‘You just can’t buy it’ – community and fan-ownership at the heart of Matlock Town as club sees crowds continue to rise

The first thing that hits you as you pass through the turnstiles at Causeway Lane is that Matlock Town is a stunning place to watch a game of football.
There are few better places to spend a sunny afternoon than Matlock Town’s Causeway Lane.There are few better places to spend a sunny afternoon than Matlock Town’s Causeway Lane.
There are few better places to spend a sunny afternoon than Matlock Town’s Causeway Lane.

The open end behind the far goal offers the perfect panoramic view of Matlock’s rolling hills, while the historic Riber Castle stands watch on the horizon. Especially on a balmy October afternoon, it is not hard to see why football fans wax lyrical about the ground.

There is, however, more to Matlock Town than just a scenic view, and I was also struck by just how many families had decided to spend their Saturday afternoon taking in Matlock’s FA Trophy tie against Bedford Town.

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Jay Beaumont, Matlock Town’s chairman, said the club had seen a significant rise in attendances over the past couple of seasons – and were also attracting a much more diverse crowd of people to watch their games.

Attendances have risen significantly in recent seasons.Attendances have risen significantly in recent seasons.
Attendances have risen significantly in recent seasons.

He said: “This year, we’ve got around 240 season ticket holders, which has gone up massively. Pre-Covid, we used to knock around 100 season ticket holders.

“It was that stereotypical non-league football where it was a bunch of middle-aged and older men. That was what football, and particularly non-league football, was about.

“Now, the numbers and demographics have changed massively. It’s amazing.”

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Jay said that reaching out to local football clubs and involving them in the matchday excitement was a crucial part of encouraging families to come down and watch the team.

The crowds at Matlock games have also become more diverse.The crowds at Matlock games have also become more diverse.
The crowds at Matlock games have also become more diverse.

“Every game, local junior teams come down and do mascot and flag bearer duties. We opened that up, not just to Matlock Town juniors, but also to other local teams like Tansley, Wirksworth, Darley Dale and Ashover.

“All of the local teams get contacted and there’s no charge for them to come down and do it. They do have an opportunity to upgrade that experience – some of the clubs put a little bit in to buy certain bits of merchandise and make a real VIP day of it, which is great.

“I’m also a Nottingham Forest season ticket holder, and have been for 30 years. If I want my daughter to be mascot down there, it’s probably going to cost me £500.

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“You get the kids and their parents coming down then, and through that, we’ve seen quite a lot of mums saying ‘this is quite a nice environment actually.’ It’s a nice way to come and socialise and have family time, and attendances have gone from that 350-400 mark, up to a 750-800 average – which is fantastic.”

From the terrace behind the goal, you can spot Riber Castle on the horizon.From the terrace behind the goal, you can spot Riber Castle on the horizon.
From the terrace behind the goal, you can spot Riber Castle on the horizon.

Matlock is undoubtedly a down-to-earth, family club – one that is rooted in the community. The people who run Matlock Town are so heavily invested in the club, and Jay is perhaps the epitome of that.

He is Matlock born and bred, attending his first game here as a six-year-old. Jay grew up a stone’s throw away from Causeway Lane and has, in the intervening years, taken on almost every role imaginable at the club. He started off in his youth as a ball boy and sold programmes at games, before joining the board in 2002 and eventually taking on the role of chairman 18 months ago.

It quickly became evident as I spent the afternoon at Matlock Town that having people who genuinely care about a football club and its supporters makes such a drastic difference to the atmosphere around a ground.

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My own experience as a season ticket holder at a Premier League club tells me that supporters’ concerns are too often treated as immaterial. Matlock Town, however, is the perfect antidote to any sense of disillusionment with football at its highest level. Fans hold more than just a little sway when it comes to deciding the direction of the club – with the supporters themselves owning Matlock Town.

The club places great importance on its role within the community.The club places great importance on its role within the community.
The club places great importance on its role within the community.

The money they spend at the bar or in the club shop doesn’t line the pockets of a distant wealthy owner, but is reinvested into Matlock instead – allowing the club to work continually to improve the fan experience.

Jay said: “It’s owned by the fans of the club, there’s no big owner and there’s no one chucking a load of money in. Effectively, every season ticket holder is a shareholder – they all have one vote at our annual general meeting.

“The key bit of it is, for me, that you’ve got to be in the community. This football club has always been a community club, and we’re owned by the season ticket holders.

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“I’ve been really getting that message out there, because people didn’t really understand that. Players didn’t understand it, a lot of the fans and sponsors didn't know about it.

“When we played Derby County in pre-season, my conversation with David Clowes (Derby’s owner) was about the importance of Derby bringing a first team down and putting 2,500 people into this ground. Effectively, he’s putting money into the community of Matlock Town.

“Every penny that comes into this club gets spent on the football club. That’s a massive ethos thing for me. We’ve had people talk to us in the past, but that’s not the constitution of the club and, under my watch, we’re not going to change that. What we’ve got here is so special as a community environment – you just can’t buy it.”

Matlock secured their passage to the next round of the FA Trophy with a 1-0 win.Matlock secured their passage to the next round of the FA Trophy with a 1-0 win.
Matlock secured their passage to the next round of the FA Trophy with a 1-0 win.

Those running Matlock are also keen to empower fans to help drive the club forward. Jay said: “I get fans that come and talk to me, some will have a moan and say that this or that isn’t right. We say, okay, come and get involved and help us.

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“The guy in the mascot suit – last year he was asking why we don’t do this or that. We asked him to get involved, he’s now on some of our committees, and he was the key one behind the fundraising for the mascot outfit. That’s it now, he loves it and he’s a key part of the club. That, for me, is a real case study of how you can go from a fan who wants to have a voice, to somebody who is driving big parts of the club.

“I always say to people, I have the easiest job in a way. As chairman of this community-based club, all I have to do is create opportunities for people to get involved, for the community to come and make this club their own. The more I do that, the more that people get that connection, the more attendances go up, more sponsors get involved and more people will book this room out for events and parties.”

Football and sustainability are words that are not often combined. At every level of England’s football pyramid, there are clubs spending beyond their means in a bid to win league titles and promotions – with success on the pitch taking precedence over financial security in the long-term.

For Matlock Town, a more considered outlook has been adopted. Stability is preferred at Causeway Lane, resisting the urge that some clubs feel to bankroll a charge through the leagues and worry later about the cost.

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Jay said: “We’ve been in the Northern Premier League for over 50 years. I say to the board, we celebrate that, because on the one hand, it’s fantastic that as a fan-owned club we’ve been sustainable and never gone bust.

“The flip side is, should we celebrate it, because all that means is we’ve stayed still and we haven’t progressed? Some people look at it and say it’s a lack of ambition and things like that.

“Actually, we are playing at a high level of football. It’s the seventh tier of English football, and that’s nothing shabby. When you look at the money that’s being spent in the league above, and in our league, we’re doing really well as a club.”

Jay added that there were a number of ways that people might view Matlock Town’s success – stressing that the club’s ability to help bring local people together and give them a sense of purpose should be celebrated with the same fervour as any cup win.

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“Success can be based on how the football team does, but a day or two after the match has finished, you kind of forget about that, because life takes over.

“Then you think, what’s the success of the football club when there’s no football? It’s about what we’re doing for the community we’re in – are we giving people a little bit of a purpose?

“All the volunteers that come down – we have a Monday working party and lots of retired people all come down and weed and paint, and one of the guys does welding. That’s success, isn’t it – what would they do otherwise? They’re out doing something, feeling a purpose and enjoying themselves.

“We’ve probably got around 400 kids playing in a Matlock Town kit on a Saturday morning, split between around 300 boys and 100 girls. They’re playing every weekend.

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“People can see the players and talk to them. There’s none of this where players get off a coach and you can’t meet them. They’re all shaking their hands. This Thursday, before training, the team turned up half an hour early to present our under sevens side with their new kits, and have a meet and greet with the players. That’s what it’s all about.”

For all the talk of the club’s affinity with the Matlock community, the team have also been fulfilling their end of the bargain – finishing in the playoffs for the last two seasons.

Jay was full of praise for the manager, Martin Carruthers, and said they were trying to build on the success of the previous two years, but added that any movement up the non-league ladder would not come at the expense of the club’s future.

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“Martin has joined us and he’s fantastic. He’s really connected with the club, he knows what we’re all about and he loves it. He’s got the tricky job of spending the budget in the best way possible – that’s really hard.

“The ideal is that me and Martin build something over a period of time, and then both retire at the same time. That’s what we’re working on. This year is a tough year, we hope to get into the playoffs again, but the money being spent in this division is ridiculous. Some of the money rumoured to be spent this year is crazy. We’re not going to bankrupt this club, or risk the club chasing this dream.

“For me, as chairman, you want to be the one that stands over it and says ‘we’ve got promoted’. That’s all well and good as long as, the following year, the club is still here. There’s zero point in doing something and then breaking the club.

“For me, it’s about having the club here for the long-term. That’s what my job is, for the period where I’m custodian and chairman. My daughter is nine-years-old, she’s played for the club since she was four, and I want Matlock Town to be here for her forever. That’s what it’s about – I had Matlock Town 40-odd years ago, and I want her to have it in 40 years time.”