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The Non-League Show’s Tim Fuell isn’t convinced by inspection regimes

The Non-League Show’s host Tim Fuell offered his own take on a new way of assessing clubs to the same same standards to readers of The Non-League Paper on Sunday…

Inspecting the way forward

Should we work towards five star clubs? Perhaps the worst part of this job is dealing with news of the potential demise of clubs, some with decades of history, many with a band of committed volunteers who have put in countless hours and often unknown amounts of money to keep the wolf from the door but without success.

Or success of a sort perhaps and especially if, even with their very existence always touch and go, that club keeps going and does another 100 years or more. So how do we measure success in Non-League?

As a supporter of a club with not the biggest of crowds, I am often told a supporter base is the key performance indicator, but as I retort, even the best run clubs can’t survive just on people through the turnstiles every other week.

Other people tell me its silverware, the pots on the shelf – but in certain locations of the country, the same club name on the County Cup year on year is more a measure of failure when you don’t win it than success when you do.

Is it the clubs with 26 youth teams that bring those clubs alive on a Saturday morning with their training sessions and the kids staying on to act as ball collectors and vocal cheerleaders when the first team play in the afternoon?

Perhaps, it is. Perhaps it is all of them? Perhaps knowing might be the very shake-up football at our level needs?

Unfortunately, I look at clubs across Non-League and fear their websites, headed paper and front gate signs are fast becoming like estate agent windows.

An award for this, a badge for this, an approved standard for that… and what do they all mean?

Even the majority of supporters of those clubs proudly displaying them probably couldn’t tell you.

It’s a bit like the smoke and mirrors world of the media where far too often a company will claim this award and that award knowing that very few will actually ever check that the awarding body may have been a group of the owner’s mates in the local pub who came up with a fancy name – you laugh, I’ve caught some people out by checking!

Guidelines

So my latest thought is rather than a charter standard, a fit and proper test or an approved licence, should football go down the route of our schools and our catering outlets?

Instead of over-worked volunteers having to deal with researching this set of guidelines, these rules and those recommendations, which are never written in plain English, never in the same place and all too often also not written specifically with a Non-League volunteer-run club in mind; we should we look to standardise everything into a single manual or method statement-like guide and have clubs measured against it regularly like OFSTED and the food outlet Scores on the Doors measurements?

I’m not saying full league table rankings but maybe a simple Oustanding, Good, Could Do Better across a wide range of things that make up a successful football club, and taking into consideration the club’s place on the pyramid of English Non-League football.

It could include the ground grading documents that so many clubs are flapping around at this time of year. It could include an assessment of cashflow and revenue streams, it could include assessment of the use and support of the volunteers that makes them tick. An audit of the club in its independent parts and as a whole.

A positive spin-off from the same is that it may also give us the chance to bring in new blood to the football administration world. I often joke that after 23 years at my club I am still often the youngest in the boardroom week in week out.

That’s not to say the others there aren’t great people with a wealth of knowledge and experience to share, but more about, who are they going to share it with?

Then there are the great people who give their time and effort to run the leagues, to inspect grounds for ground gradings, etc.

I’ve worked with them and shared social time with them and with very few exceptions they are all genuine people, with great knowledge and expertise but they are ageing. We need younger blood in to help our game develop.

Improve

If we create an assessment system that includes things like use of social media, marketing, video, etc then there is a very good chance we would get younger minds interested in joining this new band of assessors going up and down the country.

Not to come in and wag fingers and say you are doing this all wrong but to go in and find ways the club could improve on the way they do things, offer advice, perhaps direct them to new ideas and training.

It doesn’t need to be a negative it could be the catalyst for a whole new set of positives and indeed build the Non-League game support system I’ve so often said we need to create.

I’m not saying we should go down this road, I am just saying we should open the debate. Far too often, we find things thrust upon us by the authorities without the chance for discussion or input.

Here, we have an opportunity before decisions are forced upon us. We know that Non-League often leads the way with forward-thinking concepts in football and this is our chance to do the same again.

As an entrepreneur beyond my journalism work, I can appreciate there would be much opposition by many clubs run as private businesses having to open up to such scrutiny, but since they all sign up to FA and League membership rules, in many cases they could and should already be open to it, we just don’t have the right structure and procedures in place to really enforce it.

I am sure many will be quick to slam my ideas down – I’ve been involved in a Non-League club for 23 years, I’ve got experience of that! Yet, I can’t avoid my unease at the way football is heading and especially the future survival of clubs at our level. My questions are…Do we need something like this? Would Non-League embrace it?

Make sure you get your copy of The Non-League Paper on Sunday for the big picture and latest news from across Non-League over the last seven days.

As well as exclusive match reports and pictures from all of Saturday’s fixtures in the Vanarama National League, the BetVictor-Sponsored Isthmian League, Southern League and Northern Premier League, the paper’s live coverage extends all the way to Steps 5 and 6 of the National League System.

This article was brought to you by The Non-League Paper, the UK's best-selling football title on the newsstand, on-sale every Sunday.
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