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Vandalism strikes vulnerable non-league clubs; net returned to Thame FC

calendario 18.02.2021
by: NonProFootball
  • Central
  • Division One
  • England
  • Southern
Vandalism strikes vulnerable non-league clubs; net returned to Thame FC

Thame United FC released a statement thanking fans and authorities after their goal net was returned to their groundsman following a spate of vandalism at the club. The latest incident speaks to a wider trend of trespassing, damage and littering inflicted upon locked down non-league football clubs. 

In an announcement on Valentines Day 2021, Thame United revealed that unknown individuals had trespassed on their ASM Stadium in Meadow Park, damaging the pitch and stealing the goal net. Pandemic restrictions forced United’s league, The Southern League Division One Central, to cease playing on January 8th with the rest on non-league steps 3 to 6. Following league uncertainty and over a year of intermittent lockdowns and COVID infection spikes, Thame, like many other non-league clubs, was already in a difficult situation.

Fortunately for Thame, their net returned to groundskeeper John Tuddenham a mere three days later, the day before their manager Mark West’s birthday. The club thanked fans for their vigilance, which aided and invigorated local authorities in their search for the net. This happy ending provides an exception to the rule of wanton destruction suffered by non-league clubs across the country at the hands of vandals throughout lockdown.

During lockdown in June 2020, vandals struck a devastating financial blow to the non-league side Staplehurst Monarchs. Intruders damaged the club’s fences and dugouts, which had cost the club around £24,000 to install. According to the Monarchs, “the fencing was put in place to allow the senior team to get promotion into the Southern Counties East Football League First Division.” For local non-league teams like Staplehurst, grounds and equipment are vital resources for consolidating their club and earning a path up the steep non-league hierarchy. 

Vandalism and property destruction strikes a particularly hard blow when communities and volunteers create the infrastructure to mobilise a small football team, only to wake up to rubble and ruins. Following the attack, the club created a fundraiser, attempting to crowd-fund the £3,000 required to repair the fences. A total of 80 fans and supporters raised £2,195, which goes some way towards restoring the ground to its former glory.

Similarly, fellow Kent side Peckham Town suffered severe vandalism throughout lockdown, in a variety of shocking forms. In June 2020, the club shared details of littering, fly-tipped rubble, intruders on fragile roofs, another instance of goal post damage, and even a car damaging their pitches with tire tracks. The club’s poignant statement revealed that the “100% volunteer run club” was “hurting so much with the massive increase in vandalism.” They stressed their painstaking volunteer work to provide outlets for young people and changed lives, and pleaded with vandals to “please stop.” 

The spate of lockdown vandalism amid pandemic-halted non-league clubs points to a cruel irony about the role of football in society. Football provides an outlet for troubled people to express themselves productively. When COVID restrictions halt football on non-league grounds, many people choose to take out their consequent boredom and frustration on the very clubs that would love to help them. 

When struck by similar vandalism in December 2020, Kettering Town joked on Twitter that if they couldn’t protect their club grounds with volunteers, fences, or even guard dogs, they should build “machine gun nests lol.” While this frustrated outburst may be amusing, the real way to relieve these issues is through proper funding and community support. If clubs have the funds to protect their grounds and safely reintroduce players and fans, they have a better chance of protecting themselves through lockdown and beyond.

Behind closed doors, COVID cuts non-league clubs from vital revenue streams, and cuts fans off from vital recreation. Thankfully, some government funding trickles through to non-league clubs, sowing the seeds for a more hopeful future. Kettering Town, like Thame United FC, are spending their time behind closed doors to invest in new infrastructure and equipment. In Thame’s New Year’s announcement, they revealed the ongoing progress to upgrade the ground’s 3G connection, add more astroturf pitches, and even plans to build a new stand.

The volunteer nature of many non-league clubs, along with their financial hardships and vital community role, make the waves of pandemic vandalism seem crueller than ever. Fans and locals must remain calm and vigilant, to prevent further attacks and hold those responsible to account. In the not too distant future, non-league football will return, in stadiums bigger and better than ever. That, hopefully, will finally curtail the vandalism.


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