When Tranmere fans arrived in non-league three long years ago, there was a great article from a Grimsby Town website welcoming us to ‘hell’. It proved pretty accurate, and so it’s only fair we give Chesterfield a similar, updated, welcome to the National League.
Of all the clubs in the Football League you’d wish National League football on, Chesterfield probably wouldn’t be one. So, it only seems fair that, as we finally head back out of this cesspit of a league, we give Spireites fans a little preview of life in the National League.
You will currently be feeling a mixture of shock, anger, disbelief and a little feeling of nausea in the pit of your stomach. And that’s just because Martin Allen is your new manager… (just kidding, decent appointment).
You will almost certainly spend the coming weeks convincing yourself ‘It will only be for a season’ and ‘we’re too big to be down here anyway’.
Regrettably, you’ll likely be wrong on those two counts. This division swallows-up former league teams for fun and either keeps hold of them for ever more, or spits them out at one end or another, but possibly not for many years.
It’s like the Bermuda Triangle of football. Once you’re in its grips, it has you, and it will battle to keep you. Until you break free, the footballing world may never hear from you again. Nor do they care, frankly.
With that joyous scene set, here’s ten things you should expect next season.
1) Refereeing, the like of which you’ve never experienced
In the Football League, we all felt we had our fair share of bad refs, didn’t we? Even the difference between League One and Two was noticeable. However, until you step in to the National League lair, you haven’t seen anything yet.
The all-round level of officiating is abysmal at best, seriously. You’ll have a player sent-off for winning the ball fairly at least once a season, and probably have players pick up serious or disgusting injuries as a result of a “50/50” that brings no punishment.
Stone-wall penalties will be waved away, and your player booked, while another week will see your players given penalties and free-kicks for the most pathetic dives ever.
If the referee threatens to actually keep control of a game, then you can fully rely on the linesman or even fourth official to wade in – Sutton United and Bromley know all about the latter after their televised game a month or so ago. Wow, just wow.
2) These teams you haven’t heard of will probably beat you
Maidenhead, Solihull Moors, AFC Fylde to name a few. These cheeky little scamps will rock up at your ground and take points from you. Add to the mix for 2018/19 the outposts of Harrogate and Havant and Waterlooville. The worst thing is, that after a few months, the penny will finally drop that this league is incredibly tough. Even if you load up your squad with the leading National League talent, you’re still going to have to punch and kick your way out and have a few large slices of luck with it.
You’ll visit grounds where the idea of having passionate fans attend, for whom their football club means everything, as somewhat strange. There will be no segregation, you’ll share a pleasant beer in a social club, possibly with the guy who mowed the pitch an hour earlier. It’s all quite pleasant, but very non-league.
3) You’ll hit your ‘all-time low’ on a regular basis
There is always a result that makes you think you’ve fallen as far as possible, it’s only up from here. There will probably be several in the months ahead, so prepare yourself mentally. Tranmere fans can probably name a few games that standout as being ‘new lows’ in the club history, only to find themselves in an even more depressing position weeks later.
4) You’ll have to google your own players, let alone the opposition
Filling your squad with Football League players probably won’t work down there, and so don’t be afraid if your manager begins signing players you have never heard of. In fact, you should get used to it. Whereas in League One and Two you probably knew many opposition squads, down here you will be lucky to recognise the odd veteran EFL player bringing a career to an end.
5) At least you’ll be on TV
If there is one positive to being in the National League, and as one of the biggest clubs, it’s the TV coverage you will get. It must be said, BT Sport’s coverage is pretty good, and you will have more league games shown shown live this season than you’ve probably had in the Football League for countless seasons.
Oh, but you’ll probably get beaten, and it will be the day you finally convince your mates to watch too.
6) The FA Trophy
Yeah, there’s something to look forward to. The biggest distraction to any club that harbours promotion ambitions.
7) FA Cup and League Cup
Forget the League Cup, that’s a thing of the past for you. If that’s not bad enough, you will also need to qualify for the right to play in the FA Cup First Round. Okay, it’s only one game, but a glamour tie in Round Three has never felt so far away.
8) Don’t take anything on face value
We’ve already mentioned all of the small clubs you will face that you haven’t heard of, but it’s important not to take their players on face value either. A game may kick-off, only for you to see a significantly overweight striker or particularly clumsy-looking midfielder line-up against you. Don’t rub your hands with glee just yet. These guys are likely to be highly effective non-league operators and will almost certainly wipe the smile off your face at some point.
9) Teams will raise their game against you
If there is one thing that became tiresome after a matter of weeks for us, it was how lowly teams turn-up at your own ground and raise their game significantly. Once you’ve visited a few National League grounds, you’ll understand why this is. Visiting a proper football stadium that has fans in is quite the novelty, and these guys are going to lap it up.
10) Jako, everywhere
The days of seeing your manager, coaches and subs wearing club-branded tracksuits and training gear have passed. There are no fancy Mitre matchballs. Instead, you’ll grow accustomed to seeing everyone wearing those blue Jako jumpers, t-shirts and playing with the Jako matchballs. Even the kit numbering looks cheap and non-league.