Interview with James Doe, founder of Non-league day

In 2010, a nationwide event was set up called- Non-league day was set up. At first it was simply an event on Facebook and on Twitter, which encouraged fans of the Premier League and Championship to go and watch a non-league game.

Three years later and the event have grown bigger and bigger attracting more people takes note of non-league football and come out to celebrate the game. The Non-league scene spoke to founder James Doe to find out more about the non-league day which takes place on the 7th September this year.

A lot of people may have heard of non-league day but are unfamiliar with what the day is all about.

So Doe explained what the day is all about: “NLD is primarily an event which celebrates semi-pro and grassroots football. It is a day when non-league clubs can showcase themselves to their local communities and demonstrate what they’re about and what they offer.

“It is now in its fourth year and is always scheduled to coincide with an international break meaning there is no Premier League or Championship football for it to compete with. This means there is more room for it in media schedules and also offers fans of the biggest clubs the opportunity to explore clubs who play at a level they might be unfamiliar with and who could be on their doorstep.”

Harriers fans at Stockport on Non-league day last season.

Harriers fans at Stockport on Non-league day last season.

But we where did the original idea for the event come for. Well in fact as Doe explains it came from watching a pre-season friendly involving his club QPR: “I set up the event in 2010 after going to watch QPR in a pre-season game at Tavistock in Devon.
“It was obvious how important the funds generated by the game were to the club and I thought why does this sort of thing only have to happen in pre-season? There are several weekends a year when Premier League and Championship clubs don’t play, meaning there are hundreds of thousands of fans left without a game so I tried to come up with a way of trying to get them to go and watch another game.

“Originally I only had six weeks from coming up with the idea to the first event. Initially it was only intended as a low key social media experiment among friends but it quickly grew as more people found out about it and as a result we have Non-League Day.”

As earlier mentioned non-league day takes place on a day when there are no premier league and championship fixture, so how does Doe and the rest of the team at Non-league Day HQ pick the date for Non-league day?
“This is quite simple – it has to fall on an international weekend where England are playing on the Friday night. This means that there is no Premier League or Championship football on the Saturday and focus will have largely moved away from the national side too.

“Aside from this, we’ve also received feedback from clubs that they don’t like NLD to clash with a round of the FA Cup as it limits their ability to offer discounts on admission. Unfortunately, the FA always seem to schedule at least one of their other competitions on international weekends (usually the FA Vase) so we do clash with them but admission to these early round matches is often £5 or less so they’re cheap anyway.

Fans at Hendon v Lewes  photo by James Boyes

Fans at Hendon v Lewes
photo by James Boyes

To attract fans many clubs put on events and offers to attract fans to the game. Some of the these include half price admission for season ticket holders of the big clubs or Pay what you want where you chose how much you paid to get in and watch the game, which is something Doe and the team want to push as it will boost the crowd and even if the gate receipts are down, the people that do come tend to spend money in other ways (programmes, refreshments, raffles etc) so takings do go up overall.

Clubs often turn it into Community days such as coaching sessions; supporters matches Barbecues, charity events and special guest appearing last year Olympians and Paralympians were quite popular. The options are endless but family oriented fun should be the theme according to Doe.

The day in its main is to try and attract Premier League and Championship fans down to a non-league game and sometimes it is important for Football League and Premier League clubs to encourage fans to do things and for non-league day they did it in abundance.

“The main thing we need for NLD to succeed is publicity. Last year we received unprecedented backing from the Premier League itself and some of its member clubs plus many Football League clubs (even ones which were playing) too. Articles and mentions on websites, social media and in match day programmes are highly beneficial and we got several from some of the biggest clubs in the land last year.
“Arsenal even went as far as lending their first team’s luxury coach to Boreham Wood to transport them to their game at Salisbury.

“Things like this make an enormous difference to non-league clubs, don’t really take a huge amount of effort on the part of the bigger clubs and earns them a great deal of positive publicity.”

Also Non-league day tries to raise money for charity and Doe explains all about it: “We’re sticking with the Free Kicks Foundation again. The charity partner concept is one that hasn’t gone as smoothly as we’d like.

“We initially went with a very large and well known charity and potentially thought we could raise thousands for them. However, I don’t think they saw the full value of the event and didn’t appear to reciprocate the effort; consequently it was a bit of a flop.

“Free Kicks are a much smaller charity who look to raise funds to provide football themed activities for ill, bereaved or disadvantaged children. Primarily it’s about raising awareness of what they do and hopefully we’ve achieved that, with a few pounds heading their way too.”

Free kick foundation logo

Free kick foundation logo

But all in all what will make it a successful day for Doe: “A lot has been made of getting the big clubs and the media to buy into NLD and of course their role is essential, but to make the whole thing really worthwhile the non-league clubs themselves must want to get involved.

“Despite the growth of NLD over the last three years, there are still some clubs that don’t know or care about the event. Therefore we can do all we can to raise the profile of the day and get people to head to their local grounds but if they get there and nothing particularly special is going on then it’s a bit of a waste of time for everyone.

“Of course clubs must make up their own minds about what to do and we’re in absolutely no position to dictate to them but it will be a shame if they miss out. The only reason we keep coming back every year is because of the success stories and there’s no reason why there can’t be a lot more.”

On non-league day there are many things like Ground hops, changing kick offs times so people can go from one game to another. But Doe explains that Non-league day is a not for profit organization and that while they help and advise clubs in what to do it is up to the clubs themselves.

Also he asks that people download the logo (as seen at the top of this post) and share it with your friends and onto any websites. Also posters are due to go up on the website so if they can be displayed in Windows and on noticeboard then that would be great.


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