Worksop Town fans believe non-league football is special because they can play a full part in the running of their beloved club.
Ahead of Saturday’s Non-League Day, an annual celebration of all that is good and wonderful about the semi-professional ranks of the sport, we asked Tigers fans why they love non-league, and why they support Worksop Town.
The club is believed to have been founded in 1861, making it the fourth oldest club in the world.
Recent years haven’t been kind to Tigers, who were kicked off their Sandy Lane ground by leaseholder Howard Raymond and faced three seasons in exile outside the town.
Although they returned to Sandy Lane as tenants of new leaseholders P&M Leisure, Worksop’s financial backer Jason Clark withdrew his funding in 2014.
But faced with the potential folding of their club, Worksop fans rallied and now provide the vast majority of the club’s financial resources through Team500 Club membership.
And their average gates are actually higher, at Northern Counties East League Premier level, than they were when Tigers were an Evo-Stik Northern Premier side.
Christopher Hartley has been a supporter for 24 years.
A staunch advocate of non-league, he is proud of the efforts to save the club and put a team on the pitch who came close to a league title last season.
“Non-league is good, honest, affordable football,” he said.
“You feel more a part of the club you support, rather than just another pound note through the gate.
“I love Worksop Town as it has a great atmosphere with the fans and has a heritage few can match, being the world’s fourth oldest club.
“Plus the way it’s been kept alive and to mount a title challenge has been nothing short of remarkable.”
Affordability – Tigers charge £5 for adults to gain entry to Sandy Lane games – is key for Martin Golds as well.
He’s a fan with a job, editing the club’s matchday programme, and says non-league involves supporters in a way Football League clubs never could.
“I love non-league football because it’s the only level of the game where you can relate to the club.
“Premiership, Championship, you name it, they’re all alienating us the fans with their obscene prices and attitudes towards the domestic game.
“At non-league level it’s affordable football in its rawest form, and you can’t put a price on that.
“The passion and the die hard fans at this level are second to none, and my away day match day experiences far exceed those at higher level.
“Cleethorpes away springs to mind where all the home and away fans mixed in the second half, sang songs to and about each other, and everyone shook hands at the end of the game. You won’t get that anywhere else.”
And the sense of ownership that comes from funding the club’s operations increases Gold’s enjoyment of Tigers games.
“It’s my local club where I got to see my childhood hero Chris Waddle play, where I got to spend a Saturday afternoon with my dad when I was growing up.
“We are one big family who fund the club out of our own back pockets, we have a chairman actively seeking to do everything possible for the club, the best manager in non-league, attacking football and 400-plus loyal fans at every game. I’m just proud to say I’m a part of it.”
Brian Button has been watching Worksop Town since he was four years old, and hopes the integration between the club and the local community will continue to grow.
“Non-league is football for every day working men and women, because they can afford to take their children to watch their local football team and can be involved in its community projects.
“I love the fact we are now funded by the fans, it gives the club a whole new perspective and it is slowly bringing the town and businesses together.”
For Team500 member John Stocks, trips to Sandy Lane are becoming more enjoyable than matches at Bramall Lane, where he’s a season ticket holder.
“Worksop was my first footballing love,” he said.
“I saw my first game with my dad as a toddler at Central Avenue and loved standing on the canal end as a kid.
“I don’t live in Worksop now but I love feeling a small part of what is developing into a fan led, exceptional community via the 500 club.
“Increasingly I enjoy my visits to Worksop more than Bramall Lane where I also have a season ticket.
“I see more concern for the development of young players off the pitch, and more passion, pride and integrity on it.”
Wednesday night, under the floodlights – forget Champions League, for Mike Holmes, his proximity to the action at Sandy Lane among 400-plus crowds is what makes the non-league experience special.
“I get a great buzz from being so close to the players and hearing the shouts and the instructions back and forth - it brings back echoing memories and I yearn for my younger, playing days.
“I like the homely feel of Worksop as a club and the banter with the fans is something to witness – I have chuckled for days over some of the ribaldry that tumbles from the Worksop audience.
“Those evenings when the team are playing under the floodlights the atmosphere is very special.
“I find it enthralling. and long may it continue.”
Rob Hardy says it’s a family thing, having been a supporter for almost 30 years and then providing the club with a player.
“I’m a Worksop lad through and through,” he said.
“I’ve watched Worksop since 1986 after the President’s final win, and introduced my daughter to football there.
“She was a mascot for Worksop Town and now plays for Worksop Town ladies – you can’t beat local passion.”
Worksop Town are without a home game on Non-League Day, but can be found in action at Rainworth Miners Welfare, just 18 miles away.
Tigers’ next home encounter is on Saturday 17th October, when Barton Town visit.