We all enjoy leading our team to major trophies in FM21, but for those who have not started a non-league save (in any country), it is a different world from managing a top tier club. From little money to less training time, starting a non-league save can be jarring for new and older fans.
Many of us enjoy using our favourite club or keeping to a particular country’s football league pyramid rather than branch out into a non-league save (and that’s fine). Sometimes though, it can be a good challenge which can reap a high sense of achievement. Below are some challenges you will face at non-league clubs and some of the best ways to overcome these. To highlight these points, I will be using my Ash United save from the Combined Counties Division One, in Tier 10 of the English Football Pyramid.
Semi-Professional or Amateur?
Once you start your non-league save, head over to the Club Info screen on the left hand side and check the following: is your club Semi-Professional or Amateur?
This is hugely significant when it comes to offering player contracts. For semi-professional clubs, you can only offer Part Time contracts at most. Other clubs VERY low down the pyramid (such as Ash United above), you will only be able to offer Appearance fees, plus bonuses to players.
With Amateur clubs, you cannot offer players full contracts, effectively meaning they can sign to another club at any time. This is problematic when you could lose your best players as the season goes on.
Lack of Staff
Check your staff page and you will notice you have no staff members whatsoever, which needs to be fixed urgently! First thing to do is to Delegate ALL your Staff Responsibilities to the Chairman, as this will allow them to bring in staff much quicker.
The alternative is to put out staff adverts for all positions and then offer contracts as people apply. This can take a few weeks, which is the difference between getting players in and starting with greyed out players (see below). Let the Chairman get coaches; scouts; Director of Football, etc in quickly and your player searching will be a lot smoother.
Lack of Players
You pick your team to manage and are eager to see the team you have inherited; only to find… greyed out players. Greyed out players are default players the game has installed into the save who are not contracted to your club. DO NOT offer these players contracts, as you should be able to find better players by offering them trials and getting them scouted.
To overcome this, you need to get players in the door as quickly as possible. As long as you have scouts and/or a Director of Football, you can get unattached players in on trial; scouted and signed.
Note: there is no transfer window in non-league, so you can sign players until March the following year. Do not worry if your players are not that good to start with, as you can replace them as the season goes on.
Cups are King for Finances
Money is tight in non-league, which was apparent for my Ash club, as we started with a £642 bank balance. Prize money in these leagues is considerably low compared to the Football League, so make sure to look to the numerous cup competitions you will be entered into.
The king of these cups in England is the FA Cup, which provides the most money per knockout win and the potential to face League and Premier League clubs the further you progress. A long cup run here could secure finances for your club for 1-2 seasons minimum.
The key in these early seasons is to aim for cup runs and build that bank balance (and club reputation). This will be one of the only ways to earn enough money to attract players to your club in order to make your team better.
Make money through Friendlies
Playing friendlies before or during the season is a great way to make some extra money in non-league. Although you may have to pay a Fee to play, if the Income is higher, you will make a profit. A few of these games over a season could make a difference to your club’s bank balance and allow you to bring in better players. Below is an example of a Friendly match being arranged with the money specified. Games against Higher Reputation Clubs can bring in the most money.
A couple of things to note here. Some people may consider this cheating, but screw it! Play the game your way and how you wish to enjoy it! Secondly, you are under no obligation to play your strongest squad for these matches, so use your trialists if possible. If they play well, they may also be worth signing.
Poor Youth Facilities
It stands to reason that if a non-league club has no money, it is impossible to maintain a youth facility. This is replicated in Football Manager, as your youth facilities are most likely going to be poor or very basic.
Below are my current youth squad players at Ash United. Notice how they are not scouted and nowhere close to my first team squad as a result. This is normal during your first few seasons.
As a result, your youth players in the early seasons will not be first team ready, so it is best to focus on unattached players for your Starting XI. Even when money comes in you are better off using this on wages, for example. Youth players in non-league are unlikely to develop for your team, especially as you rise through the leagues quickly.
Inaccurate Star Ratings
There has been a lot of discussions around player Star Ratings and whether they indicate if a player is any good or not. To cut a long summary short: they are a starting guide for how good they are compared to your current squad.
Take the player below for example, Max Hustwick, who is my Centre Back at Ash United. Currently 38 years old and with not-very-impressive attributes, he is rated at 3.5 stars in my squad. This is because I only have nineteen players in my squad, many of which are not likely to be good at the moment. I had to get players into the club to play games, so some players (like Hustwick) will be overrated compared to their actual ability.
At this early stage, checking attributes for the role(s) you want your players to perform will be crucial. Some players will have star ratings showing them to be the best players in your squad, but beware! They are not an indicator of how they will perform. Attributes are still crucial for deciding this.
Higher Ability Players deeper in Non-League
Football Manager has been designed to go as far as the default lowest league in a country. For example, the default lowest league in England is the National League North/South. Edited databases are created to reach further down the leagues, such as the Tier 10 database I am using with Ash United.
What does not change going down to Tier 10 is the ability of the players you can bring into your club. Below I have Cameron Walker. a striker who can currently play at a Regional Division level, so two leagues above. He currently has 20 goals from 8 league games, showing his class at & above this level. I have previously had players who could play at National League level when I was in Tier 10, so this is a common occurrence.
Regardless of where you are in non-league, higher ability players will make your team better. This comes down to attracting these players to your club, but it is made easier with smaller differences between clubs from the lowest default league to the bottom of an edited database league.
Following on from my previous point, the better the players you attract to the club, the better your chances of competing and getting promoted to the next level are. And this is highly recommended early on. It is essential you target promotions in your first few seasons of the save.
This is because the prize money is horrendously low in non-league. If it wasn’t for friendlies or the prize money of cup runs you have, money would be impossible to make. League prize money does not usually become significant until the professional leagues of the country you are in (League Two in England).
Aim for those promotions as quickly as possible, especially if you find your club loses money frequently. Aim for the best players you can find that fit your system and are fairly cheap to bring in. The quicker you rise through the leagues, the quicker you access the bigger prize money on offer.
Starting a non-league save in FM21 requires patience and looking around for players who are willing to come to your club. However, it can be one of the more rewarding achievements, especially when you rise further up the leagues. I hope this article helps you in managing this type of club and creating a legacy with them.
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