What is the Conference like? Well, imagine the scariest thing you can and it wouldn’t come close. It all started on the worst day of my life, that fateful day against Hereford when we were relegated from the Football League, to be relegated anyway is bad, but to drop off the end of the known football world was unimaginable after supporting a club all your life.
There are a few advantages to non-league football however.
1. Booze – we all know that alcohol and football are now mutually exclusive these days but as non-league football is stuck in the 1940s you can turn up at your oppositions Town at 11am on match day, drink yourself silly, act like a complete arse and still get into the ground (the stewards tend to actually drag you into the grounds).
2. New places to visit – Conference towns tend to be sleepy market towns with most of the populous ignorant of the fact they have a football team. They all share common factors – a cattle market next to the ground, a castle and scrumpy.
3. Knockout competitions where you could actually win something – if you thought the Autoglass was a Mickey Mouse Cup, try the Bob Lord Trophy (the Conference’s League Cup probably called something else now). This didn’t actually stop us winning fuck all for a change though. In addition you get to play even diddier teams from leagues you’ve never heard of, and they all want to beat you because you were in the Football League and hence the “giants” and not the minnows, which is weird. (This also added to Halifax Town’s Hall of Shame (Cup defeats) Gainsborough Trinity, Bamber Bridge – it’s near Preston, etc, etc). And also the FA cup starts in June the year before and you have to play about fifteen qualifying rounds to get to play Barnet.
The main disadvantages
1. It’s dire – no matter how much you try to jolly yourself playing Gateshead away, sitting in a stadium that holds about 20,000 with a crowd of 600 is shit, no atmosphere, crap football and bloody freezing.
2. The loss of all your local derbies, to think I’d miss going to Rochdale, because all Conference teams are either in the North West, South West or the Midlands.
On a more general note, it’s true that the standard of football in the conference doesn’t differ that much from the League, most of our current squad played in the Conference last year (bought for the princely sum of fuck all!), the main difference being that League footballers can train full time (i.e. piss about a bit till 1200 and then go to the pub). Quite a few of our part time players had a hard decision to make to turn full time because they had well paid full time jobs.
The crowds at The Shay don’t seem to have altered that much, even through the very bad times (we were nearly relegated from the Conference the year before last) a hard core of fans has remained and with the Conference title last year managed to attract quite a few new faces.
The away end at The Shay is supposed to be growing a roof, when, how and what sort is a mystery. That end was supposed to be for home fans with a bar underneath but the plans seem to have floundered, maybe we should ask our beloved chairman what is happening.