Love Not Money – Experiences of volunteering at non-League football clubs through personal narrative and photography
On 16 October 2004 I attended a match between Rustington and Bosham in Division Three of the Sussex County Football League. Due to the low level of this fixture there was no official admission charge, but instead an elderly gentleman walked around the perimeter of the pitch offering a battered wooden collecting box towards the small number of spectators, with ‘Thanks from Rustington FC’ written on it. The gentleman’s name was Fred Randall, and he was the Club President. At that moment I began to wonder what motivated Fred, and others like him, to volunteer at thousands of other similar clubs up and down what is referred to as the ‘Non League Football Pyramid’ – the term ‘non-League’ referring to those clubs that do not comprise the 92 that constitute the Premier and Football Leagues.
I have been photographing and writing about non-League football and its culture for over a decade, and my initial contact upon turning up at a ground with a camera, invariably a couple of hours before kick-off, is often with whoever happens to be around at the time. I find myself chatting with someone who has a story to tell: about the history of the club, their own involvement, and how there are always odd jobs to do, especially during the close season.
These people are the lifeblood of non-League clubs everywhere, without whom many simply would not be able to function, and would cease to exist. They give their time willingly and voluntarily, and ask for little in return. They do what they do for the love of ‘their’ club, not for any monetary reward, often taking on multiple roles for many years. This study aimed to explore the experiences of a fairly random sample of club volunteers, through the medium of personal narrative and photography.
Between June 2010 and October 2012 I photographed and recorded a total of 94 interviews with club officials and volunteers, 74 of whom were featured in the resulting book, ‘Love Not Money’ (Bauckham, 2012). A small proportion of those interviewed were already known to me, or were individuals I was already aware of through various sources. These I contacted in advance and they agreed to participate. The vast majority however, were simply individuals I struck up a conversation with on visiting a club: if I felt they might be worthy of inclusion I explained the project and asked if they would mind me recording our conversation and posing for a photograph. The interviews were largely unstructured and of variable duration, I had no prompts written down, but did ask about how they first got involved with the club, and how their volunteering evolved. I also wanted to know what motivated them to persevere and what non-League football meant to them. The interviews were later transcribed and roughly ‘coded’ for any themes that emerged from them. I won’t pretend that my sampling or analysis was particularly rigorous, but I did nevertheless gather a large amount of useful qualitative data.
Those interviewed had begun volunteering via a variety of routes, and many had been involved for a significant period of time, often decades. One interviewee for example, had been involved for 65 years and the ground had been named after him:
“This club means everything to me; it’s been my life, and still is my life … We brought this new ground and they were thinking about a name. Someone came up with the idea of calling it ‘Bloomfields’ after me, and away it went. It’s quite a legacy” (Derrick Bloomfield, President, Needham Market FC)
Overwhelmingly, the majority of those interviewed stated that they loved Football. Several had previously played for the club, whilst others had familial connections: perhaps having been first taken to watch their local club by a parent and/or grandparent. A number were supporters who had originally been asked to ‘help out’, perhaps initially by selling raffle tickets or manning the turnstiles, and their role had developed from there. Some had first got involved through their children, playing for one of junior teams run by many clubs. In some instances there was evidence of a reaction to the commodification of Football, and the Premier League in particular. Non-League football – “real football” – was viewed as unpretentious by comparison, where supporters were more valued and not isolated from the players and club officials. An overwhelming sense of solidarity was also evident.
“If anything needs doing we all turn our hands to it. It’s like all clubs at this level; everybody does a bit of everything. People muck in and if you’re prepared to do a little bit, they warm to you. It’s a great atmosphere and you get the football thrown in for free” (Neil Speight, Secretary, East Thurrock United FC)
Other motivations were largely altruistic: wanting to make a difference for example, and “give something back”; whilst one volunteer described his “civic pride” when the club he volunteered for enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup. A couple of interviewees had been officially recognised for contributions within their local community: Mamun Chowdhury (Sporting Bengal United FC) and Lincoln Moses (Continental Star FC) both having received MBEs for their work with Asian and Black communities in East London and the West Midlands respectively. Continental Star for example, is a Social Enterprise and Registered Charity, using football as a vehicle to help those often marginalised and considered by others as hard to reach. As Moses himself stated: “At Continental Star, the ‘FC’ stands for Family Club”.
The number of roles was varied, with some taking on multiple tasks (Table 1). One volunteer described himself as a “General Dogsbody”. Whilst such a comment may have been tongue-in-cheek to some extent, it might also be interpreted as a sense of being under-valued and taken for granted.
There was evidence of volunteers ‘donating’ existing skills, ranging from administrative to groundkeeping and construction, to assist in the day-to-day running of the club. In some cases, new skills had been acquired through volunteering, arguably none more so than in the case of twins Brian and Roger Phillips of Corinthian-Casuals FC, who despite working for the Inland Revenue, and having no building experience, virtually built the Club’s ground single-handedly. Their story also highlights how individuals can be left to carry on once others lose interest:
“We were asked to come and give a hand one weekend, putting up a post and rail around the pitch. Then other jobs developed and we were roped in to help out with those. Everybody was very enthusiastic at the start but after a year or two it fell away and we were left to get on with it”.
The Phillips twins still volunteer seven days a week and take on multiple tasks on matchdays: “We do it because it makes a difference, but at the end of the day we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it”.
Despite the general consensus that those who continued to volunteer did so because they enjoyed it, this was not universal, and for some that original motivation had diminished. Some described themselves as “being lumbered”; whilst another described his role as a “life sentence”. Certainly there was a feeling, albeit amongst a minority, that they felt unable to step down from their role because there was no-one to take their place. In some cases this resulted in a ‘disagreeable obligation’, leading to stress, and in one notable case, ill-health.
Motivations for volunteering
Rochester et al. (2012) cite Halman & Moor (1994) who identified four key values that underpin volunteering, namely Altruism or Beneficence; Solidarity; Reciprocity; and Equality and Social Justice (Table 2). It was the Solidarity value that appeared most prevalent amongst those interviewed: a feeling of identification with a group or society; and a responsibility to contribute to the well-being of the group and its other members.
Volunteering as leisure
It seems logical to consider volunteering as a leisure time activity, and there is a general assumption that leisure activities carry positive benefits in terms of health, quality of life, and well-being (Caldwell, 2005).
“Leisure is uncoerced, contextually framed activity engaged in during free time, which people want to do and, using their abilities and resources, actually do in either a satisfying or a fulfilling way (or both)” (Stebbins, 2013)
The above definition of ‘Leisure’ by Robert Stebbins, is merely one of many. He refers to leisure being uncoerced, and with free time being given voluntarily. However, it is also important to consider ‘obligation’ – after all in order to volunteer one is obliged to give up a portion of free time, and it is assumed that such an obligation is therefore an agreeable one. Nevertheless, it is worth considering the following questions, and aspects of volunteering that might have negative consequences:
- Is all leisure (and volunteering) uncoerced?
- Are there circumstances when it may be considered ‘work’?
- When does an agreeable obligation become a disagreeable one?
- When does ‘leisure’ become ‘semi-leisure’ … and even ‘anti-leisure’?
Stebbins (2000) notes that key volunteer roles often consist of major responsibilities, which often consume considerable time. Those who fill them sometimes become weary of such demands, but whilst they might like to abandon the role for a less hectic and demanding activity, they realise that in some instances there is no-one to replace them. As a consequence they become: “stuck, possibly burnt out, forced by obligation to remain indefinitely in what has by this time turned into anti-leisure”. This certainly appeared to be the case in a couple of examples from this study, highlighting that as well as the often cited positive rewards associated with volunteering, there are also costs, particularly with organizations reliant on a relatively small number of individuals.
The Serious Leisure Perspective
The Serious Leisure Perspective (Stebbins, 2007a) actually incorporates three forms of leisure activity: Serious, Casual, and Project-based (Table 3). Volunteering can take any of these three forms, and often volunteering activity ‘zig-zags’ between the three.
Whereas Project-based leisure tends to related to short-term, time-constrained volunteering and therefore not particularly relevant to those participating in this study; examples of both Casual, and particularly Serious leisure were evident. Most of those interviewed had begun volunteering in a casual manner, but in a number of cases this had progressed to the serious form, and they had found what Stebbins describes as a ‘leisure career’ through their volunteering activity.
Many certainly met the ‘Six Distinguishing Qualities’ of Serious leisure defined by Stebbins (Table 4). Moreover, just as any career ultimately comes to end, a minority were clearly approaching the end of theirs, as they felt the need to step back, “wind down”, reverting to a more casual approach or ‘retiring’ altogether, even if they found it difficult to do so. Such movement, back and forth along a casual-serious leisure continuum, is described by Patterson (2001).
Stebbins (2007b) has also defined a leisure-based theoretic typology of volunteers and volunteering incorporating all three forms of the Serious Leisure Perspective. It centres on both formal and informal volunteering – usually non-organisational volunteer activity. He suggests that volunteer activities are motivated, in part, by one of six types of interest in activities, but that are also ‘mixed types’: where volunteer activities bridge two or more of these types. A significant number of non-League football volunteers appeared to meet the mixed type descriptor: in particular a combination of the ‘People/Popular’ (e.g. volunteering with people, fund-raising) and ‘Things/Material’ (e.g. donation of trade and skills; building things) type volunteers described by Stebbins.
The personal narratives from this study on non-League football volunteers certainly appear to conform to several theoretical perspectives of volunteering, particularly those as a leisure activity. There are clearly many positive attributes and ‘rewards’ that come through volunteering, and associated benefits to health and well-being beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, it is equally important to recognise that there can be ‘costs’ and negative consequences, particularly where individuals feel unappreciated and unsupported; and where what was once an agreeable obligation, has become a disagreeable one.
Senior Lecturer, School of Health Sciences
The book ‘Love Not Money’ (2012) is available from Centre Circle Publishing: www.centrecirclepub.co.uk
Bauckham DH, 2012. Love Not Money. Eastbourne: Centre Circle Publishing.
Caldwell LL. 2005. Leisure and health: why is leisure therapeutic? British Journal of Guidance & Counselling. 33 (1) 7-26.
Patterson I. 2001. Serious Leisure as a Positive Contributor to Social Inclusion for People with Intellectual Disabilities. World Leisure Journal. 43 (3) 16-24.
Rochester C, A Ellis Paine, and S Howlett. 2012. Volunteering and Society in the 21st Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Stebbins RA. 2000. Obligation as an Aspect of Leisure Experience. Journal of Leisure Research. 32 (1) 152-155.
Stebbins RA. 2007a. Serious Leisure: A Perspective for Our Time. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
Stebbins RA. 2007b. Leisure Reflections, No. 16: A leisure-based, theoretic typology of volunteers and volunteering. Leisure Studies Association Newsletter 78.
Stebbins RA. 2013. Unpaid work of love: defining the work-leisure axis of volunteering. Leisure Studies. 32 (3) 339-345.