(Photo: Action Images)
Within the past few weeks, my team Chelmsford City, have not only gone out of the FA Trophy, but the FA Cup too.
Over the past few years I’ve heard people say that “a cup run is just a bonus, it’s the league we are concentrating on”. I, for one, will never understand that comment.
There’s no better shop window for Non-League players than doing well in the FA Cup against professional sides. It’s where you create a name for yourself and potentially catch the eye of the bigger clubs watching.
As for the FA Trophy, it’s a chance in a lifetime of playing at Wembley. I’m still yet to play there and it will always be a dream of mine.
I recall playing for Aldershot in 2007/08 when we were drawn against Gravesend in the semi-final. We were both in the Conference Premier at the time, but at opposite ends of the table. We were sat pretty at the top whilst they were struggling in the midst of a relegation battle. We fancied ourselves to do well.
Having played away in the first leg we ended up losing the game 2-1 to then take them back to our place feeling confident. A couple of days prior to the game I was hit by a mean bout of flu, but I was determined to get out on the pitch in order to help get the boys to Wembley.
On the morning of the game I packed my bags and made my way to the Rec to be greeted by the manager [Gary Waddock] on arrival, who asked me how I was feeling. Like any young footballer I declared myself fit, but it was obvious to him that I was in no fit state to play.
I’d argued tirelessly on the morning of the game with my parents that I can get through the game, but eventually the sensible decisions were made by the wiser and older heads.
Sat watching in the stands was very hard to take, and made twice as bad when we ended up losing the second leg and bowed out of the cup, missing out on a Wembley appearance.
I was inconsolable, and didn’t want to talk to anyone. To be denied the chance of playing at a stadium where I never thought I’d even come close to was a hard hit to take. Still to this day it was the worst day in my career so don’t tell me that the Trophy is just a ‘Brucie Bonus’.
Those teams who do well in these cup runs are rewarded financially also. This means they can then strengthen their squads, whether it be in January or at the end of the season. All you have to do is look at the likes of Sutton who are second in the National League Premier. If that’s from further financial input into the squad or a belief that they have gained from last year’s FA Cup success then it’s clearly done them no harm at all.
I’d also like to mention the disappointment in attendances this season when playing in the National League South. I ask myself, are we pricing people out of the game? Having drove past Stevenage Borough FC during the week I was astonished to see a sign that read £24 for an adult matchday ticket.
I’m a huge believer that sustainability is key for our league. We now need to do our utmost at clubs to get the next generation into grounds at our level. It can be fun supporting Non-League football, as it’s a lot more personal.
When children ask for autographs these days I feel like a bit of a fraud as I’m no Eden Hazard, but they appreciate it and that’s what matters. I just hope we can get more in through the gates.
I talk from experience when talking Non-League as I spent my childhood watching my father play for the likes of Aylesbury United, Harrow Borough and Marlow.
I loved every minute of it, but I’m not too sure the youngsters of today realise it’s a good level of football which they can definitely learn a lot from.