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The Non-League Football Paper

Ian Ridley – Football! It just keeps on giving!

By Ian Ridley,

Well, it was fun while it lasted and the World Cup sustained, even energised, football fans in filling those fallow summer days before we find out what those new players are like in that much-anticipated friendly against a Football League side.

England reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup has lifted the nation, made us believe in our football again. But was it just the games and results which so excited us? I would suggest it was something much, much more…

Most observers would probably agree that England were fortunate to make the final four, coming through two opening matches against average teams in Tunisia and Panama, losing to Belgium in a reserve friendly then overcoming two sides, in Colombia and Sweden, below them in the ranking, as the draw ended up being kind to them. Before going out to another rated below them in Croatia.

Grounded

Rationally, looked at like that, it doesn’t tell of stirring deeds and heady days. But they were.

And they occurred because England finally had a team of young players to whom football followers could relate.

These were less reclusive Premier League superstars than an accessible group who had had to fight for their careers and felt what everyone back home was feeling.

There were even one-time Non-League representatives, including the celebrated Jamie Vardy and less well-known back-up goalkeeper Nick Pope, but most notably Jordan Pickford, saver and saviour against Colombia and Sweden.

This was a kid who had spent time on loan at Darlington and Alfreton Town and supporters of those clubs will have been watching him with pride. Now fans of other clubs will be following that young player taken on loan even more
closely to see if he might one day make it big, their club having played a part in his development.

Then there was the manager, a leader of quiet dignity and respect – who in return rightly received that. Gone was the incoming mercenary here to top up his pension pot and concentrate simply on the senior team.

Gareth Southgate, having come through with the Under-21s, now takes an interest in every level of the game, developing players and improving facilities at grassroots. Long may that be a job requirement in the future.

Although Southgate was almost an accidental hero, getting the job by default after the precipitate departure of Sam Allardyce, it is here that the Football Association can take some credit. Yes, you read that right – somebody in the media praising the FA.

Credit to them, too, from this quarter for the news last week that they are doubling the FA Cup prize money. And while some of the sums involved wouldn’t cover the weekly milk bill at a Premier League training ground, they are welcome windfalls lower down.

Take the £2,250 for the winners in the extra preliminary round next month – a fortune for a Step 5 or 6 club. Even the losers receive a tasty £750. Step 3 and 4 clubs will then be eager for sums from £6,000 to £15,000 for qualifying round wins. As for the incentive then for National League clubs of reaching the first round proper, that is worth a cool £25,000. These can be season-changing sums.

Determined

And here, while dishing out credit, let me congratulate this newspaper for its highlighting and championing of the cause of Non-League clubs. These are tough days for print and beleaguered journalists so let us recall and applaud this example of the power of the press for good. We can’t get complacent or let the FA rest on its laurels, though.

Given England’s performances in Russia, they should be receiving a financial windfall themselves, not just from the increased prize money of reaching the semis – £16.6 million at least. There will, hopefully, also be new commercial partners wishing to surf the wave.

And we can anticipate a sell-out, with all the revenue that generates, for the homecoming match against Spain at Wembley in the new UEFA Nations League on September 8. At that, there will no doubt again be the flags of St George, carrying the names of Non-League towns from Morpeth to Truro, Barrow to Dover, all contributing to the FA’s coffers.

So thanks to England for the memories of this last month and to their governors at the FA for the new Cup money. And a plea to them too: how about looking at the Vase and Trophy prize funds now?

*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday

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