Charlie Austin. Michail Antonio. Jamie Vardy.
You’ve all heard of these players. They’re regular sightings in our weekly intake of Match of the Day. What’s most interesting about them, however, is that they’re products of non-league football. Austin plied his trade as a bricklayer whilst scoring for fun at Poole Town. Antonio found his footing at his local side, Tooting & Mitcham United. Whilst Vardy, most famously, was a technician making medical splints and turning out for Stocksbridge Steels. As the saying goes, the rest is history.
Then there’s Dulwich Hamlet. Spurred on by its community-feel and ethos of activism, the club has attracted legions of fans disillusioned by the ever-growing indifference and sterility that pervades Premier League clubs. Unsurprisingly, their attendance is consistently the highest amongst non-league clubs, and shows no sign of slowing down.
So what does this mean for non-league football coverage?
More of it, you’d hope. Mainstream media coverage remains scant at best, and even dedicated football apps have barely scratched the surface. There are a few examples, such as Non League Matters, whose website is dedicated to getting greater exposure for non-league football by providing results, fixtures and tables. Furthermore, their partnership with CrowdScores, a live scores app, creates cause for optimism. This is because you can now get fast updates for 187 amateur leagues, with more on the way. Additionally, with their basis in crowdsourced data, wherein app users can contribute live match events, including goals, cards and substitutions, comprehensive coverage of non-league football is becoming a reality.
If we are to ensure that the next Vardy doesn’t fall by the wayside, getting more eyes on these players is what must be done. Whether it’s via teams like Dulwich Hamlet, Vardy’s V9 Academy (now with its own Sky TV series) or greater coverage in football apps, more exposure is exactly the shot in the arm that non-league football needs.
Green shoots for grass roots, indeed.