The recent media interest created by Salford City and Billericay Town have perhaps given some mainstream football fans a distorted view of what Non-League football has become.
Suddenly, these clubs with plenty of cash are splashing out on former Premier League stars – a far cry from the ‘jumpers for goalposts’ tag many people used to give the grass-roots game.
But the truth is that many Non-League clubs still rely on a good FA Cup run and the financial rewards that brings to really develop. That’s why most clubs below League Two look at Stourbridge FC with envy. The FA Cup first round proper is seen by most Non-League sides as the holy grail.
Formed in 1876, Stourbridge – a town in Dudley famous for its glass making history – made it to the first round proper for the first time in 2009-10.
— Stourbridge News (@StourbridgeNews) May 23, 2017
Since then, they’ve made the second round three times and last season got to the third round – a run almost unheard of by a club from Level 7 of the English football ladder.
Those runs have netted the club almost £250,000 in prize money alone – a big sum for a Non-League club not putting tens of thousands into the wage bill each week. Stourbridge comfortably beat League One side Northampton Town last season before narrowly losing at League Two outfit Wycombe Wanderers in the third round.
They take on Alfreton Town, who play a division higher in the National League North, on Saturday in this year’s third qualifying round knowing they will still need to win two games to get back to the first round. After getting there in five of the last eight seasons, do Stourbridge really have the same desire? Manager Gary Hackett thinks so.
“It makes us more hungry to get to that stage again, without question. People have asked me this before and I always give the same answer.
“When you turn up at Wycombe Wanderers and see close on 3,000 fans packed in supporting the team, it was fantastic.
“What an amazing occasion that was. Once you have a taste of it you want more and the players are the same.”
– Gary Hackett
The money earned from the FA Cup runs has allowed Stourbridge to improve their War Memorial Ground home and also raised crowds massively.
talkSPORT: FA Cup results: Stourbridge beat Northampton to reach third round for first time … pic.twitter.com/64GEhuHTif
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They have the highest average attendance in their league – the Evo-Stik Premier – at 758 and the future is looking bright. Perhaps more importantly, it has allowed the management team to bring in a better quality of player.
Despite losing defender Dan Scarr to Championship club Birmingham City and four others to National League side Solihull Moors, Stourbridge have regrouped and there’s no doubting the FA Cup runs have been a huge help.
“The big crowds only really developed over the last four or five years so the Cup runs have definitely improved the crowds we get.
“It’s easier for us to attract players now when they come down and see what the club is all about. It’s a good selling point for us.
“Maybe ten years ago it was tough to attract players and if we got a good one in, they would soon move on to a club perceived to be bigger than us. If anybody leaves Stourbridge FC now, it’s for a higher level.”
– Assistant manager Jon Ford
Stourbridge host Alfreton Town on Saturday knowing another big FA Cup performance will be required to beat yet another higher ranked opponent.
FA Cup, second qualifying round, Stourbridge v St. Ives Town pic.twitter.com/7e00o7lvsj
— Peter Snopek (@petersnopek) September 17, 2017
Most other teams must look at the West Midlands outfit and wonder how they do it. Is there something they do that other clubs are missing out on? Apparently not.
“There’s nothing special that we’re doing, I can assure you of that! We’ve had a little bit of fortune along the way that you need in football. You’ve got to get the right draws and on the day you’ve got to be up for it which we always have been.
“Playing against better sides brings the best out of Stourbridge. For me, I’d rather be playing at home against Alfreton than away against a lower ranked side.
“It would be a disappointment if we didn’t get to the first round but we’ll stay grounded. We don’t get carried away when we win or lose.”
– Jon Ford
Rather than splashing the cash and looking to climb the leagues quickly – if unsustainably – Stourbridge are doing things their way by slowly developing.
Only time will tell if they can emulate their success of recent years and get to the FA Cup first round.
For anybody claiming the FA Cup – the oldest cup competition in the world – has lost its sparkle, here’s some advice: Take a trip down to Stourbridge!