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The Weird and Wonderful World of Non-League Football

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The Weird and Wonderful World of Non-League Football

Despite a gallant effort in the playoff game against Grimsby, Wrexham AFC failed to gain promotion back to the comparatively glamorous surroundings of the Football League.

Dynamic Duo

Key to the Town’s efforts is the management team led by the dynamic duo of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. They are instrumental in promoting and stimulating the enthusiasm of supporters of all ages. Every band of supporters has its characters, and Wrexham AFC is no exception.

In an illuminating, intriguing and insightful book. One of their best-known supporters lays bare his background, challenges, love of “Pilsner”, and the ups and downs of supporting our beloved local club.

Karl Phillips, AKA “Bootlegger”, was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His honest insight into his lifestyle, personality, antics, and influences on development highlight tough beginnings. Even following his birth in 1974 and early life in Coedpoeth.

Bootlegger

“Shirking Shenanigans”

Karl’s comments touch on the impact of his father leaving and the challenges his young mother subsequently faced. His attention-seeking behaviour at home and his “leader-of-the-lads” attitude at St Joseph’s school indicate his inability to come to terms with a “distant father”. Even despite the support of his grandparents.

His disruptive and rebellious teenage lifestyle led him to leave home at 14. He then went to live with his dad’s brother and partner, giving him the stability he previously lacked.

He had a range of jobs which he took to with enthusiasm and determination, although there were still the occasional “shirking shenanigans”.

It took a night in jail and an appearance in court for him to take a long hard look at life which would benefit himself and “Flamethrower” Claire, his “long-suffering” partner.

Bootlegger Pilsner

It was in about 2009 that Karl started on Facebook. He then went branching out onto YouTube, brought his working-class hero lifestyle to a broad group of followers.

His popularity in attracting an online audience on YouTube has resulted in the resurgent Wrexham Lager brewery introducing a line of “Bootlegger 1974 Pilsner” as a testimony to his humour, exploits and enjoyment of the local “Cwrw Cymraeg”.

Readers will undoubtedly find Karl’s frank accounts of his activities as one of the lads and also a staunch Wrexham AFC supporter entertaining. His exploits of sessions on the “Pilsner” and “tasty weekends” may not appeal to everyone. However, the cheerful exploits of the lads are evident in the colourful photographs. These images bring to life his personality as one of the “lads”. More importantly, they also show how much Claire and his son Iwan have contributed to him becoming a much calmer person.

Da iawn, Karl.”Yma O Hyd”.

Bootlegger and Pilsner

The “Poundland” World

Wrexham’s failure to achieve promotion drew my attention to a new book by Marvin Close. Called I Hope You Die of Cancer; Life in Non-League Football.

In a thought-provoking and no holds barred account, Marvin opens the window on life for players, managers and supporters in the “Poundland” world of non-league football.

Although ardent supporters of vibrant teams such as Wrexham may consider this an irreverent judgement. The author bases his analysis on over 100 hours of interviews with footballer X. A professional with many years of experience in the top tiers of non-league football.

Readers may find the anecdotal stories about referees, gamesmanship, betting, bribes, and managers interesting. However, they may share my concern that his viewpoints, although accurate from a personal perspective, may not be shared by other players or readers. For example, when talking about managers, he gloats about the training and man-management skills of Gary Mills (who was at Wrexham for a year and a half).

The Weird and Wonderful World of Non-League Football

Fame and Wealth

I was unsure whether his judgement depended on the manager’s technical ability or that after training on a Monday, he’d say, “See you Thursday, lads’ and give us two days off”.

The author does address many key issues which affect players attempting to follow their dream of playing professional football. At this time of year, professional clubs at all levels announce their “retained and released” players.

Footballer X vividly recalls transitioning from a schoolboy with potential to training at a professional club academy. I am sure many readers will have experienced transporting and supporting their children in the search for a career in football and possible fame and wealth.

At 17, Footballer X found himself discarded by his club after nine years of training. In common with the situation faced by players and trainees of all ages and abilities, he was politely told, “we rate you as a player, but sorry, we can’t offer you anything”.

A Fresh Resolve

His vivid memories of being mentally crushed, anxious and alone as he fought to find a fresh resolve and pursue his dream career is a crucial issue for all trainees. Jefferson Louise epitomises the constant movement of players. He made his latest move in 2021, the 46th in a career which included a stay in Wrexham (2008-9; 42 appearances).

Life for many journeymen non-league footballers with short-term contracts, tight budgets, inconsistent management and the stress of travelling is precarious and lonely.

Close’s analysis of the attitudes displayed by many young players highlights issues which require addressing. He considers that too many have an arrogant know-it-all mindset. Which results in an inability and unwillingness to respond to coaching tips to correct mistakes.

He is particularly critical of U23 players sent out on loan by league clubs who lack the resilience, determination and tenacity to compete with experienced non-league players and get the shock of their lives as they receive “a good old rattling”.

Undoubtedly, as the author emphasises, playing football at a non-league level can be stressful and, for many, a “downward cycle”. Close considers a need to review the financing of non-league football by the generation of finance from teams “higher up the pyramid”.

Perpetual Nomads

Unfortunately, the author hasn’t referred the reader to the outstanding efforts of the new owners at Wrexham in generating income, creating community and media links in Welsh and English, and also connecting with the next generation of fans.

As a result, the squad at Wrexham are not “perpetual nomads”. There is a good management structure and a resolve across the club to get back into the football league. They were so close last season!

The book is a very insightful, thought-provoking and challenging analysis of non-league football life and the hazardous nature of chasing the dream of being a professional player.

It will make excellent motivational and down-to-earth reading for all involved in football outside the top four leagues.

The Weird and Wonderful World of Non-League Football
Marvin Close

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