Every club has them, and it is probably not overstating it to say that every non-league club needs them. They are the volunteers, a small army of people who, for a huge variety of reasons, find that simply paying on the turnstile and supporting their team isn’t enough. Some first volunteered through necessity; something needed to be done and there was no-one else available. For others it is just a simple extension of a personal philosophy; a desire to make a contribution, to not be a bystander and to get stuck in, to get involved.
Take a look around on a match day and you will soon see them, each with an individual story to tell of how they came to be there, and why they remain, when often unappreciated and sometimes even derided. However, the cold hard fact is that for many a non-league club the show could not go on without them.
Katie Peal, a volunteer at AFC Telford United, brought this into focus with a recent post on Twitter, one which soon was soon being circulated, not least by The Non League Magazine themselves. It read:
For a club of AFC Telford’s size it’s probably a fairly typical if not exhaustive list. But who are the volunteers?
On a tour of the New Buck’s Head on the day of the Bucks’ meeting with FC United of Manchester I was accompanied by volunteer club photographer Tim Roberts, whose images accompany this article. A fan for some 33 years, he combines his two loves of photography and AFC Telford. Tim estimates that taking the photographs, then selecting and editing them equates to about 6-7 hours unpaid work per match; however, it’s seeing his images in the programme and on the club website that gives him his reward. In Tim’s own words he’s “living the dream”.
On our first stop, the club shop, we met Carolyn Hornby. She first started attending games with her sons 7-8 years ago, and after a while found herself clutching a bin liner, picking post-match litter from the terraces and stands; it’s a role she still performs. Helping out on club open days and stints in the snack bars and turnstiles turned into assisting in the shop, and she now orders stock, sources new items and helped produce the club’s 2017 calendar. As a busy mum she’s served on PTAs and helps out in junior football, so why does she do it? “I enjoy it, it takes me out of my comfort zone, and there are so many really good people here, who I’m proud to call friends”.
With his ‘sale rail’ beneath the club’s main stand we found Martin Harrison, who by day is a mental health professional in a prison. Again, why AFC Telford, and why volunteer? “I moved to the area to be closer to my daughter, and started attending games. I love the banter and you are so close to the action, unlike the professional game. I’d worked at Aston Villa before, so volunteering was a natural progression of my growing passion for the club. I also love helping people enjoy their match day experience, and meeting supporters, the social side”.
PA announcer Phil Sheiber answered a call to support the phoenix club and simply stuck around. “This is my club, a bunch of people who adopted me as an outsider and made me feel more welcome that I ever felt in 30 years supporting Ipswich Town at Portman Road”. With a background in hospital radio, he initially served as cover before taking over as ‘the man with the mic’. He’s served on the club’s Trust board and at one point reckons he was at the club at least once a day, seven days per week. Luckily wife Fay and son James are equally huge Bucks fans. He’s reined it back but says “I still hope I give as much as I can, do whatever I can to help. I realise that I’m fortunate to have a particular skill that the club can utilise, but everyone can do something; even if it’s just talking the club up to their mates and bumping up the attendance.”
Recognisable for her pink ‘Telford UCare’ jacket is Amanda White, another volunteer who has served on the Trust board, as a litter picker, she’s even cleaned the loos, but ‘UCare’ was inspired by her work as a carer and a trip to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. “I found the trip really difficult; I couldn’t leave the gentleman in my care alone, not even to go to the toilet! This led me to consider whether other disabled people and their carers were being prevented from accessing community facilities e.g. football clubs. Through ‘TelfordUcare’ we support people with all sorts of needs, from temporary illness through to complex behavioural or mobility needs, to attend games”.
In the club’s control centre we found Nick Brockis, ready to supervise the club’s match day ‘ball crew’, typically young boys and girls from local junior football teams. Nick gravitated to AFC Telford through a relocation to the area from Romford and a son involved in junior football. He got involved when the ‘old’ Telford club died, excited to play a part in its rebirth; he’s a fundraiser with regular quiz nights and has cleared snow from the pitch, as well as match day duties. Nick cites “Personal satisfaction, a sense of achievement” as his reasons for volunteering: “I’ve met some lovely fantastic people all with a common goal; the betterment of the club.”
There isn’t room to feature all of the club’s volunteers, and those featured here are just representatives of a much bigger number, both at AFC Telford and nationwide; every one of them deserves to be appreciated and thanked, though seeking recognition is rarely their motivation.
Do you have something to offer your local non-league club?