Non-League Day 2024: Veteran Goalkeeper Ian Senior On The Development Of The Semi-Professional Game

By Richard Scott

News • Mar 23, 2024

Non-League Day 2024: Veteran Goalkeeper Ian Senior On The Development Of The Semi-Professional Game

This Non-League Day, goalkeeper Ian Senior discusses the progress of the semi-professional game…

There is a common misconception in football that the non-league game is just a lot of overweight blokes trying to play the game in front of just one man and his dog.

However, that could not be any further from the truth. With the introduction of analysis and sports science working its way down the Football League - and into non-league - it has made the game outside of the EFL much more professional.

One person who is more than qualified to speak about it is Ian Senior, who has been involved in non-league football for over 45 years. Senior has kept goal for a number of clubs in the North West of England after making his debut as a 16 year old for Prestwich Hayes in the old Cheshire League. He would hang his boots up at the age of 43 at Altrincham before becoming the Robins’ goalkeeper coach until 2018.

Despite the off-field part of the game developing, Senior believes it is the fields themselves that have improved the most since he first donned the gloves.

“One thing that stands out is the pitches, they are so much better now at every level of football,” said Senior speaking to 

“I can remember playing in absolute swamps because clubs needed to play. One game I remember playing was for Chorley against Accrington Stanley, a local derby as you can imagine, the club just needed to get the game on, simple as.

“Accrington were flying, and the gate expected to be around a couple of thousand rather than the normal 300-400 and the club had bills to pay.

“That game was played on a swamp and the club benefitted from it accordingly.

“Now games get called off at the drop of a hat with health and safety coming to the fore.”

These improvements have seen more and more players make the step up from the non-league game to the Premier League.

The best example in recent times is Jamie Vardy, the former Stocksbridge Park Steels and FC Halifax Town forward who joined Leicester City from Fleetwood Town in 2012 before becoming a Premier League champion with the Foxes in 2016.

However, as Senior is quick to point out, Vardy wasn’t the first to make the move up the tiers.

“There were lots of lads before Jamie Vardy,” he said.

“The likes of Ian Wright and Stuart Pearce to name but two, there are lots of high profile players who came through the ranks of non-league and in days gone by the shoe was on the other foot.

“There were lads who had played at the highest level who dropped down. I played with the likes of Frank Carrodus at Witton Albion when he was coming to the end of his career and Brendon Batson who went on to work for the PFA. 

“These are lads who have played at the highest level and were quite happy to finish off their careers just playing because they wanted to play. I do not think that happens too much now.

 “They perhaps did not have the earnings behind them that they do now. In those early days players used to have testimonials to give themselves a start in buying a pub or something like that.

“This day and age they earn more money than they can dream of, so the game has changed in that respect.”

One thing that has stayed the slame in non-league football in the last 45 years is the need for the players to have a full-time job because the money they get from playing is normally not enough to live on.

During his playing days, Senior was a firefighter and the two complimented each other.

“It worked well with my job as a fireman for 32 years.

“I got plenty of opportunities to play football at a good level, lots of great memories - highs and lows. I suppose the high would be playing for Chorley at Wolves in the FA Cup (1st round back in 1986) amongst many others.

“I also got to travel up and down the country with football, met a lot of people I knew from football, met a lot of people I knew from fire brigade football as well as non-league.”

He continued to look at the balance between the two: “Although I had trials at higher clubs when I was younger, they never came to anything. On top of that being a fireman and having a career path it would have been quite a difficult decision to make.

“So, working the two went hand in hand- football and job worked very well between them.”

As the finances and backing of non-league clubs continue to improve it allows more traditional non-league clubs to go full-time, offering their players the chance of  fulfilling their dream of playing the sport as their career.

However, some players are unable to make the change due to their current jobs meaning that they are forced to move onto pastures new.

An example of this is at Senior’s old club Altrincham who announced in May 2022 that they were going full time. It meant that several key players for the club including goalkeeper Tony Thompson, defender Andy White, long serving midfielder Jake Moult and key player Josh Hancock chose to leave the club due to their work commitments.

Senior agreed with them for making the decision, saying: “It is simple maths and even at that level it is such a short term career.

“The lads at Altrincham, as good as they are now, are really good professional footballers, there is potentially no longevity in it.

“If you cannot set your stall out for a career as such, you are probably looking to climb the ladder if you get the opportunity.”

This Saturday 23rd March is non-league day, a day that celebrates all things good about non-league football.

The idea came about in 2010 by QPR fan James Doe who set up the event as a social media experiment after a pre-season trip to watch QPR play Tavistock. It has since become a keynote date in the football calendar as it always coincides with an international break.

Non-league day is backed by Premier League and Football League clubs as well as MPs, celebrities, media organisations and charities.

It’s a day that Senior agrees with as it helps to increase the profile of the non-league game.

He said: “It is a great idea and dare I say that it has helped publicise non-league to the degree it’s helped people get more aware of it and gates have increased accordingly.

“Every club that plays at home on the day will probably benefit from the fact it’s non-league day. 

“Folk who generally go and watch Bolton Wanderers, Stockport County, Manchester City and Manchester United will make a point of going to watch a non-league game. Everyone will benefit accordingly.

“All we want is a decent day because the only downside to non-league football is that a lot of the grounds do not have a lot of stands or covered areas. The likes of West Didsbury and Chorlton in the North West Counties League, if you go watch them and it is chucking it down then you are going to get wet through, simple as.”

However, the question has to be asked: why do people keep turning up for what is perceived as a game played in front of just one man and his dog?

There are several reasons why people are turning their backs on the Premier League in favour of the non-league game: the increased cost of tickets, the inflated wages, the European Super League and VAR are just some of the reasons people have given for ditching the bright lights of the Premier League.

Senior believes that it's because watching a non-league match is stress-free in terms of arrangements compared to the bright lights of the Premier League.

He said: “It has become expensive to watch the higher grade football, not that it is necessarily ‘cheap’ to watch National League football, but even so much more people seem willing to do.

“There is less hassle surrounding watching the likes of Altrincham, it is easier to do.

“If you think about it going to watch Manchester United it is not just an afternoon, it is a day of a job and all the hassle of getting to the ground and getting away, you do not have that in non-league or very few non-league grounds.”

With no Premier League or Championship fixtures this weekend due to the international break, you can take in a non-league match. 

Find your local non-league side at home here:


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