England’s home of football plays home to it’s real citizens.
Guest post by Eli MengemFor most, the thrill of standing in the Stade de France amongst 80,000 as your childhood team compete for the Champions League Final, would be probably take the cake in a life long career of home and away support. If Europe’s night of nights doesn’t do it for you then surely being in the stands as that same team turn around a 2-0 deficit in 109th minute to lift the FA Cup in a sun soaked Wembley would.Not for Allison, a lifelong Arsenal fan, who has been afforded all the joys the Gunners success has provided, from the ‘Invincibles’ era to the (somewhat less attractive but just as significant) George Graham Era. No, the pinnacle of Allison’s time in football is coming this Wembley and it has nothing to do with Arsenal.Moving from the capital to Glossop, a small town in between Manchester and Sheffield in the peak district in late 2009 Allison had no intentions of giving up any space in her heart for another club. Little did she realise the emotional power of non-league football, and just how much closer it would bring her to the game.Attending games on a casual basis at the beginning of the 2010, Allison instantly recognised the differences between supporting ‘The Hillmen’ on ‘The Trenches’ than ‘The Gunners’ at the Clock End. The familiarity between fans, the price of tickets, the proximity both physical and metaphorical with the players, and of course the relationship with the club. “It’s a much more fulfilling, connected experience’We couldn’t have seen further proof of this when Joel, an avid but nonetheless regular fan of the club offered an impromptu tour of the ground on our visit through.How do you get in?Joel: “Key mate, I’ve got one on me, we’ve all got one”However it wasn’t until August last year, when Allison was diagnosed with Carcinoid Cancer that the charm of non league football really shone through, and Arsenal officially took a backseat to the mighty GNE. ‘They became my friends, then they became my family’. At first it was regular visits from fellow fans, but before she know it was players and coaches too, then as Allison remained confined to a hospital bed on the night of Glossop’s League Cup win last month, a phone call came in for her; it was the Gaffer. They had just won the cup and the players hadn’t left the pitch yet, they wanted her to be a part of it. “You’d never get that at Arsenal’ let alone the team visit she received the next day with Trophy in tow.It is this feeling of community and family that has Allison like so many up and down the country finding that there is a feeling that comes amongst the more humble levels of football that far outweigh the star signings, Europeans nights and Wembley afternoons of their premier league sides.Funnily enough however, a trip to Wembley is exactly what Allison and 6,000 others from the town are up to this weekend, as their local non-league side Glossop North End FC take on North Shields FC in one of the world’s biggest amateur tournaments, the FA Vase.Comprising of over 530 teams, the tournament pits teams from the ninth tear of the football pyramid and below against each other in a knockout style cup, with the reward of a final at Wembley on offer for the two teams left standing.Such a reward leaves players who juggle their playing time with full time jobs sharing the same dreams as professional players who can earn their annual income in the space of a match day.“To think I’m walking down the tunnel at the start of May, and then Cazorla follows my footsteps at the end of May, its fucking crazy"Lee Blackshaw, the clubs striker, and local McDonald’s manager tells me.Heading up to Glossop and North Shields for a documentary on the trophy it cannot be understated just how important the reward of Wembley is to not only the players but also the town. As soon we reached Glossop’s High Street you became aware of the occasion. The Blue and White of Glossop North End was adorned in every shop window, the local butcher has reinvented his signature pork pie dish into a blue concoction (basically blue edible food spray – it’s the thought that counts) and a pop up shop set up as the Glossop North End ‘Mega Store’ had sold out of almost every reasonable size shirt available.Perhaps Allison, and the town is caught up in the all the excitement of a small town swept up in Cup final fever, and the rational and logic will come back to earth when Arsenal do finally find that signing that wins them the title, or a semi final in the Champions League.Or perhaps Allison, and the other 6,000 are onto something the majority of us are yet to realise, that regardless of trophies, prestige and mega crowds, the real football clubs are the ones you’ve got a key to, literally.Follow Eli on Twitter