Last weekend saw the return of Non-League Day – an initiative that was set up in 2010 by James Doe in the hope of attracting bigger crowds to non-league football while raising funds for charities such as Prostate Cancer UK. Non-League Day takes place during the international break which has historically helped non-league clubs capitalise on the initiative by attracting bumper crowds.
Various non-league clubs across the North East were lucky enough to have a home fixture where they could welcome fans from Newcastle United, Sunderland and Middlesbrough and provide them with a grittier, more authentic football experience.
This piece will delve into non-league fixtures that took place across the North East on Saturday, and determine the success of Non-League Day in 2023.
South Shields 0-0 Radcliffe
Saturday saw South Shields ‘treat’ over 3,000 fans – their second largest crowd of the season after their FA Cup tie against Forest Green Rovers – to a goalless draw against title rivals Radcliffe. It was a fixture that promised lots and offered little in terms of action on the pitch, but such a turnout is staggering at this level.
Mark Carruthers, who was covering the game for the Shields Gazette, told SportsByte: “You always hope that Non-League Day will attract an increased attendance and I guess South Shields facing title rivals Radcliffe on that day was something of a perfect storm.
“It was, without question, the most high-profile game in the region and that was summed up in the attendance of over 3,200. South Shields are noted for their crowds but that was really something special. There were supporters of the North East big three and the support was overwhelmingly in favour of South Shields. The hope now is that support continues whenever Newcastle, Sunderland or Middlesbrough are not playing or have away games.”
It is impossible to deny the impact that Non-League Day had on South Shields this weekend, with the attendance surpassing their previous highest league crowd this season by over 700. As Carruthers says, the key now is retaining the new supporters from now and into next season, when Shields will most likely be playing in the National League North.
Hopefully, they weren’t put off by the goalless draw.
Hebburn Town 0-2 Lincoln United
Hebburn Town fell to a disappointing defeat amid their chase for promotion from the Northern Premier League Division One East.
Manager Daniel Moore was irate in his post-match interview, and the 455 supporters that attended would have felt the same had it not been for a brief shining light when a pitch invader decided to make themselves known.
The pooch managed to show the sort of speed and agility that the Hornets could have done with on the day, and certainly provided the crowd with something that they wouldn’t see in the Premier League.
Away from the action on the pitch, Non-League Day helped Hebburn Town achieve their second-highest attendance of the season, only beaten by the derby against North Shields.
One fan that played her part in the attendance was Rhiannon – who is from Lincoln but works in Hebburn – and she gave her thoughts on the day. She said: “Knowing that it was Non-League Day did make me more up for going. I don’t go regularly but did speak to some other fans that go weekly and they said that it was busy but perhaps not as much as they’d hoped as South Shields were also at home.”
While South Shields may have stolen some of the thunder, Hebburn still drew a crowd that was over twice as large as their previous home game which shows that Non-League Day was having the desired impact.
Blyth Spartans 0-2 Chester
863 fans saw Blyth Spartans slip closer to the foot of the National League North after falling to a defeat against Chester. This figure was only slightly higher than their previous home game against Boston United, suggesting the Non-League Day spirit wasn’t quite as prevalent as it was at other grounds in the area.
Connor Bromley, who was producing content for Mirror Football at the game, explained why Blyth failed to see the boost in attendance that they may have hoped for. He said: “In terms of attendance figures, Blyth are struggling at the bottom of the league while South Shields were playing second place on their way to promotion. Blyth have been able to attract regular attendances of above 1,000 when they’ve been playing well, but over the last few seasons they have really struggled which has chipped away at their casual fanbase.”
Success or Failure?
According to their website, Non-League Day aims to “give fans across the country the chance to show support for their local non-league side.” If this was the criteria for success, then they certainly delivered, with South Shields and Hebburn Town seeing significant attendance increases. While Blyth Spartans did not enjoy quite the same impact, their attendance was still comfortably clear of their season average.
The immediate success of Non-League Day is clear to see with the crowds, and non-league clubs across the country will hope that have provided the new fans with an experience that they feel would be worth returning for.