Non-League Day: Turnstiles and the queue to beat all queues

In this article, one of our volunteer turnstile operators, Julie Scott, shares her experiences of Non-League Day.

Non-League Day (NLD) 17/18 season is a home fixture for ‘The Saints’, so it is ‘all hands to the pumps’ at Clarence Park. With the usual group of willing suspects stepping up and volunteering their time to the Club. It is what NLD is all about, the community and their local club. Showing it off to the best of its ability, tempting in new and old supporters.

Saturday dawns and the Gods are smiling on us with the weather, people are not going to fancy an afternoon on an exposed terrace in the pouring rain, however shiny we have made it look! On a bright October day, like today, Clarence Park is magnificent. Framed by lines of trees bursting with their autumnal colours under a brilliant blue sky the ground is stunning in its simplicity.

I am on turnstile duty today, my favourite volunteer role at the park. Clarence Park is steeped in history and the three entrances are blessed with a pair of old traditional Ellison turnstiles. They were designed as ‘rush preventers’ with tamper resistant counters built into the top to log attendances. How we could do with that simple mechanism today instead each turnstile operator is issued with a notebook, pen and a couple of books of tickets.

I report for duty at the Clarence Park entrance, where Felix is already working, and open up the opposite side. Briefcase unpacked, float arranged, notebook and pen at the ready, the first few people are welcomed in.

At first the numbers are a steady flow, new and old visitors welcomed and quick guides given to the varied delights that Clarence Park holds for the supporter. That steady flow gradually becomes a deluge, a tidal wave of people queueing as only the British know how to queue! It’s a good job, from my vantage point, that I cannot see the said queue as I think I would have had even more of a breakdown than I was currently having!

The ‘special’ admission prices for the day mean that change is at a premium and I have to accost both Barry (on programmes) and Felix for more! HELP!

The wave continues without stopping as the distant whistle and roar of the crowd indicate the start of the game, but despite this they still keep coming! I run out of tickets, so resort to a tally in the notebook, the pile of bank notes needs a controlling elbow now to stop it spiralling out of the door on the breeze. And the less said about the new plastic notes the better, they really don’t like being mixed with paper ones and produce one or two expletives as they slip from beneath my straining elbow.

At last we are back to a trickle, myself and Felix lock eyes let out huge breaths and laugh a little manically! Did that really just happen? It’s 3.30pm before I’ve sorted the takings, ticket stubs and totalled numbers in the now infamous notebook. I’m still in shock when I’m escorted up the stairs to the office, but it is all worthwhile when I reach the top and survey the view of the ground. It is unbelievable! Clarence Park is bursting with people of all ages, the sun is shining, and there is a buzz of anticipation in the air, non-league football at its best!

The team doesn’t disappoint the expectant crowd either and open the scoring on the stroke of half time with a beautifully worked team goal. The queues for the food wagon, and beer stalls are long snaking around the ground. The second half finishes with a second for the Saints and even more importantly a clean sheet. The full time whistle even prompts a mini pitch invasion by the children that have thronged the front of the terraces all afternoon. A chance to embrace their newly discovered heroes.

What an amazing day. A crowd of 1,500 plus have streamed through those ancient turnstiles, clicking those ghost counters once more. It was frantic, mad, stress-inducing busy, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Just to see the old ground full of life, joy, excitement and THAT roar when the ball hits the back of the net! MAGIC!!