BROWNE ON THE BALL: In the modern non-league, semi-pro means professional

United fans meet with the Pilgrims following Saturday's defeat.
United fans meet with the Pilgrims following Saturday's defeat.

Duncan Browne examines ashift in attidude in the National League North and beyond....

There’s a quaint romanticism that many football fans seem to think lingers around those stadiums outside of the game’s top-four tiers, a sense of how things used to be before TV money apparently changed everything.

That may be the case at some clubs.

And yes, there’s undoubtedly more of a sense of belonging if you follow AFC Dog and Duck Steelworkers Invicta rather than a Premier League or Championship side, where staff and supporters can be as detached from one another as the prices are from reality.

But let’s not for one second kid ourselves that the semi-professional game is anything but very, very professional these days.

Players may be part time but, in order to maintain standards, have to live their lives like professional athletes. Sports therapists are highly-qualified experts and not just the manager’s fat mate from the pub with a magic sponge. Running costs, ground management and security doesn’t come cheap at the grounds... oh yes, the grounds.

On Saturday Boston United made their first journey to AFC Fylde’s new Mill Farm stadium, a beautiful 6,000-capacity ground, complete with 80-seat restaurant with roof terrace.

Fylde are the prime example of the modern day non-league club, a world where Stockport County can attract 3,000 fans and Salford City are bankrolled by a billionnaire and five former England internationals.

As recently as 2007, Fylde was known as Kirkham and Wesham and were celebrating winning the West Lancashire League.

These days the club shirt has the number 2022 on the sleeves - the pledge to fans of the target date for when they will be competing in the Football League.

The Fylde way may not be every non-league fan’s cup of tea, but their ambition is currently paying off.

The Coasters, now a full-time outfit, currently sit top of the National League North and are averaging attendances of more than 1,500 - a huge leap from the 479 who watched the Coasters take on fellow top-five side Boston United last season, where the Pilgrims faithful brought a very healthy support.

How sustainable this if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach will be in the future may well be anyone’s guess.

However, it seems at present that Fylde could be the next Fleetwood, rather than Louth Town (remember when they were making noise about reaching the Football League by 2017, just six years ago?).

Daring to dream is one thing, but building a sustainable stadium and sports village facility which can fund the high running costs of a football club is another.

Take the A16 south from Boston right now and you’ll see Boston United’s very own development slowly taking shape.

Leaving York Street - the place where Howard Wilkinson and Jim Smith learned their management trades, where Gazza turned out, where Cookie and Bazza called home, where Football League action unfolded, where Derby County played in front of 11,000 - will be tough to do.

But it seems that, to compete, to be up there again, United need to join others and move with the times.

Believe it or not, Saturday’s 9-2 thumping at Fylde owed more to the hosts’ brilliance than Boston’s poor performance - even if that was a particularly terrible performance (‘9-2 Fylde, what a way to make a living’, as one particularly brilliant-minded fan Tweeted).

On Saturday the two sides were light years apart in that shiny new stadium.

As Boston build, could that gap narrow?