Football has gone through some major changes in the last 20 years, and with sponsorship and TV deals taking a stranglehold over the beautiful game, fans are starting their own revolution.
A long way from the £2,000 season tickets at the likes of Premier league giants Arsenal, fans are heading for the non-league where they can watch a game for as little as £4.
One of the teams to have benefited from fans staying away from the higher leagues is Dulwich Hamlets, a team based in South London who are three promotions away from the football league, but in an area where it would be quite easy for fans to watch higher grade football.
The main issue, as with many things in life, is money. Dulwich offer an attractive and financially pleasing package for fans that wish to watch them, with the cost of a ticket setting you back £4.
That however is not the only money saving element, fans can buy a match programme for £2 and purchase a locally brewed Hamlet lager for £3. That is maybe the biggest attraction to fans – being able to drink and smoke on the terraces rather than having to buy a Carlsberg for £4.40 at Arsenal then quickly chug it down in fear of missing any of the game.
Not to do Dulwich Hamlets an injustice, Louis Daly, editor of the club’s fanzine The Moral Victory, explained to <i>Artefact</i>, that money was not the only reason for people coming to support the team, it is also the difference between getting involved and just being a customer: “The role of a football club is for people and the fans in a community. You want to do things to make your community better with activism.
“A lot of people have fallen out of love with going to Premier League football but are still looking for that kick. I don’t think it’s Premier League football that’s the problem, it’s the experience on the day; not being able to go with your mates or with your kids, and as much as I like to dismiss it, the price issue is a huge one,” he continued.
Daly also explained there are real relationships that exist between players and fans at Dulwich, who currently sit third in the Ryman Premier league, and the key to that relationship are the actions of a group known as the Rabble.
Not content with simply offering their voracious support to the team on match days, the group set up a scheme in 2012 aimed at raising funds to sign fan-owned players and fund their wages, “This meant that these fans (the Rabble) who funded their wages could appreciate their direct influence on the pitch, in a way that didn’t involve vaulting the turnstiles or abusing the manager or shouting at a fellow fan on TV,” Daly explained.
That season, 2012-2013, Dulwich Hamlets won the Division One South league, and Daly puts that down to the actions of the Rabble: “I genuinely believe that without help from the 12th man we would not have won the league that season.”
The Rabble can usually be found behind the goal which Dulwich is shooting towards – at half time you can walk from one end of the pitch to the other, which most of the Rabble like to do.
In the wake of comments made about the Rabble gentrifying football, Daly was eager to point out that was not the case: “Some say that the Rabble are gentrifying football by using our club for their amusement, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth, most of these fans have been die hard Dulwich fans since childhood. Granted we have had a lot of new spectators, but we at Dulwich embrace that.”
With governing bodies in football struggling to keep a cap on racism and homophobia, the Rabble have taken it up on themselves to tackle and stop these cruel acts creeping into the lower leagues.
At home games, fans and players will be able to see banners calling for an end to racism and homophobia in football, hung by the Rabble. This rearguard action has led to the club taking note and taking proactive steps in joining the Dulwich community together, starting in February.
As part of LGBT month, Dulwich will play a friendly game against Stonewall FC, the world’s most successful gay team. Following the match the supporters trust will go out with Stonewall fans into LGBT pubs and clubs to give away tickets to their league game against the Metropolitan police.
Daly believes this gesture is a symbol of the type of club that they are and hopes it will lead to other clubs following suit: “Other clubs say they are against things, but in many cases it’s just lip service. We’re not just saying ‘We’re against homophobia,’ we’re trying to welcome gay fans to Dulwich. I hope other clubs can follow our lead.
“That sums up the ethos of the club, we try to go that bit further, and we’ve got a mixture of everyone. The atmosphere is buzzing at games. More and more we have become the talk of non-league football.”
Elsewhere in non-league football, there is a similar movement towards clubs that offer a proper football day out, look no further than North Shields who are supported by a group dubbed the ‘Curva Nord’ fans of the Northern league division one club.
Italian-style ‘Ultras’ fanaticism has developed at several British league clubs, most well-known of these, is Crystal Palace, but at non-league level, long regarded as no better than Sunday football, people are starting to embrace the culture and enjoyment that Saturday afternoon can bring.
This is no more obvious than at the Old Spotted Dog ground, the home of east London club Clapton FC, supported by the Ultras ‘Scaffolda Brigada’. These Ultras have been following the team, who play in the Essex Senior League, the ninth tier of English football for two years.
Non-league doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of the Premier League, but with football ticket prices rising at twice the cost of living and very few commercial interests pulling the strings, non-league soccer is a flashback of what football used to stand for.
Photo – Flickr: Stuart Tree