Non-League Day: Wigs, free beers and 'priceless' tickets for fans

Dover Athletic fans
Non-League Day is a chance for smaller teams to draw in the crowds

Free beer and burgers, a sea of brightly coloured wigs and paying whatever you like for a ticket are not the usual things you would expect at a football match.

However, these will be just some of the sights at non-league grounds on Saturday as tens of thousands of fans enjoy Non-League Day.

Now in its sixth year, and backed by the Football Association, Premier League and charity partners Prostate Cancer UK, the event is going from strength to strength.

BBC Sport takes a closer look at Non-League Day and life outside the top four divisions.

What is Non-League Day?

Set up in 2010 by former BBC Sport journalist James Doe, Non-League Day gives fans of Premier League and Championship sides the chance to watch football at a level they may not be familiar with.

It coincides with the international break so people can see what is happening at a club that might be on their doorstep without missing their favourite team play.

He was inspired after seeing the financial struggles of a club close to his heart.

Paulton FC
Paulton Rovers are hosting St Neots on Saturday

"I made a trip to Harrow Borough, the club I followed as a teenager, and they were raising funds for new floodlight bulbs," said Doe. "I was struck by this, thinking such a cost would be covered as a matter of routine.

"Noticing an international break was coming up early in the new season, I formulated the idea of trying to drive all those extra people that would be without football to check out their local non-league side instead, and generate some extra funds.

"I speculatively launched the idea among friends on Facebook to see what would happen, and the rest is history."

How will clubs pull in the punters?

Clapton Ultras offer solidarity

Supporters of Essex Senior League club Clapton FC are paying for "solidarity tickets" which are being offered to the unemployed, people on benefits, refugees and asylum seekers for their local derby against Ilford FC.

"We want to target people who might not think football is for them," said Paul Cockerton, who started following the Tons after moving to east London from Manchester.

"There is an appetite here that we want new people who might not be able to afford a ticket. We don't want to exclude anyone."

Clapton Ultras
The Clapton Ultras have helped propel average attendances at the Old Spotted Dog Ground to around 200

The self-styled Clapton Ultras were formed three years ago by a group of friends who were disillusioned with the sterile atmosphere at all-seater stadiums.

The anti-fascist group, who have been inspired by passionate supporters of clubs in Europe, has since grown to include several Poles and Italians.

However, Cockerton says the Ultras' community-focused stance is not limited to Saturday afternoons.

"We are a dedicated fan base trying to support the club in a noisy way, but during the week we want to make links with the local community on causes we identify with, such as housing issues, food-bank collections and clean-up days," he said.

"We want the community to be involved and from the moment you want to become a Clapton Ultra, you can embrace the spirit of it."

The club is also offering free entry to senior citizens and under 18s.

Tuffley Rovers FC Twitter
The Hellenic Football League Premier Division club are offering 'priceless' tickets
Hallam FC Tweet
Hallam FC of Northern Counties East League Division One are trying to attract people from other clubs

The beers are on Dover Athletic

Dover Athletic are offering free pints to home and neutral supporters for an hour before their National League game against Wrexham kicks off.

The first 30 fans to arrive at the bar will also receive free burgers.

Going the 'eggs-tra' mile

Suffolk side Walsham Le Willows will give away half a dozen eggs to the first 50 paying supporters at their match against Brantham Athletic.

In 2014, Bungay Town gave out punnets of mushrooms in a similar ploy to tempt fans.

Getting the kids involved

Forest Green Info
National League leaders Forest Green Rovers are looking to build a young fan base

Wigging it for charity

Vanarama, sponsors of the National League, are encouraging clubs, football personalities and fans to #WearTheWig and raise awareness of Non-League Day while raising money for charity.

For every picture or selfie wearing a wig posted on their Twitter page using the hashtag #WearTheWig, the company will donate £10 to Prostate Cancer UK.

Prostate Cancer UK
The wigs don't just have to be orange!

Life outside the top four divisions

While Saturday is a chance to have some fun, promote grassroots football and raise money for a good cause, non-league football can be a tough business.

Claridge helps Salisbury FC rebuild

Salisbury's fans had to go a season without football, but some may argue it has been worth it. After years of mismanagement they have a new 'phoenix' club, new owners, new team, and under manager Steve Claridge they have stormed to the top of Wessex League Premier Division.

Steve Claridge
Steve Claridge's playing career spanned almost 30 years

As well as building a team from scratch, ex-Leicester striker Claridge is also one of five investors who helped bring football back to the cathedral city.

"This was the right time," said BBC pundit Claridge. "I needed to be back in football and an environment I love, around the people I love."

Claridge sees the National League South as a realistic target for the club and then with further investment, who knows? However, his immediate focus is continuing to build the team and club in a sensible manner.

"Two months ago we didn't have a player," he said. "If you'd have asked anyone connected to Salisbury then they would have settled for this. Not in their wildest dreams would they have expected it."

The (very) long road home

Sheffield FC are the oldest football club in the world having been in existence since 1857.

The eighth-tier side have had a bumpy ride since those early days and have now spent a staggering 150 years without a home ground of their own.

The club have played in Dronfield, North Derbyshire for the last 15 years but are hoping to raise funds to return back to their roots.

They are hoping to raise £2m to build a new facility at Olive Grove, the place the club started.

The campaign has already been backed by Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, who have a partnership with the Sheffield club. The non-leaguers travelled to Germany to take on a Dortmund XI in pre-season, going down 6-0.

Borussia Dortmund
Sheffield FC have a partnership with Borussia Dortmund

Stafford Rangers on the way back?

Stafford Rangers were once the golden boys of non-league football. They were FA Trophy winners in 1974 and 1979.

Since then, Stan Collymore has played for them and Steve Bull has managed them, but times have proved hard at Marston Road.

Three relegations in six seasons left them floundering in the Evo-Stik Division One South. But, under the management of Neil Kitching, Rangers have won nine out of 10 games this season and already stand eight points clear at the top of the table.

With 28 points and 28 goals scored, it is their best start to a campaign in 37 years.

"We actually set ourselves the target of being unbeaten in our first 10," Kitching told BBC Sport. "We came in to steady the ship and rebuild after three relegations in six seasons and so far it's gone OK.

"It's a balancing act. All of our lads are in full-time jobs. We've got everyone from office workers to bricklayers but the spirit is great."

Visit www.nonleagueday.co.uk for more information about Non-League Day or to find a match near to you.

Stories compiled by Nabil Hassan, Rob Stevens, Ged Scott & Ian Woodcock.

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