Should the Premier League look to the non-league?
In the neglected levels of the beautiful game does there still remain initiative and methods that the Premier League could learn from? Most certainly.
When the Non-League teams take to the field for 90 minutes their fates pale in significance to what goes on in the higher echelons of football for the majority, but it doesn’t make their clubs any less role models or techniques they use any less useful. An insight into how Evo Stik Southern Premier Division side Chesham United runs though can provide us with answers to some of modern football’s problems for sure.
Their stadium, The Meadow, may not have the grandeur of Old Trafford or St James’ Park as you walk through their turnstiles which were provided from the Old Den of Millwall when the Championship club refurbished their ground. What it does have though is an atmosphere which would be refreshing to any reasonable football supporter. It is one which alienates nobody. The reason for this being the price you pay to watch football, a maximum of £10 on any given match day. It is affordable for all that enter. While the cold hard businessmen in football are happy to charge £50+ for the top level matches to line their pockets, the fans in the Premier League suffer. Shouldn’t expensive be a word we never associate with football?
The modern day fan too often feels isolated from the working of their football club despite paying their hard earned cash to support them every week. If an Arsenal supporter wanted to know Stan Kroenke’s justification for the way he runs things on a weekly basis they would be severely disappointed. The owners of football clubs are diluted and to far away from the action up in the corporate seats. Could you ever imagine a Chelsea supporter tomorrow being given free rein to meet and greet Roman Abramovich to ask him anything he wants tomorrow?
This is one luxury you are provided with those in charge at Chesham. Are they any less busy than the guys at the top of the game? No. The difference is they would be willing to put the time aside. If you were to raise any issues on how the club is run, a board member is barely a seat away, and if you had any views not only would they be listened to, but welcomed. Even if you feel too scared to openly approach them, their programme notes consistently provide details on exactly what is going on at their football club. The supporter is kept in the loop at all stages. They do not have to deal with smokescreens and mirrors of various spokespersons speaking for the actual person in charge. This would be a heart-warming and unlikely change for Premier League supporters.
A fan in such an environment as they have at Chesham feels like they are playing an active part in the continued survival of their football team. It was also a unique sight to see that not one of the members of the board could be caught out on their footballing knowledge of their own side. They had an acute awareness of what standard of play was acceptable and they could therefore make rational decisions. The choices that they made in terms of how the club is run has always been based upon what is going on the pitch before concerns about searching for a pot of gold off the field.
This is not a fan based consortium either, as there is one main benefactor at the helm, but there is the realisation that he can’t do it all alone. There is no desperation to try and build a new stadium but to cherish the supporters they have. On match days there is no loud speaker attempting to tell people off for persistent standing like they are naughty schoolboys and in turn the fans feel more inclined to be respectful.
Chesham Manager Andy Leese also offers an understanding of the football club he is running which spans far wider than just his senior level starting XI. He maintains an interest in all levels away from those that reach his match day squad on a Saturday. This spans from the youth levels at u12 to the reserve squad. Wouldn’t it be a great way for Premier League managers to endear themselves to the supporters by showing a wider fascination with their sides which they represent and make the decisions for every Saturday.
Leese looks at all aspects of his side and there is always the realistic possibility that reserve players can be promoted to the first team. The football purists would love to see players from Premier League academies at a young age making it all the way through to the senior side. Jack Read has become an example of how Chesham protects its players. He was not rushed through the stages, he went from academy football to reserve football to 1st team appearances while his development was monitored every step of the way.
If we looked after our potentially world class talent in the Arsenal and Chelsea u14’s for example we may be able to nurture far more English talent than we already do.
The TV money in football dictates a lot of what goes on currently. The new deal which Premier League clubs make next year makes the mind boggle. Despite this it may be time to look back at resurrecting and promoting that the most essential elements of running a football club always shine through.
If we can see that ensuring the foundations of football remain even at the very top level can make sure that football does not lose its soul to money.