The Insider on why League’s should be thinking about the well-being of players

The Football in Bracknell insider.
The Football in Bracknell insider.

‘The Insider’ writes for Football in Bracknell every month from the point of view of someone who has played the game and experienced the ups and downs of a season in non league football on the pitch.

The Insider column will be published on the last Thursday of every month. Previous columns are available here

“We don’t really fancy the long away trip in the next round”

Words of an opposition captain from a Hellenic League team playing in the Floodlit Cup, with the next fixture being a 100 mile round trip on a Tuesday night. It’s something that will resonate with all players.

The end of September tends to be the start of what I deem as “pointless cup” time. Within the non league game, particularly at step 5 and 6, there seems to be an abundance of cup competitions that teams either don’t take seriously, pit you against club’s miles away on a Tuesday night, or simply affect your well-being.

Is it time for a change in some of these competitions to protect the players and keep it local? Take the Hellenic League for example. There’s the Challenge Cup, the Floodlit Cup and then the Supplementary should a team lose in the Challenge Cup.

I see there’s now a Subsidiary Cup for Division 1 teams as well. You factor on top of that the County Cup, whether it’s Berks & Bucks, Gloucester or Oxon  and then the Vase and the FA Cup; you end up playing an abundance of cup games by mid-October, thus creating the fixture pile up come March and April.

Most teams, particularly those challenging for the title, will often make several changes in these early round fixtures. Squad players and youth players will get a start and managers will be able to get a look at their squads; consequently, the whole tie loses its value.

So, why not regionalise the first few rounds of the cups? Why not use these cups to get more people through the gate and prevent stupid travel distances on a Tuesday night. This year, for example, Wallingford have to travel to Cheltenham in the Floodlit Cup. Wokingham to Abingdon.

I think sometimes the league forget that step 5 and 6 players work during the week and it’s actually a challenge getting to matches on time, let alone getting home from a match at 11.30pm-12am then having to get up for work at 6.

I remember one year having to take an afternoon off work in an attempt to get to Lydney for 6.30pm.

“Ascot United have had 16 competitive matches in 2 months, including 3 cup competitions”

One alternative idea which I really like is the new Subsidiary Cup having a group stage format before leading into a shorter knockout stage. Why can’t they make this an option for the main competition and scrap the Supplementary? Teams get 3 games (if that’s the point of the Supplementary Cup), it’s regionalised and offers more value to some games, even if you lose the first game.

At the time of writing, Ascot United have had 16 competitive matches in 2 months, including 3 cup competitions. Binfield, who have played 6 less league games, have still played 13. This is without any Hellenic cup competition.

The league’s need to start thinking about the protection and well-being of players, rather than just creating competitions for the sake of it. They need to consider that not every team has a large squad and that can mean that some players are playing too much and travelling too much which isn’t healthy.

Fundamentally, for non league to be a success, the well-being of players needs to be considered. At no point has the league ever asked for player representation upon AGM meetings. Surely their opinions, should be equally as valued as the chairman’s or club secretary? Food for thought, indeed.

The Insider is a look in to the semi professional game from the players point of view. Look out for a new column on the last Thursday of every month. Got a question? Ask via our Contribute page.

Do you agree with The Insider? Should league’s think more about player well being or is it a case that they should just get on with it? Let us know in the comments below.

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