As Lincoln City booked their place in the Quarter-Finals of the Emirates FA Cup, the first time in 103 years that a non-league club has reached the last eight, and also Sutton United reaching the fifth round, is the gap really closing between professional and non-league teams?
As a neutral, I am delighted that a non-league club has made it to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. I don’t think you’ll see that in any other country. Does this suggest that National League teams are vastly improving? Or is this just a ‘one-off’? Most people would assume that the latter is not the case. However, the contrast in finances between Premier League clubs and semi-professional alliances really are quite astonishing. Comparing Arsenal to Sutton United, manager Arsene Wenger takes home a yearly salary of £8.3 million, whereas Paul Doswell (manager of Sutton United) earns no money from the club.
To get more insight into the day-to-day running of a non-league football club, I spoke to my local team’s Vice-Chairman of Bognor Regis Town Football Club (and a member of the FA Council), Jack Pearce. He started off by saying that running a non-league club is totally different than running a professional team, because you have to rely on volunteers giving up a lot of their time in order for the players to be paid. If there is no commitment from the volunteers, then the club can’t run properly. He also mentioned that the FA places 95% of its input into non-league football, which will surprise a few.
Sutton United are reported to earn over £1 million from the FA Cup this season, which shows the importance for lower league teams to get a cup run going because it can save them from going extinct. And now Lincoln City’s prize for reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after beating Burnley, is a trip to the Emirates Stadium, to face the conquerors of Sutton United, Arsenal.
An honourable mention goes to League One side, Milwall Football Club as they overcame three Premier League clubs (Bournemouth, Watford, and Leicester City) already, and have booked themselves a quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur, for a place at Wembley Stadium in April. Sutton United, Lincoln City, and Milwall, really have put the FA Cup back on the map.
I am a big fan of non-league football and watch the odd game or two on the television, and I strongly believe that it is the beating heart of the game. This is where clubs treat you like fans, and not customers. You have a great relationship with the players, the coaches and the backroom staff, and they will treat you with respect, because that’s how a club should run. It’s that overwhelming passion for the club which is second-to-none, and it definitely comes across. This will be unquestionably, the biggest game for Lincoln City in their history, and they will have nothing to lose.
Will it be another giant-killing for the Imps? Or will it be plain sailing for the Gunners? This really is ‘the Magic of the FA Cup’.