From a small Facebook event to a staple of the football calendar, the founder of the Non-League Day is astonished by what his idea has become, writes Ben Hart.
In recognition of his work growing non-league football, James Doe was awarded the Buildbase Unsung Hero Award at the The Non-League Paper’s National Game Awards in association with Buildbase.
Struck by the scarcity of cash at non-league level, Doe created a Facebook event in 2010, encouraging people to attend a game at their nearest non-league ground.
“I was on a pre-season tour with QPR and they had a game in Tavistock," Doe explained.
"It was hugely important to the local community, there were adverts all over town, on buses, roundabouts, everywhere. There was a huge turnout.
“It was clear how important that fixture was to the finances of the club for that season.
“A few weeks later I went to watch my local non-league club Harrow Borough and I was struck that they were raising money for new floodlight bulbs.
“It turned out that many clubs were in a similar position and struggling.”
This year’s event took place in March, the first for two-and-a-half years owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Incentives for people to attend included Bracknell Town collecting donations for the Ukraine Relief Fund, rather than charging for tickets, and Bungay Town handing out mushrooms to paying supporters.
“I noticed there was an international break coming up and thought this was a good opportunity,” Doe said of the inaugural event.
“So I started an event on Facebook and invited my friends to go and watch a game and it turns out they had friends who were into it, and it went viral.
“Then in six weeks we had Non-League Day.”
Doe, who is also a full-time rail worker, now collaborates with several of the game’s leading bodies, including the Premier League and FA, and has helped to launch sister events in France and Germany.
“Ideally we would like to grow it so it’s more of a pan-European event,” he said.
Speaking at the National Game Awards, Doe said: “It’s a huge shock to be recognised and a great honour just to be invited to come.
“I get to have meetings with the Premier League at their headquarters which I never dreamed of.
“I have people contacting me from all over the world for their ideas of running similar events. It’s been a hugely positive experience for me.”
Doe is already looking ahead to next season and hopes the controversial World Cup in Qatar can prove beneficial for non-league clubs.
“One thing that’s really up for discussion is the World Cup.
“We’ll probably do our usual non-league day towards the end of the season but it’s all about what we can do with that month. It just seems like an open goal.”
The Non-League Paper, is the only paper that covers Non-League football from top to bottom - from the National League down to grass roots. It is the recognised authority on non-league football. Available every Sunday, in newsagents and supermarkets nationwide, or subscribe online at www.thenonleaguefootballpaper.com