Hampton’s time in the playoffs came to an end this weekend at Ebbsfleet Utd. Given as how the club was given its place in the playoffs by the ground standards of others, I guess that’s no real surprise.
However, the reaction of some of the Ebbsfleet supporters on social media after the match set my teeth on edge on and also set me thinking.
One poster said that Hampton were ‘lucky to be on the same pitch as Ebbsfleet’.
Now on one level, there’s a lot of truth in that, because they weren’t necessarily there on merit. On another level, it seems an extraordinarily condescending and arrogant thing to say.
It’s no secret that Ebbsfleet are a well-backed club, and their weekly wage bill is probably between 4 and 5 times what Hampton’s is. In addition, it has always had a name recognition beyond Hampton’s because of their current backing and history, and the 2,100 in Stonebridge Road reflect that although compared to the 1,700 that watched the first leg, that’s a poor crowd.
Some clubs, when backed, manage to retain the essence of what they are, through their history. To my mind, they are not many and before long, the supporters succumb to what I’m now calling ‘Big-club syndrome’.
Having been in and around non-league football for a while now, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting clubs big and small. Small clubs who have ambition, those who look to do well in Cup competitions and those who just hope to survive.
In many respects, they are often the most enjoyable of places to visit, as they know who they are and don’t forget where they are from. There’s an intimacy amongst the supporters and volunteers and it’s like a close-knit family that meets every so often. A number of the supporters have given up on the professional game and have found enjoyment and a sense of belonging you don’t get with following a bigger club.
However, it seems to me that as soon and a club has money to spare, expectations on the terraces rise to match and in the end, these supporters forget their background and their roots, and that intimacy is lost.
For example, it’s not that long ago that Ebbsfleet were plain old Gravesend & Northfleet and had average crowds of between 500-800 every home game. Now they’re a massively ambitious club with a wage budget to match, but is that necessarily a good thing?
There’s a sense now that promotion to a higher level is demanded, rather than expected, and failure is not an option. To me, that’s a symptom of ‘Big-club syndrome’.
No question of the fact that Hampton were the smallest of the 4 clubs in the playoffs, but given the footprints of the other three, Ebbsfleet, Chelmsford and Dartford, I know who I’d rather support.
I’m not saying that non-league clubs shouldn’t be ambitious, far from it, but at the price of that intimacy that we all enjoy in non-league, well, is it worth it? I’m not sure myself.