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Home   /   Do Fans Make A Difference at Non-League Level?

Callum O’Connell looks at the ultra impact of fans during Eastbourne Town’s 6-0 victory over Midhurst and Easebourne in the Sussex Senior Cup.

Eastbourne Town are a club not known to many. They ply their trade in the ninth tier of English football, five leagues below the lowest professional division, and aren’t even the highest ranked club in their town, with Eastbourne Borough residing in the Vanarama South League. Eastbourne Town, however, do have a distinguishing feature. Their fans. The Eastbourne Town ‘Ultras’ group, known as ‘Pier Pressure’ have garnered interest from people across England, even featuring in a mini-documentary made by Copa90 on YouTube. However, it begs the question, do fans make a big difference at non-league level?

On Tuesday night, Eastbourne Town faced Midhurst & Easebourne at home in the Sussex Senior Cup. Town went in to the game as favourites given that they reside in the next division up from the visitors, and established themselves as such, putting six past their opponent in a dominant display, and it could easily have been seven or eight if they took their chances, having hit the post as well as the bar twice. One noticeable absentee in the Eastbourne Town stands were the ‘Pier Pressure’ group. On a cold, wet and windy Tuesday night at The Saffrons, there were no flares, no drum, and no constant singing and chanting from the stands while the team performed on the pitch.

With the team coming to such a convincing win despite not having the usual loud effervescent backing from the home crowd, it has to be considered whether at this level, or at any level, the difference in quality on the pitch is the biggest contributor to the final result in any game – as the team in the higher division won convincingly. In only the 11th minute, Dan Rogers tapped the ball in to the net following a free kick which was swung in from the left hand side, after a scramble in the box, which allowed Eastbourne Town to take control of the game. Only three minutes later, Arron Hopkinson scored a beautiful chip over the goalkeeper, using the wind to his advantage to hold the ball up in the air and allow it to drop in to the corner when initially it looked to be going over.

Before half time, Aaron Capon made it three with a finish between the ‘keepers legs. Leke Ademola, who has reportedly had trials and an offer with League Two side Colchester United, came on at half time and scored in the 49th, only four minutes after his introduction. Ademola also hit the post, showed some beautiful pieces of skill and intelligence, and was unlucky to miss from only two yards out, in an impressive and eventful 45 minute cameo which gave an idea as to why professional clubs are sniffing around.

Jack Samways scored Town’s fourth, a lobbed finish from around 30 yards, as the Midhurst & Easebourne goalkeeper had a bit of a rush of blood. Having pulled off a lovely piece of skill, dinking the ball over the pressuring attacker and retaining posession, but then to attempt to dribble further and losing out, failing to get back to his position in time to stop the ball from floating in over his head. The final nail in the coffin was provided by Fletcher Holman in the 68th minute.

With such an impressive victory for Eastbourne, it was clear that the difference in quality showed on the pitch, as even though their opponents were top of their respective division, they never really threatened and never stood a chance as they were simple outclassed. So if Pier Pressure had been in attendance, would it have been seven? Eight? Nine? One could argue not. Fans are influential and effective at all levels of the game, they can inspire through tough times, and they can give the extra bit of belief which may lead to a winning goal or equaliser late in the game, but when there is a clear imbalance of ability on the pitch, or a day when one team turns up while the other doesn’t, the fans can rarely do anything to change that.

Eastbourne Town currently sit ninth in the Southern Combination Football League Premier Division, further proof that the quality or intensity of fan’s support is not everything in the game. Town have had some close games this season, such as a thrilling 3-3 draw with league leaders Littlehampton Town, a 2-2 draw with Uckfield Town, and 1-1 draws with Saltdean United, Broadbridge Heath, and Mile Oak, which have been hard fought, but not quite inspired that extra yard, with a third of all of their league games this season ending in draws.

Eastbourne Town’s home form, compared to their results away from home, is further suggestion towards the lack of impact from the stands. Nine points picked up at home, with three draws and two wins, compared to 14 points away from home, with four wins and only two draws. The points difference in their away results as a contrast to their home results may provide insight in to the influence fans can have on a game, with real possibility of an adverse affect, as the players may feel the pressure of the fans on their backs, rather than the support pulling them forwards.

Once again, it is entirely possible that even with regard to the home and away form, the fans have minimal influence either way, and any conclusions that could be drawn from this are inconclusive. Fans are a massive part of the game, and it would be amazing to see more fan groups like Pier Pressure pop up all over the country, as the support and passion of fans in a huge part of the game – although not necessarily an influence on the results themselves.

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