I am often asked why I prefer to watch grass roots sport as opposed to the high profile, heavily hyped professional versions with supposedly more skilful, talented and famous players. There are two main reasons. Firstly, it is a lot cheaper – generally the cost of a pint for admission and in many cases completely free. Secondly, the majority players are all local and genuinely want to play for their clubs. They don’t get paid a great deal and in most cases actually pay for the right to play, therefore the true passion is there. In football there is practically no play-acting, diving or surrounding the referee – except maybe from the odd youngster attempting to emulate their premiership heroes in the early stage of their careers – and in most cases the coaches soon put a stop to that. Rugby at this level is simply a throwback to the good old days when the amateur game was all there was – when the only payments made were the occasional crisp notes slipped into a boot. There are no ex-international players nearing retirement or overpaid rejects from other clubs on view – and it doesn’t cost £100 to take the family along.
Last season I volunteered my services to two local radio stations, spending most of my weekends commentating on games at lower league football and rugby grounds in Gloucestershire. The aim was to promote grass roots sport in the area and make people realise just what they were missing that was right on their doorsteps. The reaction of fans and players was fantastic – instead of just a few meagre column inches a week in the local paper they were able to listen to a radio show completely dedicated to their team. Unfortunately, this season I am unable to commit my time to regular commentaries, however that doesn’t mean that I won’t be continuing to attend as many games as possible and offer my support.
Yesterday I paid a visit once again to the closest football club to my home; Tuffley Rovers in Gloucester. After many years of suffering in the doldrums they won promotion back into the Hellenic Premier last season after a 10 year absence. As a result, they were eligible to enter the FA Cup. Two weeks ago they went to Ardley United and came away with an excellent 4-1 victory. The reward? A prime home tie with local rivals Bishop Cleeve – an established side one step above Tuffley in the Football League structure.
The game epitomised all that grass roots sport is about. Two teams intent on throwing everything into the game. Plenty of aggression, loads of controversy, mistimed tackles, well timed tackles, end to end action and the occasional glimpse of awesome quality from both sets of players. The atmosphere was electric. Watching Tuffley’s manager Warren Evans on the touchline was worth the admission fee on its own. His humour, banter and passion for the game summed up what sport at this level is all about. Tuffley eventually won the game with a solitary goal from their captain Ashley Davies and in good old FA Cup tradition adopted the mantle of giant-killers. Officially the crowd was 149 – although as word got around, there were a lot more locals surrounding the pitch during the last 15 minutes screaming at the players or playfully abusing the officials. Given a choice of watching a game like this or a bunch of ‘fly by night’ overpaid prima donnas there is only one option for me every time.