What are Saturday afternoons all about? Celebrating our love for the sport, in whatever form it takes.

Our feature with Tom Head explores the divided attention of a football fan supporting clubs at opposite ends of the pyramid, and how the time spent following one of these sides may become one-sided in the near future.

“You go to somewhere like Greenwich avenue, you’ve got no referee scandals, no VAR, PSR, or any of the other no good acronyms no one understands to deal with.” Tom Head, 32, explains the incentives driving many fans of England’s top leagues to their local non-league sides, an escape from high prices, technology interference and matters getting in the way that have no relevance to what is played out on the pitch.

Tom’s story reflects a growing trend. Fans, priced out of the ever-escalating costs of the Premier League, are seeking more value for their money in the uncompromised world of non-league football.. But for Tom, it wasn’t just economics that drew him to Basford. “After a few years in South Africa,” he explains, “I wanted to reconnect with the local scene.” The stars aligned when he discovered Basford’s connection to Nottingham Forest, with a manager (Steve Chettle) and players (Matt Thornhill) who shared a past with the Reds. Despite residing in Beeston, a ride along the tram line allows him to see the amber army when he can.

More importantly, Tom found a way to reconnect with his late grandfather, who had instilled in him a lifelong love for the game. “He took me to Forest when I was a kid,” Where Tom has been a season ticket holder for 25 years. “Though he’s gone, through football, I carry on that memory, because he was a Basford lad, he was born there, worked there.” Balancing his support, however, requires dedication. “I try to catch 10-15 Basford games a season,” he explains. “Forest’s matches can clash on a Saturday, which makes it tricky. When football is in your blood, you want to scratch that itch for live football after a week or two without.”

Of course, there’s the financial aspect. “It’s a balancing act with Forest,” Tom admits. “My tenner at the City Ground barely buys two pints. If I spend a tenner at Basford, it goes a long way. Imagine 200 fans doing that – it makes a bigger difference than at a Premier League match.”Tom echoes a growing sentiment – the squeeze on fan wallets since COVID and the cost of living crisis. “We’re all feeling the pinch,” he says. “I think a lot of people are questioning whether it’s viable to spend £20-30 on a match where you’re a number in the crowd? Sky Sports might offer better value at this point.”

The pandemic, Tom believes, has been a turning point. “We were physically locked out, so people were looking for the next best thing,” he explains. “Stadium closures led to a surge in local support. Hucknall’s chairman on the radio was saying he’s seen increased crowds post-lockdown. People priced out of the Premier League are looking for alternatives, and clubs like Ilkeston, with their free entry initiatives, are tapping into that new style of fan, who will be looking for a local side to put their weight behind..”

The experience and fulfilment from Non-league can also be seen: “It wouldn’t be fair to say the stakes are lower, they’re not, but it’s different when it’s you and 300 fans vs 30,000.  You accept a player having a bad day because they’re not earning a fortune.” However, the emotions remain raw without the feeling of expectancy. “The highs are just as high,” he adds, “and the lows hit just as hard.”

The intimacy of non-league also brings a unique awareness. “If I call a player a w****r,,” Tom laughs, “they’ll hear you loud and clear. It makes you more mindful.” But that’s part of the charm. “They can take it, and give it back – that’s the beauty of it.”

When I asked Tom about his favourite memory following Basford… “Lockdown was tough for me, I’m a sociable person,” he recalls. “Scarborough Athletic came down on a Tuesday night, just after lockdown, where nobody knew what we could do or where we could go  due to that sh***y tier system we had. But loads of us turned up, with a load of cans and about 8-10 of us and I watched Basford knock about like prime Brazil. Steve Chettle’s amber army gave me one of the most enjoyable matches I’ve seen, and we put five past them.. So it’s not just one of my favourite Basford games, but one of the most enjoyable football games ever.”

With Forest entertaining plans to move away from their synonymous home of the City Ground, many fans like Tom may struggle to part ways with £850 for a season ticket that is no longer by the banks of the River Trent. As another set of fans falling victim to the bottomless pit of Premier League money, there’s a question of how much fans can go on before becoming full-time fans of part-time football.

Tom has amassed 3,000 followers with his review of pubs all around the city of Nottingham. If anyone is thinking of going to Greenwich Avenue for a Basford game, Tom gave his expert opinion on where to grab a  drink before the game: “The Headstocks up the road or The Lion are probably the best spots within walking distance. To be honest  I always like to get in the clubhouse if I can, they’ve got great offers on  matchday, and if I can put some money behind the bar then I feel more inclined to then a big franchise pub in town, so I try to get the tram as early as possible to get there, time permitting.”