Forget Real v Barca. New Year's Day saw arguably the greatest derby fixture in the global football calendar: Taunton Town v Tiverton Town. El Clasico Westcountry, as this fixture has never been described, used to be the biggest non-league fixture in the southwest of England. In the 1990s, when both clubs were ever-present at the top of the Western League, this match could attract thousands (1,647 attended the last derby match in the Western League in Feb 1999). While this may not sound impressive on its own, getting over 1,000 people to part with their hard-earned cash to watch a bunch of postmen and PE teachers in the eighth tier of the English football pyramid was some achievement.
So the football may not have been of the highest quality but there was something addictive in that atmosphere. These two teams dominated the league, with the title held by one or the other between 1993 and 1999. Banter with the local neighbours from just up the M5 helped make this fixture a highly anticipated highlight of the season.
Sadly, El Clasico Westcountry is not what it once was. The large crowds, the chanting and excitement have since disappeared, with a rump of supporters reminiscing about happier days and trips to Wembley for the FA Vase final. 390 turned up for 2013's El Clasico Westcountry. While the small number of away fans made a sterling effort with a few "come on you yellows", this was the exception rather than the rule. No build-up, no anticipation. The quality of the fare on the pitch didn't do much to lift the spirits, especially as a Tiverton supporter. Despite attempts to play short passes, both teams often seemed content to hoof the ball.
|You could feel the anticipation...|
The game ended 0-0 but seemed superfluous to the real issue on display; the malaise and waning of non-league football. In these difficult economic times, paying £7 to watch amateur football seems far too expensive but with wider falling attendances in the non-league, clubs find themselves in the unenviable position of needing to increase ticket prices. This becomes a vicious circle, the increase in prices puts fans off, which in turn can lead to higher prices. I once paid 5 Euros to watch Real Madrid so why should fans be expected to fork out more to watch amateur footy? Has non-league football become so financially unviable that the communities that have grown up around these clubs will soon disappear. Why spend money on standing out in the cold on a winter's day when you can watch the world's best in the warmth of your own home on your widescreen TV with surround sound?
I would argue that these communities surrounding non-league clubs are where the 'beautiful game' truly exists but with such shrinking attendances, I feel as if I'm in the minority.
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