Uncovering the truth of what it’s like to work as medical staff behind the scenes at non league clubs across the country.

Ally Maloney, a specialist physiotherapist, currently working for SE Dons FC, a Sunday League team and Cray Wanderers FC of the Isthmian League Premier Division; is looking to bring together physios, massauses and injury specialists who are under supported at a non-league level.

Her journey started with a two year period shadowing a non-league football physio when she was 20 years old. From there she has progressed to being the full-time lead physiotherapist at two different football clubs.

Reflecting on how she started, she said: “I came into it to learn, to experience, to go onto work for your Arsenal’s and City and even England one day, and I’ll be honest, I fell in love.

“I thought if I’m happy, I’m enjoying it, I’m valued and I feel like I’m part of something that’s doing some real good in the community, then why would I leave. I love my job if I’m being honest, I think I found my calling in life very young and I’m very happy and very blessed.”

Working alongside Cray Wanderers manager, Neil Smith, Maloney is able to be in close communication with the team all of the time.

“Communication is a great thing to have in football. If i’m not messaging him everyday, then it’s every other day, so we have a really good relationship. I’m very lucky in that respect,” she said.

Maloney’s role is not only to make sure the players are fit on match day but also within training and the weeks building up to the games.

“The more we talk, the more open we are, the better things end up. If he listens to me, to pick a player out of training for one week, it reduces the risk of him breaking down or he can manage his fatigue levels, and he can play a bit better in the team, and that can only work well I think.” 

Cray Wanderers founded in 1860, being the oldest football club in London, are on a mixed run of form this year with 3 wins in their last 5 games, putting them currently 13th in the league. 

After 16 years working within the non-league football pyramid, Maloney believes the Wanderers are going in the right direction.

“I think that Cray has got an outstanding history behind it, the volunteers that work there are amazing, the fans, the lads, they are trying to do things the right way in football.

“I love football and I love being around football. In the non-league I think you feel a real sense of being part of something, you’re not just a cog, you’re not just a part, you’re  important to what is going on,” she added. 

Maloney is also in the process of creating a networking group for other physios in the non-league pyramid who are undersupported within their role at respected clubs. She has plans for a podcast whereby teaching and support methods will be given to those feeling underrepresented. 

Alongside her in the process of networking is Georgina Dean; a Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Clinic Supervisor and Tutor, currently working at Ramsgate Football Club. She frequently delivers guest lectures at the University of Kent, on physiotherapy and to support up and coming sports therapists. 

Ramsgate FC play in the Isthmian League South East Division and have had recent success in the FA Cup making it to the Second Round, which Dean said is a standout highlight in her football career so far

“When we won the first round against Woking we played at home and every single player had a tear in their eye. You’ve got players who have played at Man United and who have been at Gillingham recently, you’ve got players who are on TV for Soccer AM and all of a sudden they have all broken down in tears because of what they have achieved.

“The fans jumped over the barriers and were onto the pitch hugging one another. It wasn’t so much about how many goals we had scored, it was probably the experience after.”

Dean too has built a strong relationship with her manager Ben Smith, having previously worked with him at Herne Bay FC before being called up to for Ramsgate in June of 2023, after 9 months out. 

“I got a phone call from him in the summer saying that he had signed for Ramsgate and would I go with him, after I had already decided I was going to retire from non-league for a bit. 

“I find it very difficult with him sometimes, he is very aware of that as well, in that we regularly argue so that he feels I protect my players more than I actually should. I’ll give him the facts and he needs to work with that whichever way he can, if a player can’t play I’m not going to let them and we have had full blown arguments about it. 

“ Apart from this, I get on really really well with my management team and there’s no clash of personalities and I believe you can get that in the non league very very easily.  I think also being a female therapist as well you can put yourself in a position where you are not listened to or taken seriously, and I’m very thankful that my manager does.”

Like many other behind the scenes staff at non league clubs, Dean faces many challenges when it comes to the money she has to support her players.

“I spent months and months at my old club trying to get a stretcher and new immobilisation packs for if we’ve got any fractures, and it took for us to actually get a fracture for us to actually get some new equipment.

“A lot of clubs do not prioritise medical supplies as they probably should because they are paying players wages, and paying to have shiny new things around the ground.”

However her passion remains, looking to continue within the non league game for as long as she can, her work in higher education taking priority. 

“I’ve worked in elite sport and you don’t quite get the feeling you get in the non league; the players know the fans, the fans know you, the stewards on the gate know who you are and you stop and have a chat with them and you start to become a little family.

“The money isn’t great, you definitely don’t do it for the money in the non league. It’s nice to say that you are part of something. I’m not from Ramsgate but I went to school in the local area and I think being part of a local club is really quite special.”

Another colleague working to network with other medical staff in a similar position is Paul Winstanley; the current joint manager of Lancaster City Ladies Football Club and also working for the Lancaster Men’s medical team.  

“I’ve always been involved in sports and team sports and when I went back to university to retrain, it was something I was interested in and something I wanted to be a part of. I went back to university, started retraining as a sports therapist and I am now a physiotherapist on top of that.”

Like a lot of the non league club community, the passion and love for the game keeps them involved.  

“You go abroad and you see stadiums with flairs and banners and you say yeah that’s passionate, but it’s different in non-league. It’s the truest form of football you can get, it’s people who love football and support the love of football, and if people haven’t experienced it, I would love them to come along and experience it because a lot of the time they will come back and back again.”

Currently sitting 9th in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, the Lancaster City Football Club has ambition to climb multiple leagues within the next coming season’s and hope this can bring a greater following to their games, importantly when playing at Giant Axe; their home ground. Winstanley similarly wants his career to develop in the coming future. 

“I would love to work full time within football, unfortunately in a lot of places at non-league level this is not possible. I’d love to be bettering myself and improving myself at Lancaster where I’m involved at now. 

“We are step seven of the football pyramid, three leagues below league two, minimum three seasons to get up and get there. So I’d love to do it with Lancaster but I want to get myself as far in the game as possible, but at the same time to be involved in non-league football in some capacity.” 

The volunteers working for clubs across the country keep them operating year on year, with 640 teams across the country in the non-league level, community involvement is constantly growing. 

“Everyone chips in, everyone helps out and digs in, for a common cause, we want to play football, we want to do well, but we are all in it together as such.

“A lot of people hear the word soulless being said about top level football because of the money involved. I believe in non-league you still have that true heart and soul of football, the passion of the fans, the passion of the players, there’s such a sense of community.

“There’s something about it, something special about non-league football compared to when you go to a big club and you are one of thousands of people. You are just a number to them. At non-league level you feel as though you are something special.”