Non-league club to hold ‘pay what you want day’ in a bid to woo fans

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Football fans can sample a game for free this weekend as one Suffolk club prepares to get rid of its admission prices and let supporters pay what they want.

The innovative scheme is being rolled out at Walsham le Willows tomorrow for the club's Thurlow Nunn Premier Division game against Wivenhoe Town.

Rather than paying a set entrance fee, spectators at Summer Road will be greeted by stewards holding buckets for voluntary donations, as those behind the scenes continue to be creative in attracting fans to the small village whose catchment area is dwarfed by the likes of Newmarket Town, FC Clacton and Norwich United.

'We're always trying to think of new ways to get more people through the gate,' said the Walsham's long-serving chairman Mike Powles.

'A lot of people in the music industry do it when they're trying to get established, it's been done in various leagues by other clubs - we can't claim it as our own idea.

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'Hopefully if you get people on site they buy a burger, they spend money behind the bar, and if they enjoy it they'll come back. You've got to get people on site.'

Walsham have continued to defy expectations in recent seasons, with the club entering their seventh straight season at Step Five despite their comparatively modest resources and rural location.

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The club has become more commercially savvy in recent times, offering more sponsorship opportunities and holding one of the biggest sportsman's dinners in the county, but its attendances continue to lag behind other clubs at the same level.

The average gate for this season is in the low sixties, with the likes of table-toppers Hadleigh United and Haverhill Rovers regularly attracting double that.

Vice chairman Peter Bailey, one of the main drivers for fundraising activities off the pitch, said: 'We think it's a good idea, something a bit different.

'Some people might pay us nothing, others might give us a tenner. But if we can attract a few people who might otherwise not have come, it's got to be a good thing.'

Early signs are encouraging, with news of the club's initiative sparking interest on internet fan forums from as far away as Kent.

Mr Powles said: 'About 15,000 watch Ipswich when they're at home, another 20,000 go to Norwich. What do they do when they're not at home? Probably stay at home or go shopping.

'It's these sort of people that can make all the difference in non-league. It's a decent level of football and the commitment is certainly there, and often once people have been once, they're hooked.'

Last week we launched a 'Love Local Football' campaign to encourage supporters to bacn non-league football.

Tomorrow's game kicks off at 3pm. For more information call Mr Powles on 07971 613933.

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