Written by Ralf Haley.
Why? What the [expletive deleted] am I doing here? What the [expletive deleted] is everyone else doing here?
Here, incidentally, is the Badgers Arms, home of Droyslden FC football club, the 21st best side in the Conference Football League according to the table. The date, 9th of October, the event a home tie versus Farsley Celtic in the league. The temperature unknown, but many a man’s part must have surely shrunk beyond recognition in this cold. Poor chaps.
It was to be cold day in hell before I attended another non-league game. Today was that day.
The time is 9:24 pm, halfway through the second half of a drab footballing affair. The score currently lies at 2-0 to the away side and if they were playing with a brick I doubt the standard would fluctuate or anyone notice.
The attendance has just been announced, 798. Not bad for Droylsden versus Farsley . In fact, very good seen as the quality is akin to attending a long labour, and it’s just as bloody and grim.
So why the attendance? Why have 798 people (mostly men) forked out for tickets, that for an adult on match day are £12.50, for the pleasure of witnessing a dour football game on one of the coldest days of the year and risk losing the ability to have children or even attending the lavatory standing up? I set about finding out.
Of the first 10 people I asked on the terraces an astonishing 8 were season ticket holders. More followed, some casual fans, some for a day out, more season ticket holders and incredibly one couple out on a date! Good luck with that post match conference! None seemed too articulate or have reason for why they were there.
As all hope disappeared as I searched for an answer to this odd gathering of people I suddenly struck gold. The man I’m about to describe to you puts even Moses’ 40 year trek through the Sinai desert for God into the shade, and dwarfs the biblical character’s commitment to the cause.
Jack Rodgers, 21, commutes to as many games as he can, ‘around 70%’, from (ready?) St. Andrews, yes that’s in SCOTLAND, more than 300 miles away from Droylsden’s home ground. He doesn’t get any easy commutes to away games either, as there aren’t that many conference sides in Scotland, in fact none. Is there any method in this madness? ‘I can’t explain it, I just have to be here… I’m a Droylsden fan because I was born here, none of my family support them. I come here most often on my own, sometimes with my little brother.‘
At least Moses’ had a vision of God and divinity when he was given the 10 commandments. Droylsden haven’t. ‘We got promoted last year with two games in hand but this season we’ve been rubbish and only won one in 13.’
Then all of a sudden, his attention wandered as Droylsden were put under pressure once more. I and everything else other than the game were invisible to him. Goal, 3-0 and the second goal of the game for Bambrook and full-time. The home fans seem none too pleased nor displeased with the result as trudged off for their pie and pint.
And just as the temperature dipped so low that surely certain parts of my anatomy will never function properly again, I had to ask one more time, why? ‘This is my sickness, some have gambling, fashion or food. I have Droylsden. They’re my team and I’m stuck with them…They’re like an addition to my family which is weird but I’m fine with it. I can’t explain it beyond that.’
He didn’t need to, I began to understand. As the motto goes You’ve gotta do what you gotta do. If that means supporting them all the way then so be it. We’ve all got our team, some of us have Leeds (I won’t mention names) and some have the Bloods of Droylsden. Although I was surrounded by sick people I didn’t mind as his comments brought some much needed warmth as I began to understand what I thought was the most pointless of acts.
It’s going to be an uphill struggle though to keep supporting though, even more so now. The Premiership recently signed a deal with foreign broadcasters that will double their income and serve further to widen the gap between them and those not of the elite as more and more struggle to stay alive.
But with committed people like Jack Rodgers and the rest of the Droylsden FC fans there may be some hope for them and the rest yet. That may sound corny and saccharine and well that’s because it is. As for the man out on his date, he had left long before the final whistle arm in arm with his girl.
Perhaps there is some romance left in non-league football after all.