Updated: Feb 3
Football is a sport to many and a business to few. Everyone dreams of turning their garden skills into a professional trade, but for those who penetrate the armour of the pro game it can lead to turmoil.
Non-league football has never been a place of financial prosperity, but with ever-increasing extortionate fees being thrown around in the top flight, it is the semi-professional sides that are suffering the most.
Ridiculous though it may sound, the Premier League’s prize money, transfer fees and wages just adds to the amount of money that is away from non-league football, which for many home-grown starlets is the starting point for their career and where they will find their feet before a dream move to warm the bench for Crewe Alexandra.
The FA pumps so much money into the top four divisions, in fact, that non-league football finds itself underfunded. The National League North and South – the second step of non-league – requires teams to provide their own fourth official and substitution board, for example.
The competitiveness of these leagues is becoming ever fiercer as traditional professional league teams are dropping into the abyss of the semi-professional leagues. Clubs such as Torquay United, York City and Hereford found life in these divisions unexpectedly tough, and only the former from that trio made it back out into the National League.
While money is a problem at the low levels, the Premier League is home to some of the largest sums of money in world sport. Across the 20 clubs that participated in the 2018-19 season, over £403 million was dished out by way of prize money, excluding television pay-outs and other deals. This money came directly from the FA.
On to the players themselves, and it is Kevin De Bruyne who takes the honours of the highest paid player in the Premier League, earning a whopping £17.1 million each year, or, roughly £2,000 an hour.
To put this into context, non-league North Ferriby United were wound up in March last year after failing to pay off an outstanding three-year-old debt of £7,645.25, meaning that their 85 years of operation came to a saddening end. De Bruyne could have saved the club in one afternoon.
Being paid even when he is out of action, an afternoon in front of the television from the midfielder could have kept hundreds of people from losing the club they love, be it their employer or a staple of their weekend plans.
Unfortunately, North Ferriby’s situation is not a unique one. Last season alone saw Ebbsfleet perilously close to folding, as well as Gateshead being sold for £1 and finding themselves refused entry in to the 2019-20 National League season by the powers that be.
They say that football is a game of two halves, and that rings true for the gargantuan financial divide between the Premier League and those below it. The National League is relatively high on the footballing pyramid yet it perilously lacks support and money.
Fans can do without football, but football cannot do without fans. With increasing numbers following the example set by the elite and turning their backs on the non-league game in favour of the extortionately costly top flight clubs it is hard to see many National League teams moving towards a prosperous future.