Alternative football?

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IN THE TEETH of a recession, many fans simply can’t afford to watch their favourite professional clubs.

So is non-league - with its dirt cheap turnstile prices but inferior quality- a viable alternative to fans used to the beautiful game?

Part of the attraction is spotting a star of the future, I believe.

One example is Jamie Vardy, who two seasons ago was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels.

After working his way up the football pyramid (stints at FC Halifax Town then Fleetwood Town) the former Sheffield Wednesday youngster will be wearing the number 9 shirt of Championship Leicester after City coughed up £1m - the first million pound non-league striker.

Steels play in the Evo-Stik Northern League Premier, (they open their season on Friday) three steps down from the Football League, where they enjoy rivalry with Frickley Athletic, Worksop Town and Matlock Town. Manager Chris Willcock has revamped the squad as the Bracken Moor club aim to improve on last season’s flirtation with relegation- they avoided the drop on the final day.

Admission is £8 (£6 concessions) a season ticket costs just £80 (£60 concessions); a £10 reduction on last season.

At the opposite end of the city, the World’s First Football Club, Sheffield FC, is a place every football fan should pilgrimage to honour the club where it all began in 1857.

Club have ex-Sheffield United midfielder Curtis Woodhouse in charge as the side target promotion from the Evo-Stik South. Sheffield missed out in the play-offs last season after losing 7-0 to Ilkeston in the semis, a defeat that cost former manager Mark Shaw his job.

Club have close links with Sheffield United. Former manager Dave McCarthy, who guided Club out of the Northern Counties East in 2007, is now Managing Director at Bramall Lane. Matt Lowton, who has moved to Aston Villa, spent a season on-loan with at Dronfield though the defender won’t want reminding he missed a penalty in the 2008 play-off final defeat against Nantwich Town. Admission is £6 (£3 concessions) and the club even has the added bonus of its own pub.

Located in the leafy suburb of S10 is Sandygate Road, the oldest football ground in the world and home to Hallam FC.

The Countrymen compete in the Northern Counties East League, managed by former Sheffield Wednesday defender Julian Watts. They are looking for promotion after dropping into NCEL’s second tier.

The ground with its famous slope has undergone a refurbishment that includes a new clubhouse thanks to a legacy left by a supporter.

Former Owls and Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson, whose phrase ‘If you like football you’ll love Hallam’ has become synonymous with the Sandygate club, along with Jack Whitham have both played for Hallam. Wilkinson as a youngster back in 1961 and Whitham during the 80s at the end of his pro career.

These days Watts is building an exciting young side ready to reclaim their place back in the Premier Division, with referee Uriah Rennie the Countrymen’s President.

There are a plethora of local clubs to choose from: Parkgate, Dinnington Town, Staveley Miners Welfare, Worsbrough Bridge Athletic, Armthorpe Welfare Rossington Main and Maltby Main to name a few who will be more than glad of your support. And it won’t cost you a mint!