Mark Carruthers' Non-League verdict: FA Cup memories and why the hard work starts after the big day

FA Cup third round day is one of the most special days in the football calendar – but what happens for non-league clubs when the magic fades away and reality bites?

Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 1:23 pm
Mark Carruthers' Non-League verdict: FA Cup memories and why the hard work starts after the big day

The North East’s non-league interest in this season’s competition may have ended with Darlington’s second round defeat at Bristol Rovers but I am sure many people took more than a passing interest in events at several non-league grounds over the weekend.

Northern Premier League club Marine – who were beaten by Dunston UTS on the first day of the season - were quite rightly the focus of the media attention as the BBC cameras and national written press descended on Merseyside to capture the magic of their tie against Spurs.

Marine are a quite wonderful club and they epitomise everything that is positive about the game below the Football League.

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They are hospitable and hardworking away from the pitch and have a passionate support that would have made Sunday’s meeting with Mourinho’s men even more special had they not been limited to watching events from a distance.

So, I could not help but smile at the sights of Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Alan Shearer perching on a hastily assembled studio in one corner of the ground and several high-profile writers from national media outlets with laptops performing a delicate and precarious balancing act.

From personal experience, I know Marine will have gone above and beyond for the national media, just as they do for the non-league press that work with them during the season.

The valiant efforts of staff and volunteers off the pitch were more than matched by a hardworking display by their players, who should feel nothing other than pride in their performance against a Spurs side littered with international players.

One subject that provoked much debate on social media during the game was the media’s emphasis placed on the day jobs held by the Marine players.

I understand both sides of the argument – but seeing part-time players giving their all against some of the best sides in the country is part of the allure of the competition at this stage.

However, there can be no doubt that Marine’s players, coaching staff and volunteers will have experienced something of a reality check when they returned to normality on Monday – or whatever normality during these challenging times.

I have been in and around non-league clubs when their FA Cup adventures come to an end.

I have seen what happens when the bright lights of the cameras are turned off, the TV trucks roll out of town and the national writers turn their focus back towards analysing the ins and outs of Premier League until third round day rolls around once again and another non-league club gets their time in the spotlight.

It is a cold, hard reality check that impacts on every part of the football club.

Players, coaches and managers will have to turn their focus back towards the “bread and butter” of their league season, where they will face many an opposition that will be only too happy to raise their game in order to bring the FA Cup heroes back down to earth.

In any normal season – of which this is certainly not – the hundreds and thousands of supporters that threw their weight behind the cup run will disappear and only the hardcore will remain week-in, week-out.

Volunteers will return to wiling away the hours doing the unseen work that is essential in keeping any non-league club functioning on a week-to-week basis.

There will be an expectation that the income secured through prize money, broadcasting fees and new sponsors will be lavished on the manager’s budget and be used to propel the club up the non-league pyramid.

The unexpected financial boost that Chorley and Marine have experienced could not have come at a better time.

Covid-19 has sent a shockwave of insecurity and uncertainty around the non-league scene and I feel that will go on for long after the pandemic has become a distant memory and life returns to a new type of normality.

The financial challenges faced by clubs on a routine basis have been heightened over the last year and they will not go away overnight.

That is why the board of directors at both clubs will have to shown restraint and responsibility as they consider how to distribute their new-found income.

Yes, managers will be only right in expecting a boost in their budget for next season, they have, after all, earned that right by guiding their clubs to the third round and beyond.

Without trying to paint an overly negative picture of their current situation, the FA Cup runs do give Marine and Chorley an excellent chance to flourish on and off the pitch despite the challenges they face during the pandemic.

Bills that may have needed negotiation during these lean times can be paid, essential maintenance around their ground can be carried out and there is an opportunity to secure the short and long-term future of their club.

Big decisions that can have an impact for generations to come will be made over the coming months and the directors will know that they have a responsibility to ensure that their clubs are secure to be enjoyed in the years ahead by new-found supporters that have been captured by the magic of the FA Cup.

Glorious cup runs will come to an end for non-league clubs, but that is when the hard work really gets going.