Bringing a community together. It’s a role played by football which is often forgotten in these days of media hype, huge transfer fees, big salaries and massive sponsorship deals.
But at hundreds of clubs up and down the country, that vital sense of togetherness fostered by the beautiful game has not been forgotten.
“I decided there really was no better club to visit before watching my team, Leyton Orient, play at Mansfield Town”
I recently found it alive and kicking on a visit to Kirklington Road, home of Northern Counties East Premier Division side Rainworth Miners Welfare FC in Nottinghamshire.
Rainworth is a former coal-mining village between Newark and Mansfield. The pit closed in 1993, but the Miners Welfare remained open and, to this day, is at the heart of this community of around 8,000 people.
Founded in 1922, its football team currently find themselves mid-table in 11th with a recent drop of form seeing them suffer three losses in their past five matches.
It’s a disappointing showing for a club with four Notts Senior Cup titles to their name, plus an FA Vase runners-up spot in 1982.
Shock to the system
However, I decided there really was no better club to visit before watching my team, Leyton Orient, play at Mansfield Town later that afternoon.
Being a lower-league fan myself, I thought I knew all about small crowds and financial struggles, but the realities of life at Rainsworth were really was a shock to the system.
“We don’t get paid, we do it because we love Rainworth”
Their stadium capacity is 2,200, but the average attendance so far this season has been 273.
I received a warm welcome from club president Derek Bentley, who told me: “We don’t pay our players, we pay for their match-day meals and travel to away games
“With Mansfield Town around the corner and teams like Notts County and Forest not far away, we struggle to bring in he big crowds, but we manage.”
To at least try to combat the draw of those bigger clubs just up the road, Rainworth keep admission prices low – as cheap as £1 for juniors.
It also saves money by organising its own snacks and refreshments for fans, as opposed to getting in an outside catering firm to provide the service (and taking a cut of the profits).
“The owners and hospitality volunteers even asked for a ‘selfie’ with me as they don’t get many fans visiting from down south…”
Hospitality host Eileen Wright told me: “I like to bake, so I’ll bake cakes on match-day mornings, and we make a trip to the supermarket and buy the alcohol and the rest of the snacks ourselves.
“We don’t get paid, we do it because we love Rainworth.”
When I explained to Derek how much it costs to support Leyton Orient in League Two, he gave me look best described as perplexed.
“I’m in complete shock, £27 for admission to watch your local football team is astonishing, it’s not right,” he said.
I’ve been to many football grounds down the years where I’ve felt like I have been robbed by the prices charged – at Wembley Stadium, for example, you will pay £5-7 for an alcoholic beverage.
Unfortunately, the rain played its part on the day, and Rainworth’s game against Albion Sports was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch.
But the staff couldn’t have been more welcoming, offering me a tour of the stadium, and it was hard not to feel immediately at home at this small but cherished club.
My visit restored my faith in football and demonstrated it isn’t all completely about the money.
I felt so connected with Rainworth that I insisted on buying an official top – for an absolute bargain £10.
The owners and hospitality volunteers even asked for a ‘selfie’ (right) with me as they don’t get many fans visiting from down south. It was my pleasure…
You can follow Rainworth on Twitter @RainworthMWFC