With non-league football seeing more players coming through and going on to play in the football league and getting more coverage thanks to competitions like the FA Cup, one question people many people ask us, ‘Is the non-league professional or not?’.
The answer is in the main, ‘no’ as most of the clubs are usually semi-professional meaning the players have other jobs and then do their football on the side in the evenings and means only a little bit more money coming in.
This means a player could be a truck driver by day and then playing for a non-league club in the evening. Training once a week with a game, or no training and two games during the busy periods especially if there are long cup runs.
However, this is not case for all clubs as there are exceptions to the rule and there are some players who are paid just to play for the club as their only job. They are effective full time professional footballers playing at a non-league, semi professional level.
This is usually with clubs that have a lot of money pumped into them where an owner wants to try and buy a ticket to the football league. A great example of this is Billericay Town who feature in the 7th league of English football. They employ the likes of ex England internationals Jamie O’Hara, Paul Konchesky and Jermaine Pennant in their ranks and rumour has it with salaries that range from £3,000 to £10,000 per week!
These players and some other members of their squad who are also on a big weekly wage have this as their only job meaning they adopt an approach more familiar with Football League and Premier League clubs with four or five training sessions a week. The club is very firmly playing in the non-league though with the huge advantage of a full time professional approach.
The alternative to the wealthy benefactor is when a club such as our partner club Maidstone United who play in the Vanarama National League which is the 5th division of UK football looks up the table and towards promotion to the football league proper.
Today a club that gets promoted to the football league will receive a £1,000,000 hard cash bonus to help them get their facilities compliant and their team ready for league football. The prize for success now is large and the clubs approach to their business model has changed. Maidstone United are in reality a full time professional club, their players all play football full time and are paid to only play football full time. They have an astute team managing the club and in recent time have expanded their stadium facilities to accommodate a 4,000 crowd which they manage to sell out regularly at home games.
The wages they pay aren’t astronomical and without having specific inside knowledge I would be amazed if the club paid any player more than £1,500 and any first team player less than £500 a week. They also have a full time academy with 80 plus boys training and studying four days a week to feed the squad with talent each year reducing the need to go and sign high profile names like the Billericay model.
The team plays one or two games a week and trains three or four times a week depending on the game schedule and factors such as away travel needs. These boys are professional athletes and many other teams at this level take the same approach to their day to day operations, as many as 80% of them I estimate.
It’s no wonder that in recent years as the teams in it have become more professional there have been calls for the National League to become part of the football league proper.
Unfortunately not all clubs are as well run as Maidstone and most non-league players earn on average £200-300 pounds a week meaning that they have to have a second job to live on.
An article a couple of years ago from the Daily Mail showed that National League Premier side Torquay United’s squad average wage was £375. For perspective if you compare this to one of the Premier League top earners in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is on a reputed £367,000 a week it would take one Torquay player nearly 19 years to earn one week of Zlatans wage from football. The gap is just gigantic.
One player who has bridged the gap alongside players such as Jamie Vardy and Dwight Gayle is Maidstone United’s own local lad done good: Chris Smalling. Just ten years ago he was playing full time for Maidstone United and dreaming of the big time now he is a first team regular for England and Manchester United.
So ultimately the answer to the questions of ‘is the non-league professional’ is probably now a case of ‘it depends’… if it is the National League then most certainly yes it is professional and if you have a certain Essex benefactor in charge of your club then that too is a resounding yes!
Stars Football offers short and long term football and education programs in the UK in association with it’s club partner Maidstone United FC. Please contact us for more information using the contact us button on our pages.