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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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BuiltWithNOF

Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

NO ROOFS, NO FRILLS, AND NO SWEARING!
From Hackney Marshes to the Premiership, there’s nothing like a good old football dugout

Premiership dugouts these days often look more like airline executive lounges, full of luxurious, high-backed leather chairs. With so much expensive talent on the bench accustomed only to the best, it seems that the clubs have to provide a comfortable working environment. Peanuts and chardonnay, anyone?

Not so, naturally, lower down football’s pyramid, where, dotted around the national game, are some weird and wonderful edifices posing as football dugouts.

Often they are no more than ramshackle assemblies erected to satisfy league regulations and hastily put up by a bloke who got the job because he once managed to assemble an Ikea flat pack.

Which is where David Bauckham comes in.  But for a couple of misplaced vowels in his surname, he could have been an international footballing superstar. Instead, his passion is for travelling the length and breadth of the country taking pictures of dugouts.

‘It all began when I started supporting Langney Sports (now Eastbourne Borough) in the mid-1980s’, said Bauckham. ‘Most of the games were local, in The Sussex County League, so I set about taking a picture of every ground in the league.  Eventually I put them into a book.’

A splendid offering it is, too.  You would have to be a bit obsessive and passionate about dugouts to want to buy a book containing pictures, with accompanying explanations, of 77 jerry-built, breeze-block, corrugated or wooden cubes, rectangles and garden sheds – but then who isn’t in this game?

But another sort of passion can intrude, too. ‘Some dugouts are lockable,’ said Bauckham. ‘Often they are used to house the groundsman’s tools but one, in particular, was made that way after they found a couple making love in it.’

Bauckham’s favourite dugout is at Brixham, in Devon. ‘I’d heard about it from a few people so I made a 440-mile round trip to see it and I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s unusual as it has a viewing area above it. People climb steps at the side to watch the action.’

Who would have thought that for some of us, these constructions would once have represented luxury. For us hackers of Hackney Marsh, dugouts meant you were actually playing at somewhere almost professional.

For some of us, too, it tells a wider story, of the geography and culture of the English game.  To gaze at them is to picture a Saturday afternoon world where voices are raised, referees harangued, water buckets kicked and substitutes surgically removed from frozen benches.  All before getting life back into some sort of perspective around Sunday afternoon.

Bauckham accepts that he is an ‘anorak’ but, as a married man and father and senior lecturer in nursing at the University of Brighton, he is clearly not a nutter.  Or at least if he is, then there are plenty of us about.

Ian Ridley
The Mail on Sunday
Sunday 3 September 2006