The highs and lows of Sunday League football
Playing football with your feet is one thing, but playing football with your heart is another.
Nowhere is that more resonant than on the sun-baked, rain-soaked and frost-bitten pitches of England’s Sunday Leagues.
Sunday League football has become an institution across the UK.
From the could’ve-turned-professionals to the full time substitutes, people up and down the country have spent countless hungover Sunday mornings in the name of the beautiful game.
But why do they do it?
Brimpton Rangers, who play in the Newbury Sunday League Division One, are the quintessential modern Sunday League Football Club.
Brimpton have experienced all the lows - from late dropouts to shouts of “it’s still 0-0” when the scoreline suggests otherwise – and the highs – winning matches and building a team unit – that Sunday League football has to offer.
Club stalwart Adam Renshaw has been playing for Brimpton for almost a decade.
To him, Brimpton is first and foremost about camaraderie, togetherness and inclusivity.
He reflects on the lifelong friendships he’s formed with his teammates and coaches.
He says Brimpton is “A really friendly club. We’re inclusive regardless of an individual’s footballing talent.”
“We’re competitive and we always aim to win, of course, but ultimately it’s about playing your role as part of a team and having a smile on your face while you do it.”
Renshaw talks about how manager Andy Walker and club secretary Matt Hodgson have strengthened the club both on and off the pitch.
“We’re a welcoming club and there are so many ways people can get involved,” he says – and insists it’s not because he’s hoping for a promotion from left-back into midfield next season!
The league couldn't exist without the volunteers and referees who make it all possible.
“The league is run brilliantly and it’s packed with great teams offering something for everyone,” says Renshaw.
Of course, Sunday League is as much about what happens off the pitch as on it.
No season goes by without a raft of memorable moments – Renshaw remembers teammates forgetting their kit, turning up worse for wear and having to sweep puddles off the playing surface.
A moment that stands out for him is Brimpton’s Berks and Buck Cup match in Milton Keynes.
He said: “We were lucky enough to progress to reach an away tie and so we took full advantage by having a team bonding session the night before.”
“Come morning, there was lots of frantic knocking on hotel doors and scrambling for kit.”
“Our goalkeeper nearly missed the game because he had to stop off at Specsavers for new contact lenses!”
The result, perhaps unsurprisingly, went against Brimpton, “but it’s the memories and stories that keep you coming back for more.”
The 9th-15th May marked UK Mental Health Awareness Week.
The theme was ‘loneliness’ and it highlighted the importance of clubs like Brimpton that allow people to keep fit physically and mentally.
For Renshaw - “the impact is massive.”
“Stepping out onto the pitch with the lads is a massive boost and, regardless of the scoreline, it’s always good to be there for the highs and lows.”
Renshaw also runs the club’s social media.
He’s grown the club’s Instagram page - @brimptonrangers – to over 1,000 followers.
This has allowed the club to make connections with teams in Germany and the United States.
Renshaw says Brimpton’s online presence “has opened a lot of doors for us and given a lot of value to both the club and people who engage with us.”
It’s helped Brimpton to form relationships with photographers, kit manufacturers and sponsors.
It’s also a lot of fun – Renshaw says: “It gives us a great opportunity to chat and have a laugh and it adds a bit of spice to the games.”
Brimpton are already looking ahead to next season.
The Rangers current squad, which includes Mark ‘Never Moans’ Lightbody, Byron ‘Passmaster’ O’Regan and Jake ‘Not Coming if I Don’t Win a Trophy’ Newbold, are looking for new players to join their ranks.
There are also opportunities for sponsors, volunteers and teams looking for pre-season friendlies.
You can get in touch via Instagram - @brimptonrangers – or by emailing email@example.com.
Football, it is said, is the ballet of the masses.
Brimpton would be the first to admit that sometimes it can be more of a two-step – and that’s exactly what makes it the beautiful game.