I played football at various amateur levels from primary school to the age of 38 when I snapped my cruciate when making one of the pointless, tactically irrelevant, off-the-ball runs I was prone to. My retirement was no loss to the game; I was hard-working but very average.

 

I saw my first match at the age of 4, at the oasis of cheeky repartee that was Millwall’s The Den. I first went to Highbury when I was six, when Arsenal were crap. I have been a fanatical supporter of the club ever since, through good times and bad, through bad behaviour and good.

 

For anyone who craves fairness in life and wants fairness in sport, modern elite football offers a confusing, love-hate relationship, one which sent me on a journey in search of the game I had fallen in love with as a boy. Like many of the men and women I met on the non-league terraces in the last two years, I found it in grassroots football.

 

The beautiful game. The fair game. At its most beautifully uncomplicated, that’s what football is. But elite football cannot be fair until there is a salary cap, a levy on the billions directed towards the lower leagues and youth football for girls and boys, until there are black managers, Asian players, female managers and refs at the top level, reduced ticket prices, kick-off times that are fair on fans and players, and club ownership denied to people who know nothing and care even less.

 

Football fans have always been fair game for vilification and stereotyping. This book is about the human beings to be found inside football. I hope it makes you smile and reminds us that in community minded non-league football clubs, the heart and soul of sport is alive and well, against all the odds and despite those running and owning the upper reaches of the game.

Tom Connolly

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