NIP THE TROUBLE IN THE BUD

The Non-League Football Paper - - NEWS - Ian RI­D­LEY

THE IMAGE of the Non-League game, cer­tainly that of out­siders, is of salt-of-the-earth char­ac­ters keep­ing their com­mu­nity clubs go­ing, and of hon­est play­ers and real foot­ball. As we go into the big FA Cup weeks of Au­tumn, at­tract­ing more at­ten­tion as it does, it is a view likely to be pro­moted more widely. Those of us who are in­volved or watch reg­u­larly, how­ever, know that the image can be more, shall we say, real. Pas­sions, and the fric­tion they can cause in­side clubs, can run as high as any­where fur­ther up the pyra­mid. The angst over in­ter­nal pol­i­tics and fi­nances are just the same, even if stakes may be lower, be­cause hu­mans are hu­man no mat­ter the level. Per­son­ally, I have re­cently no­ticed some of the pas­sion edg­ing dan­ger­ously close to be­ing dam­ag­ing and the Non-League game needs to take note rather than deny prob­lems, as it some­times can.

Pri­or­ity

Most glar­ing is vi­o­lence, such as the crowd brawl dur­ing the penalty shoot-out in the Bostik South play-off be­tween Corinthian-Ca­su­als and Wal­ton Ca­su­als last sea­son. Then, this early sea­son saw the as­sault on Wok­ing as­sis­tant man­ager Martin Tyler by a Weald­stone fan overex­u­ber­antly celebrating a win­ning goal. Be­yond that, there is po­ten­tial racism, such as the re­cent case of Ebb­s­fleet’s Ebou Adams be­ing al­legedly ver­bally abused by an Alder­shot fan. Sex­ism too. I per­son­ally heard a dis­taste­ful sex­ual re­mark di­rected to­wards the ref­eree Amy Fearn at a match re­cently. At Sal­is­bury FC, when I was vice-chair­man last sea­son, we also dealt strongly with some­one who shouted an ob­scene re­mark at a vis­it­ing fe­male phys­io­ther­a­pist. We im­ple­mented a three-match ban on the per­pe­tra­tor and re­quired him also to shadow a stew­ard for a game to see what it was like. We were praised by the FA and the or­gan­i­sa­tion Women in Foot­ball – whom we con­sulted on pun­ish­ment – for our ac­tions, though it didn’t seem to be enough for some other clubs who crit­i­cised us but them­selves do noth­ing to ad­dress bad be­hav­iour in their own grounds. Af­ter that episode, we made it a pri­or­ity to is­sue a tan­noy warn­ing five min­utes be­fore kick-off that any vi­o­lent be­hav­iour, racist, sex­ist or ho­mo­pho­bic lan­guage, would be pun­ished se­verely. On my trav­els round grounds this sea­son, I am not hear­ing such an­nounce­ments enough. It is a sim­ple enough thing to do, and a start. As is be­liev­ing – rather than dis­be­liev­ing – ver­bally abused black play­ers and women as a de­fault po­si­tion. Now all of the above may seem like iso­lated in­ci­dents. But they do not take into ac­count the un­re­ported tales many spec­ta­tors will also have to tell. Nor do they em­brace the reg­u­lar abuse di­rected at ref­er­ees and their as­sis­tants, where fans are close to them and can be heard more eas­ily. And yes, I know, of­fi­cials can be ter­ri­ble at “this level.” I hear Premier League fans say­ing that too. I’m not go­ing to come over all holier-than-thou here. When in­volved with a club, I can get as wound up as many. Sense has al­ways, thank­fully, pre­vailed in the end, how­ever. Some­times that has been down to a friend calm­ing me down. May there be many friends out there calm­ing us down.

Sell­ing point

In that is an­other sim­ple so­lu­tion, along with clubs look­ing more closely at who they sell al­co­hol to. Too many young­sters think it is easy to get a cheeky pint or few at Non-League games. Play­ers can also help by not wind­ing up op­pos­ing fans with cel­e­bra­tions. Such self-polic­ing is es­sen­tial if the game lower down is to sur­vive, let alone thrive. It can­not af­ford high stew­ard­ing costs that might be im­posed if it doesn’t. And none of us wants to see seg­re­ga­tion for rou­tine matches. Non-seg­re­ga­tion is a unique sell­ing point for foot­ball at this level. We want Non-League foot­ball to re­main real and pas­sion­ate but also ac­cord with its friendly and ac­com­mo­dat­ing image. We should want it to be in­for­mal, in­clu­sive and rep­re­sen­ta­tive. As well as the big FA Cup games com­ing up, we have NonLeague Day next month. Let’s nip all this non­sense in the bud and put on our best face.

HANDS-ON AP­PROACH: Ebb­s­fleet man­ager Daryl McMa­hon con­soles Ebou Adams af­ter he was al­legedly abused by fans

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