Thursday marked what would have been the start of Euro 2020. Anticipation would have been building with the usual hype around England potentially winning the tournament. Here, at the Football Pink, we didn’t want our readers to miss out on a football journey. However, we are going to take you on a different type of journey. This one is going to track the fortunes of non-League football team Raynes Park Vale Football Club.
We are going to track the nostalgia of non-League football, taking us back to a time before the corporate hospitality of professional clubs. We will take our readers back to football’s roots and the romanticism of being able to bond with your local team. The journey is going to start with the trials and tribulations of a non-League pre-season. Followed by tracking Raynes Park Vale Football Club through the highs of the F.A Cup and the lows of a cold December evening. Our unique angle will cover more than just football. There will be stories about community, charity, team-bonding, and many more.
What do we mean by non-league football?
Non-League football in England covers all leagues up to the professional game. The Football Association has broken the non-League system into steps 1-7. From step 1 being the National League to step 7 covering regional divisions such as the Surrey Elite league.
Non-League football is a fascinating ecosystem devoid of the commercial income streams earned in the professional leagues. The financial sustainability of the clubs is underpinned by regular injections of capital, mainly from owners. Despite this, the vast majority of the non-League system is not self-subsistent. Many clubs invest vast sums of money to their playing squads, all too often resulting in season end disappointment.
Logic leads us to believe that clubs dangling this far down the football structure should have no business in wage offering & player speculation. Nonetheless, the Vale (as they’re affectionately known) find themselves as one of the few remaining amateur sides in the division, competing with teams paying player wages well into the triple figures.
This may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with this level in English football, considering each of these teams annually qualify for the FA Cup. The semi-professional nature of this league has been around for almost a decade.
Who are Raynes Park Vale Football Club?
Raynes Park Vale FC was formed in 1995 following the merger of Raynes Park FC and Malden Vale (formed 1967). They are currently celebrating their 25th anniversary and have strong roots in Southern Railway. They have been embedded in their local community for the past 90 years.
Raynes Park FC originally was the Southern Railways Football Section (formed 1928) and changed their name to Raynes Park FC in 1964. After the merger in 1995, the club joined the Combined Counties Football league with it’s the best finish being 4th in 1997-98. This was very close to being equalled, with the 2018/19 cohort, finishing 5th. After a miraculous surge up the table from being 19th at Christmas.
However, we would be doing non-League football an injustice if we were not to talk about potential cup runs. Raynes Park Vale’s record performance to date has been reaching the F.A Cup 2nd qualifying round in 2014/15, but who knows what next season could bring. In addition to the F.A Cup, Raynes Park Vale also enter the F.A Vase. The F.A Vase provides the opportunity for non-League minnows to make an appearance at Wembley. The current club record is reaching the 2nd round last season. Although, with the current holders Chertsey Town also competing in the Combined Counties League, anything is possible.
Sitting a stone’s throw away from Wimbledon, Raynes Park Vale is within 30 min public transport journey from central London. Despite this, the club currently has a ramshackle home, far from the ideal of where you’d like to spend your Saturday afternoon. In fact, this was felt so strongly by an opposition player that his explicit description of the ground earned him a yellow card. Despite the lack of easy-on-the-eye facilities & a well-paying wage, the club has never failed to attract talent to the club, primarily as a result of its location.
Why did we choose Raynes Park Vale FC to follow?
Perhaps the value in non-League football is not in the clubs that have money, but rather the clubs that have been starved of it. As an all-amateur football club playing in the 9th tier of English football, Raynes Park Vale FC endeavours to change the status quo. Their status as an amateur team within a semi-professional league poses its own challenges but one they aim to overcome.
Under new management, the players and staff have felt a renewed sense of passion and drive. Raynes Park Vale aims to turn the heads of its semi-professional counterparts by embracing their all amateur policy. The aim is to, against all odds, achieve promotion in the next few seasons.
Off the playing field, the club’s leadership have embarked on a campaign to return the club to its community-based roots. Emerging from the working-class Southern Railway FC, the club aims to bring a rare spark back to the community of Raynes Park.
Once the epidemic subsides, the club hopes to be in a better position. Their new website and social media strategy show they are heading in the right direction. As in the professional game, playing behind closed doors, they will soon be in a position to attract the supporters and local sponsors that it’s lacked for decades. This potential is what attracted us to them and we will be with them along the way to see if it can be realised.
What will be the focus of the ‘Don’t Let It Bounce’ series?
We want to bring football back to its roots and show the romanticism of the beautiful game. We will be highlighting the nuances of non-League football, including stories about the players, matches, and the wider running of the club. It’s best to think of it as a ‘fly on the wall’ series of non-League football.
We will be providing a unique angle on non-League football. Whilst covering the basics, we’ll be looking at their place in the community, team-bonding and stories from the terraces.
As a taster of what is to come, here is what to expect over the next few weeks:
- Player profiles with a twist – Get to know more about the players than just football
- The first day of pre-season – What condition have the players returned in?
- Charity day – How will the club help football beyond borders reach 2020 miles on what would have been the Euro 2020 final day
Follow Raynes Park Vale’s journey
The Football Pink will be regularly providing articles on Raynes Park Vale but if you want you to follow them more intimately then please visit their website (www.raynesparkvale.com) or follow them on Twitter and Instagram @RPVFC.