Someone showed me something good on social media lately. Rare I see all that stuff, however the ‘Non -League twitter bingo’ was canny.

“once I spoke to the gaffer it was an easy decision”

“delighted to have signed for”

“great club with great people”

“hard work starts now”

All to be seen on any self- respecting non- league teams website or social media unveiling a striker, usually with a sleeve tattoo. One other thing I’ve noticed on various club sites though, has got me thinking. People are snapping up season tickets . Post pandemic, will this finally be the year that people take the plunge and veer away from the unsuccessful North East top football teams and go full non -league instead?

Its been a long time since most of us have been to a live football match. The ‘lucky’ ten thousand who saw the lads destroy Sheffield United with a blend of total football for the ages are obviously the exception, but generally its been at least 6 months to a year. The general consensus is that when the new Football season starts in late July/early August that we WILL be able to go and watch if we so wish.

The floodgates will open, people will relish the chance . The novelty of being able to see Newcastle at St James Park will hang around for a while. Unfortunately a couple of other things are hanging round for a while as well, Ashley and Bruce and if we get off to a bad start (hope not, entirely possible) the novelty for a lot of people might wear off.

Down the road at Sunderland crowds will be big for them but on the brink of shrinking if the league one promotion bandwagon doesn’t roll on and quickly , while at Middlesbrough well it will just be the usual. After all that’s happened and with all the European super league carry on, have folk got the stomach anymore to be served up the £12 Mars bar/Walkers crisps/Coors combination?

Plus the £40 tickets and the direct debits every month. Short answer is yes. I think Ashley would have to rebrand the ground the Stadium of light , get us playing in a blue red and white strip and call us Flannels United to stop going. The West Ham coming in late debacle proved that. However a percentage might not be up for it.

Some might not have the money any more , possibly still on furlough when the direct debit needs setting up, possibly unable to afford to take the whole family , possibly just cant take anymore of Shelvey’s free kicks hitting the dead pigeon and mould on the top of the Gallowgate. Some might just exit the building.

That’s where Non- League Football kicks in and some have already caught the bug .  For a few glorious weeks last summer , the only chance anyone had to watch football was at your local grassroots or non-league team and people took advantage of it, clubs were set reduced capacities depending of ground size and some were sell outs. My club were getting games being sold out days before for crowds of 400 and when this was dropped to 200 in the autumn, it was a scramble to get in. We will use that as an example , those people will have went, enjoyed it and will go again. You can guarantee it.

Here’s the deal, depending on which level of course, your local team are probably offering season tickets for £100 with kids for maybe half that. I’m going on Northern league here before anyone quotes me that Ballache Athletic in the Conference North are £300. That’s around three direct debits of our season tickets. If you just turn up at the gate you could get yourself in for around 7-8 quid and some clubs offer kids free so even accounting for some scran for hungry bairns, you will get a pint for yourself and three frankfurters and entrance for you all for twenty quid . You stand or sit where ever you want, the football will be free of VAR, diving and if you support some clubs, free of awful football.

I’m not advocating chucking in a lifetime of support here, far from it , but with kick off times getting all the more strange, the likelihood is that you could do both but the choice to ditch Premier league football has never been so tantalising for a few people.

The evidence is already out there. In 2018 my club Ashington sold 35 season tickets, for season 2021-22 we have already  178 signed up. South Shields have sold around 700 already . Those percentages are big.  Some of them people have left St James’ or Stadium of light, they must have.

The thing is, Non league football has almost started afresh and in the North East every club seems to be trying to outdo each other in the feel good stakes. Hartlepool could be one league below Sunderland by the time next season kicks off with the National league play offs starting soon.

In the Conference North we have Darlington, Spennymoor, Gateshead and Blyth Spartans.

Darlington will have gained fans with an FA Cup run last year but generally have a core fan base regardless of how anyone else are doing. Spennymoor have a new manager in Tommy Miller and expect big things.

They probably have added 500 fans in the last 5 years, expect it to continue. Gateshead have got their mojo back. Gateshead Soul, the fans group, outdoing our pledge scheme by 2 years and they are dark horses for that league with a few eye catching signings including ex Mag Adam Campbell. They are traditionally poorly supported but expect Gateshead to draw the crowds back next season.

Blyth will get the fans if they are playing well and with many mags watching both teams , the chance to watch a completely new side rather than a one which is past its sell by date might be tempting.

South Shields have turned professional in the Northern Premier League and recently took the whole squad away for a pre season trip to the lakes, better than Brucie’s mags and they will probably win that league with crowds of 3,000. Morpeth are another who have went from crowds in the teens ten years ago to 500-600 and they again will drag people off a bus to Newcastle.

Dunston , Marske , Shildon, Hebburn and Stockton are now all in the same league in the league below.  More derbies, more crowds, promotion, all ingredients for more fans through the gate

Hebburn in particular, after winning the Vase will pack them in and a lot will be Mags.

In the Northern League many clubs will see big crowds especially as this year any club could probably win it with the big three being promoted and most teams strengthening .

Consett regularly bring in 500 , Ashington could push that for some games this year, while North Shields and Whitley Bay are thanking fans for buying a record number of season tickets.

Heaton Stannington, Benfield, Blue Star are all clubs with either great clubhouses, junior sections or shirts to entertain the Mag tifosi.

Northern Alliance, Wearside league …I could go on but the choice is out there folks.

We have been here before of course and it hasn’t happened. The nearest I remember was around the time NUFC got relegated first time around and Whitley Bay had won the vase for the 70th time in a row. A lot of fans watched them instead and the 16,000 who didn’t go to the opening game against Reading in the Championship , were definitely frequenting the non league teams in the area.

It sort of tailed off again though as we got back up and for the best part of the last decade, non league football has been back on its arse again. This time it could be different, people just want something different and telling people about it on twitter. People want real ales rather than the age old ones, people want old tops and quirky things. Believe me, standing in the pouring rain at Tow Law in December is quirky enough for anyone.

Will this be Non -League footballs renaissance? Maybe, maybe not, but I bet your tempted aren’t you?

SCOTT ROBSON