Non-League Day 2019: 'Youngest owners', overcoming cancer and free bread rolls

Walton & Hersham owners
Walton & Hersham's seven owners aim to make a YouTube channel to build the club's brand

The 'world's youngest football club owners', the team founded to help a man's cancer recovery and reduced admission for fans with lederhosen or a dog.

They will all form part of Saturday's 10th Non-League Day which puts the spotlight on sides outside the top four tiers while the Premier League and Championship pause for an international break.

BBC Sport picks out some of the weird and wonderful grassroots tales, as well as incentives for getting to a game this weekend.

'Why pass it to another geriatric?'

Delve beneath the professional leagues and you could be forgiven for thinking club owners and administrators are of a certain, more senior, age.

So eyebrows were raised when a group of seven 19-year-olds became owners of 10th-tier Walton & Hersham in June.

"Fans had a right to be sceptical - some of these people supported the club for 50-60 years," director Sartej Tucker told BBC Sport.

"A bunch of seven more-or-less clueless 19-year-olds rebranding the club was cause of concern for some, but it soon became clear we have good intentions."

The Surrey side have plenty of history - they knocked Brian Clough's Brighton out of the FA Cup in 1974 and had Ballon D'Or winner Sir Stanley Matthews as president in the 80s, while it was where commentator Martin Tyler started his coaching career.

Walton & Hersham celebrate an FA Cup victory over Brighton
Walton & Hersham players celebrate getting one over on Brian Clough, who would win the European Cup with Nottingham Forest five years later

But what attracted the university teenagers to Walton & Hersham? And how could they afford it?

"Why would you want to pass the club on to another geriatric? Lots of clubs at this level are run by people in their 80s," Tucker said.

"We didn't just dream it up overnight. We're all raving football mad - the passion is there and you can channel that in different ways.

"It didn't cost as much as people would imagine. We're getting to the stage of being fully self-sufficient, and players are only paid on an expenses basis."

The friends believe themselves to be the youngest football club owners around and will aim to continue their promising start to the season at home to Ash United on Saturday.

Football as force for good

Gary Sales was 18 months into treatment for bladder cancer when he decided to form a club last year. It was a way for him to escape.

And so Real Haynes were born in the Bedfordshire village of Haynes. A year later, Sales is now six months from remission having been given a 50-50 chance of surviving the grade-three cancer.

"Starting a team had been on a long list - I'd aimed at starting a children's team for my son but it's ended up being an adult team as he's grown up now," he said.

"The cancer had happened, I was getting treatment and feeling down - so I thought 'how can I get involved in football'.

"Now I can't wait for work to finish every night so I can work on the team."

Gary Sales
A blood clot forced Gary to get to the doctors, leading to his diagnosis

Sales is using Non-League Day to raise money for charity Fight Bladder Cancer, with five pages in the matchday programme dedicated to the disease to raise awareness of its symptoms.

About 10,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year, making it the 10th most common cancer in the UK.

Real Haynes' match against Blunham starts at 10:30 BST at The Village Hall, enabling groundhoppers to attend three matches in the region back-to-back on Saturday, and their chairman is hoping to welcome more than 500 spectators.

"We're guaranteed to beat our own attendance record - around 100 groundhoppers are coming from all over the country - and if we beat 500 we'd gridlock the village," said Sales.

Among other fundraising efforts, 12 friends are walking 18 miles from Newcastle's St James Park to Morpeth Town's Craik Park for Prostate Cancer UK, already raising more than £1500.

Bread rolls, Oktoberfest and canine companions

Although not the original intention, it is now commonplace for clubs to offer ticket discounts on Non-League Day to entice fans whose teams are without a game on Saturday.

Some have offers for those with a season ticket at a club in the top four tiers, while Aldershot and Eastleigh are among countless sides to follow in the footsteps of fellow National League side Solihull Moors, who last week replaced ticket prices with "honesty boxes" for their game with Sutton United, allowing fans to pay "whatever they think is a fair price".

But it can be difficult to stand out in a saturated non-league market, leading some teams to adopt a more novel approach.

AFC Rushden & Diamonds - a phoenix club formed after the dissolution of Rushden & Diamonds in 2011 - are offering free entry to any fans wearing traditional Bavarian dress, marking the annual German festival Oktoberfest.

Dogs continue to be a non-league favourite, with Hertfordshire side Kings Langley allowing anyone who brings a canine to their game to pay a concession rate, while Norfolk club Thetford Rovers are giving out a free bag of bread rolls to all paying adults as part of a sponsorship deal.

The idea of Non-League Day falling during an international break is to allow followers of Premier League and Championship clubs to see their local lower league team in action.

However, Kidderminster Harriers have postponed their National League North game against Farsley Celtic as three international call-ups in their squad have left them short of players.

The Worcestershire side are without Milan Butterfield (Bermuda), Knory Scott (Bermuda Under-20) and Rhys Williams (England Under-19), showing even the sixth tier of English football can be disrupted by players representing their countries.

Could Non-League Day go Pan-European?

Non-League Day was set up in 2010 by Harrow Borough and QPR fan James Doe - initially to encourage friends to go to games - but 10 years on it is an established part of the football calendar.

Clubs across England now use it to showcase grassroots football, but does it actually convert any Premier League fans?

"At some clubs fans definitely do come back," Doe told BBC Sport. "They ditch their big clubs and stick with a local team.

"But there's still a long way to go - there are still teams who don't even know about Non-League Day, believe it or not."

The celebration of the lower-league game is catching on overseas, with Germany setting up their own version in 2017 and France following suit this year.

Doe has also been consulted by clubs in countries such as Belgium and Canada, so how much further could it grow?

"It is becoming a drain on resources but it's fun - it's a hobby, we don't make any money out of it we actually lose quite a bit.

"Next year we're all going to try coordinating and make it more Pan-European, maybe a non-league weekend."

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