“Everyone loves an FA Cup upset: a smug Premier League team being knocked out by plucky underdogs.”
The quote above is taken from the back of the book and highlights an interesting point, in that for some football fans and indeed the wider public, Non-League teams only come to their attention when the FA Cup takes place each season. And it that respect it can lead to a clichéd view of clubs where Non-League means games played in front of one man and his dog on pitches barely better than those found in your local park.
In The Bottom Corner Nige Tassell spends the 2015/16 season revealing stories from the Non-League pyramid to show the realities of life below the Premier League and the Football League. Format wise it covers the season from August to May, with each chapter looking at a different theme, various clubs, players, managers, volunteers and fans alike.
However, there are two teams which are constant threads which run through the book which tell the story of their respective seasons. The first of these is Tranmere Rovers who in the 2015/16 campaign found themselves in the National Conference (the top league of the Non-League pyramid), after 94 years in the Football League. The other is Bishop Sutton, a side from the Western League based near Bristol, from what Tassell labels as the ‘bottom corner’ of the pyramid.
Both can be classified as Non-League, but at very different ends of the spectrum. Rovers with a set-up and ground that wouldn’t disgrace League One, anxious to regain its status amongst the elite 92, whilst Sutton struggle to get a squad together and avoid the heavy defeats that have defined its recent history since being denied promotion due to being unable to meet ground standards. It perfectly illustrates that the Non-League structure mirrors that of the professional ranks and that of the ‘haves and the have nots’.
Besides the story of the ups and downs of Tranmere and Bishop Sutton, Tassell brings the reader interesting tales from other teams, such as Salford City, where some of the ‘Class of 92’ from Manchester United bring the club into the national conscious through a BBC documentary and an epic FA Cup run. Also, there is Hereford FC, born out of the ashes of Hereford United, and their incredible campaign which ends with a Wembley appearance in the FA Vase Final, as well as clubs doing things differently – such as eco-friendly Forest Green Rovers and the supporter owned FC United of Manchester.
It is a book rich with characters, such as those who referee, others who act as scouts or the many administrators of the game; all for the most part volunteers, playing their part in keeping football going beneath the professional ranks.
The Bottom Corner perfectly demonstrates that there is so much more to Non-League Football than its ‘fifteen minutes’ of fame that occurs during the FA Cup each season. It is a game that is a million miles from the bloated money sodden and hyped world of the Premier League, but it doesn’t mean that it is without quality or passion, or that the wins and losses are any less painful or that the fans are any less passionate and the managers and club staff any less committed. The dreams and emotions in the Non-League pyramid are as real as you can get.