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Full board

Full board

There’s a corner of non-league that few people will ever get to experience. Once upon a time the post-match meal or boardroom buffet was a source of pride for clubs; with three-course meals being offered up to players and officials. But times are changing, and boardroom hospitality seems to be going the same way as flags on the halfway line, and cup final rosettes.

My earliest memory of being in a football boardroom was at our 1996 London Challenge Cup final, played at Millwall’s (then) New Den. I have no memory of the game, or anything else about the game, other than being frozen to the bone, and saved by my first taste of Tandori Chicken from the mega-spread on offer to the club officials.

Years of following Dad around the boardrooms of south east England, and now frequenting them in my own right, means I’ve had my fair share of curly cheese sandwiches and miniature sausage rolls with questionable meat content. Millwall will always remain a highlight, but there are some clubs who still take pride in this dying corner of football. For a long time, Boreham Wood served a full Chinese takeaway, while Felixstowe and Walton provided a kebab and salad on our last visit.

There was a period at Wadham Lodge when we too provided an authentic Turkish kebab, cooked on hot coals next to the pitch. It was one of then-Chairman Turgut Esendagli’s greatest contributions to the club (and I mean that in the most sincere sense), but as we struggled for results on the pitch, the enthusiasm for someone to cook a full meal twice a week for some ungrateful players soon wore off.

But on the whole, the provision of food has become more functional, and more of a tick-box exercise. Players and committee no longer have the time, or desire, to sit around gorge on platters of beige party-food. Those who stay after full time are usually happy with a plate of sausages and chips. For those who prefer not to hang around, nothing much is being missed out on.

While many non-league committees are on the slightly older side, there is a new influx of young(er) people playing key roles in running their clubs. The vast majority of these – myself included – are happy enough with a cup of tea at half time, and a beer with their players after the game.

In the Essex Senior League last year there was probably only three or four games when opposition officials came into the boardroom – we were left standing around looking at a plate of curly cheese sandwiches, thinking of the waste. Teams in the Southern League haven’t been much more interested so far. Would you be when you have a two-hour journey to make?

Providing food and drinks in a boardroom costs money, and means an extra volunteer (or paid employee) are required, more often than not, just to tick a box.

There will be some who bemoan the death of the boardroom as another sign of modern football strengthening its grips on the game’s traditions. But when all you’re doing is keeping a few people happy with some stale bread and whatever cake is on offer in Tesco, is there much point?