Skip navigation

Non-League Day: Holmesdale FC on bringing a piece of Palace to non-league

Features

Surrounding south London’s only Premier League club is a range of non-league sides. In advance of Non-League Day on Saturday, 26th March, we catch up with some of the people who sustain south London’s rich non-league scene.

It can often seem as if we make a certain choice early on in our emotional development as football fans.

Do we support a football league side, and choose a life of constant coverage, commentaries and controversy? Or do we do down the non-league route, towards cosy communities, cooperation and – where possible – calm?

Do we pick Match of the Day or the Non-League Paper? The reality is far from that simple.

For one thing, while Premier League sides possess as many tight-knit communities as any club up or down the ladder, the non-league landscape is often as chaotic and pressurised as any top-level final.

More importantly, though, it is not a choice that we are required to make. For some people, like Mark Hayes, you can do both.

“I’ve been a Palace supporter since I was 15,” he explains. “I’m 54 now, so it’s been quite a while. But I’ve been with Holmesdale since I was 18-years-old as a player.”

Hayes’ role on the committee running Holmesdale means he inhabits both worlds: following Palace where he can, but still the heartbeat of a local community club.

“I stopped playing at around 30-years-old, but by my mid-20s I became the fixture secretary,” he remembers. “We had four or five senior teams and a youth section, which is unfortunately no more. We’ve got one youth team left.

“I was secretary for a number of years. I do the fixtures and the registrations. We produce a matchday programme, where we get information from the visiting team and release that through the club.

Quote Icons

I used to stand in the old Holmesdale. One of my big memories was beating Burnley to win promotion [in 1979] - we had a pitch invasion!

Mark Hayes

“It’s not a great deal of people that run the club. It’s probably around six or seven, plus a management team and a reserve side that play in the Suburban League midweek.

"Then we’ve got one youth team left, the Under-16s, but we’re trying to re-establish the system over the next few seasons.”

Hayes balances his love of Palace with his love of matchdays at Oakley Road. “If it’s an away game, it’s lovely,” he laughs. “We don’t do anything, we just go to the game!

“If it’s a home game, we’ll get to the ground at around 12:30. We all muck in to get everything ready. Get the match balls ready, get the bar ready, get the kit out.

“We get ready for the players to arrive, so everything is done for them effectively. We have someone on the gate.

"Attendance wise we probably have on average 50 people coming to watch us – we would love to increase that with some Palace supporters if there is ever no game!”

Hayes’ links with the Eagles go back some way. “I used to stand in the old Holmesdale. I would go with my uncle to the games. Those teenage years until I was about 18, I was a regular at Palace.

“One of my big memories was when we beat Burnley and won promotion [in 1979]. We had a pitch invasion – I was a part of that pitch invasion! I remember that night.

“I went to a few away games as well. I remember going down to the Goldstone Ground at Brighton, and getting chased to the station by the home supporters. It’s a bit different now…

Hayes is determined that his Palace influence not be lost on the club, most evidently displayed in the first-team colours.

Quote Icons

We’ve got a new kit: the sash, based on the 1980s red and blue sash, the white one.

Mark Hayes

“I sort the kits out, getting sponsorship etc,” he explains. “Originally our kits, all the way back from 1956, were quarter shirts.

“Our original shirt is yellow and green quarters. The home shirt now is a modern style yellow and green quarters, but our away kit a few years ago was a red and blue quartered shirt, in the Palace colours and modelled on the Palace kit.

“This year, we’ve got a new kit: the sash. That’s based on the 1980s red and blue sash, the white one. We were designing a new kit and I thought: ‘I liked that – why not try and design that?’

"We’ve got that as an away kit this year and it’s looking really smart.”

As Hayes shows, a passion for a side at the top-level does not render one blind to the romance of non-league football.

“You’d be surprised at the standard,” he says. “You get a friendly atmosphere. The beer is cheap and the burgers are good.

“It’s a big community feel. Even the away supporters will clap the teams that played well. We played a big team in our league, with over 400 at the game.

"We lost 1-0, but our players were clapped off the pitch because they played so well. It’s a community thing.”

Hayes will be at Palace come rain or shine, but beyond the gilded walls of Premier League football lies another passion: the co-operation, the chaos and the calm of non-league.

Find out when and where to watch your local side this Non-League Day here!