Welcome to the fourth episode in my new series of football book reviews. This week we step into the world of non-league football via The Bottom Corner by Nige Tassell.
Having spent an enjoyable couple of years working as a volunteer in non-league football myself, I was looking forward to being transported back to that delightful world in this book. Tassell takes us on a tour of a variety of clubs around the country during the 2015/16 season.
Tassell begins by highlighting numerous reasons why fans may turn away from Premier League and Football League clubs and seek an alternative in non-league.
Before I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into the non-league world, I confess I had a different opinion of non-league football. As a supporter of a club in the Football League, there is a belief that ‘non-league’ is somewhere you simply never want to go; that it is an absolute disaster if a club is relegated into the National League. Prior to my Chasetown days, I only ever really encountered non-league clubs in the early rounds of the FA Cup. Thanks to Hednesford Town and Yeovil, these were not always positive experiences. I confess I did look down on non-league teams and losing to them in the cup WAS a disaster.
But all that changed when I joined Chasetown – and experienced a whole new ‘other’ world of football. It was markedly different to league football – but inferior? Never! The clubs and their personnel are way more relatable – and they welcome newcomers with open arms.
I recall my first visit to a non-league club back in the early 2000s, when I went to watch my local team (at that time), Darlaston Town, one Saturday afternoon when Blackpool weren’t playing (perhaps they had been knocked out of the FA Cup early?). I attracted curiosity as an unfamiliar face in the clubhouse – “ooh she’s a BLACKPOOL fan!” – and was soon being given a guided tour of the boardroom by the chairman of the club. I couldn’t have been made more welcome and it really was rather wonderful.
Years later, when I lost Blackpool, it was non-league football that was my saviour in the form of my then local team Chasetown FC.
Tassell interviews many fascinating characters, many of whom I wanted to hear more from – for example the man who came up with this gem of an idea:
I thought I knew all the tips and tricks for surviving the winter at football after 30 years’ experience but there is always more to learn!
Tassell interviews many wonderful people who each explain why football is so special to them.
I miss those train journeys, meeting random fans of other clubs: ‘How did Blackpool get on today? Oh I’m sorry…have a beer.’
Food is of course given a few mentions. It is often mooted that the quality of refreshment offerings at football grounds increases the lower down the pyramid you go. I confess I cannot wait to visit Forest Green Rovers to sample their famous vegan offerings:
Structurally, I struggled somewhat with the management of time in this book. Each chapter was devoted to a particular month, as opposed to a particular club. Chapter 8 flits from Dulwich Hamlet to United Glasgow to Bishop Sutton and I found this confusing. I would like to have seen each club afforded a chapter of their own.
However I did like the ‘anchor’ of Bishop Sutton – the story begins and ends with that club and they are regularly checked in on throughout the season.
I also enjoyed the neat ending that the epilogue provided, with an update on where various characters from the book ended up.
The Bottom Corner was ‘named among Waterstones’ top 12 sports books of 2016′. It contains many interesting stories and is a good introduction to the world of non-league football, which will hopefully entice readers to want to get involved with their local club at some level. Because football doesn’t get more real than in non-league.
NEXT UP: Heartfelt: Supping Bovril from the Devil’s Cup by Aidan Smith
Please do keep your football book recommendations coming! I will read and review one a week. You will see above I have already picked my book for next week. Why not read along too so you can comment on my review next week. We can be a virtual football book club!
Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters by Daniel Gray
She Stood There Laughing by Stephen Foster
A Season With Verona by Tim Parks
Don’t forget you can also read about my awaydays with Blackpool from the 2019/20 season right here.
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