility. It's cheaper in every respect - admission, programmes, food, drink, merchandise - you get closer to the action, you can easily meet the players or club officials and become pretty much as involved as you want to be.”
Football is the lifeblood of many communities and can provide an outlet for many who are struggling, whether it be financially or with mental health. James encourages those who have never experienced a non-League game to go to their local ground. “Definitely go - you can't criticise something you haven't experienced. If you don't like it, you'll have done your bit to help that club anyway”. Becoming part of an identity of a club is something the big, corporate teams cannot offer.
James remains fully aware of the stark contrast between these two increasingly disparate tiers of English football. Highlighting that “if only 10 extra people turn up at a game because of Non-League Day, they may well have covered the cost of the match officials or indeed the rising costs of a hot shower after the game!”. Matchdays create memories. James reminisced on witnessing an infamous own goal from Rocky Baptiste in the flesh, which will stay with him forever. You too can bask in these wonderful moments that only the beautiful game can provide.
You’ll find James Doe out and about this Non-League Day (Saturday 26th), unsurprisingly, at Harrow. They face Welsh club Merthyr Town before England play Switzerland at Wembley later in the day. If you’re going to watch the Three Lions, why not pop in beforehand? You’ll even get a half price ticket if you flash your England stub. Find out more here.