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Jeff Stelling says non-league clubs ‘the lifeblood and soul of English football’

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 22 Mar 2024

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Non-League clubs remain the “lifeblood and soul of English football” as they stive to balance ambition with careful financial management, according to Hartlepool president Jeff Stelling.

Eastleigh host Hartlepool in the Vanarama National League on Saturday, one of 10 focus fixtures across Non-League Day which celebrates a decade working with Prostate Cancer UK.

As part of the 10-year milestone activities, the Premier League trophy will be on display at the Silverlake Stadium.

Emulating Manchester City in lifting such silverware may be something Eastleigh and Hartlepool supporters can only dream of.

Nevertheless Stelling – who hosted Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday show for more than 25 years before stepping down at the end of last season – feels that in no way diminishes their standing within the game.

“People forget that they are still the lifeblood and soul of English football – to fans of National League sides or National League North or South sides, their clubs matter just as much to them as Manchester City or Liverpool matter to their fans,” Stelling told the PA news agency.

“They are just as passionate and yet they have to survive on the crumbs from the table. It is a hell of a feast on that Premier League table and yet the lower league sides, and particularly the non-league sides, they get left anything that is pretty much dropped on the floor.

“It will be interesting to see what effect the (new independent football) regulator has. I think none of us are too sure quite how it is going to work and there are certainly grey areas there.

“I read clubs are going to be need to be licenced annually and if they can’t prove they are financially OK then they wont get that licence. Well, what happens to that football club then?

“New owners are not like apples from trees – it is really tough to find someone to back your football club.

“But on the positive side, if there is control over what (money) the Premier League give to the EFL and thereby the entire pyramid, then that has got to be a good thing.”

Stelling, who has been honorary president of Hartlepool since 2015, accepts facing up to the reality of life further down the pyramid can be a tough juggling act.

“You do have to live within your means, or as best you can,” he said.

“You have to balance it up with ambition because every supporter wants you to be ambitious and also no supporter wants you to put the club into financial difficulties. It is an incredibly difficult juggling act.

“You want to have ambition and not to just stagnate, but equally you don’t want to put your club at risk because, at the end of the day, the one thing you absolutely have to have is a football club to support at whatever level.”

During a series of marathon marches since 2016, Stelling has helped raise more than £1.7million for Prostate Cancer UK and increased awareness about a disease which affects one in eight men.

Stelling, 69, said: “If you catch prostate cancer early, it is one of the most treatable of all forms of cancer, so if you do get yourself checked you have got a better chance of discovering it early and then going on and living an absolutely normal and healthy life.

“Prostate Cancer UK are saying take their 30-second risk checker and if you have any concerns, make an appointment with your GP, who can help take it forward.”

:: Prostate cancer is a disease which affects one in eight men in the UK and is the most common cancer in men. Find out your risk of prostate cancer and find a fixture near you via https://nonleagueday.co.uk/

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