Phil Taylor: A Day Out Watching Non-League Football

Our English Football Expert, Phil Taylor, tells us about what it's like being at a non-league game.

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On Saturday 1st of April, I visited Mill Farm to watch, what turned out to be a thrilling encounter as AFC Fylde took on Darlington 1883. But this was no time for April Fools jokes as both sides were in need of maximum points.

Being from Blackpool, I focused on Fylde, and they are certainly on their way up.

A new stadium, all players on pro contracts and a fan base that could rival teams in the leagues above them. Everything is positive for the side who have been heavily invested into by owner and local businessman David Haythornthwaite.

The man who was refused a bid to buy Blackpool several years ago could meet The Seasiders in a league game in just a matter of seasons! This is a tremendous achievement for a club formed only in 1988.

Formerly known as Kirkham and Wesham, Fylde were playing in Division One of the West Lancashire League.

They changed their name to AFC Fylde after they won the F.A Vase trophy in 2008 and the success did not stop there as they began to progress up the leagues.

Finishing 2nd in their maiden season in the National League North division with 85 points was an incredible feat last term. Unfortunately, they lost in the play-off final to Guiseley and missed out on back to back promotions.

I was in the home end alongside The Coasters faithful who were in full voice on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Kirkham.

A lot these fans have only just recently taken to watching the side since the recent troubles at Blackpool F.C, but most of the fans have been watching them for years; home and away.

I was in the standing area of the crowd, and it was packed full of fans who were urging their beloved Fylde to get over the line.

Standing while watching a home game is something you cannot get in the top divisions anymore, and it certainly does give you a sense of being a part of the match. The ability to be so close to the pitch and the players connects you to the football club.

At this level of football, you can drink while watching the game – a concept that has long been lost in the English leagues due to the troubles it can entail. Attending the Fylde game felt like a throwback, to say the least.

I was eagerly anticipating the game and being able to watch the league’s top goal scorer Danny Rowe.

The former Fleetwood trainee is in scintillating form and prior to this game he had notched 40 goals. Important is an understatement on how vital this man is to his side.

However, it was not Rowe who opened the scoring but midfielder Sam Finley with a 30-yard rasping effort straight past the despairing Darlington keeper. The crowd were urging him to shoot, and he certainly did that; leaving all that were watching mightily impressed.

The game well and truly came to life in the second half when Rowe doubled the lead with a thumping effort that nearly tore the net. But Darlington’s Gary Brown scored in the 79th minute to keep the pressure on the league leaders.

However, just one minute later Daniel Bradley restored the two-goal lead to leave the Darlington fans with a bit of egg on their face. It was frantic stuff.

This was not the end of the action as defender Kevin Burgess handled on the line and received a red card, thus gifting Rowe the chance to make it 42 for the season. He accepted this opportunity and Fylde ran out 4-1 winners as they took another step closer to the National League.

I was hugely impressed with what I saw at Mill Farm; players with passion, giving their all for the side and honest lads who want to progress their careers and not just pick up another pay cheque.

I am not the only one who is starting to lose a little bit of love for the game. With the millions being pumped into the working man’s game, certain owners are sucking the soul out of the clubs they run.

This, however, was a refreshing opportunity to enjoy the game I love and appreciate the set-up that AFC Fylde had to offer.

I will certainly be spending £12 again to visit Fylde and support the fantastic efforts that the chairman, stewards and programme sellers continuously put in to ensure the club runs smoothly.

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