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Recession Proof Football: The Junior Leagues

3 goals, 1 red card, countless yellows, the manager sent to the clubhouse, a late fight back, endless banter on the terraces and hundreds of missed chances. Oh, and the keeper went up for 3 corners as well.

The £5 I paid at the turnstile will be the safest football bet I make all season – there’s guaranteed drama every week. This was Troon versus Cumnock – The Scottish Junior League.

Last week, genuine fears were announced that the UK could be heading into a triple-dip recession in 2013. At a time when escalating ticket prices are the burning issue throughout British football – highlighted recently by Manchester City fans’ refusal to pay £62 to watch their team play away at the Emirates – could more supporters turn their back on the likes of the Premier League and instead choose to watch their local junior sides?

Many ‘traditional’ football spectators have already abandoned the upper echelons of the British game, with ever-increasing ticket costs being one of a number of factors in their decision to look to the lower leagues for their fortnightly football fix. Fans often cite overpaid prima donna’s as the main source of their ire with modern football, players who care more about their pay-cheque than the badge they play for on their chest.

There is no such problem in the junior leagues where many players receive little more than £20 a week and – if they’re lucky – an allowance to cover their travel expenses. Junior players often spend their weekdays in full-time employment and half of their hard-earned weekend exposed to the wet, wintry and at times wild elements on a muddy, overgrown excuse of a football pitch. There is no doubting it – these boys certainly don’t play for the money, they play in order to fulfil their passion for the game.

Other fans offer up a lack of atmosphere at matches and inconvenient kick-off times as reasons for their disillusionment with the professional game. Their craving for real footballing ‘ambience’ can be satisfied at many junior league venues across the country, as often fans huddle together on the terracing to keep warm, within spitting distance of both the touch-line and the dugout where every “f” and “b” word hurled at the brave, if not daft referee, is more than audible as it echoes throughout the ground. There is never any risk of your local team’s kick-off being shifted for prime-time TV either and just as well – most games wouldn’t be allowed on before the watershed.

Cynics of the junior game may argue that you get what you pay for and that you’re never going to witness any samba-style moments of magic within 5 minutes of your front door. But what the junior leagues lack in quality can more than be made up for in entertainment: no-one ever stated that football should be more about ‘tiki-taka’ than comedy defending.

Over the recent festive period, I attended three separate Scottish Premier League matches, supporting my boyhood club. At the cost of over £20 per game and forced to sit in a stadium filled to just 25% of its 18,000 capacity to witness over-paid ‘professionals’ battle out turgid 1–1 stalemates, the option of walking down the road on a Saturday afternoon to watch my local junior side has become justifiably more appealing.