For all the glitz, glamour and near faultless technical efficiency of the Premier League, there is a different pleasure to be found in watching nonleague matches.
Clubs in the divisions below the professional leagues offer a much closer connection between the players and supporters, can be genuine assets to their communities and provide football at a much more relatable skill level for the average fan.
Take, for example, Monday's clash between Brighton-based Whitehawk and Three Bridges of nearby Crawley. The two sides met in the Isthmian League South East division, in the eighth tier of the English football pyramid, with Three Bridges registering a 1-0 win at Whitehawk's aptly-named Enclosed Ground.
Little more than a standard midtable skirmish on paper, the game went viral in the aftermath after footage of the "action" on display became a hit among fans on social media, with one two-minute supercut of the highlights posted on Twitter attracting more than 4 million views within 36 hours. This was due to the game being utterly and unashamedly chaotic, with five red cards shared between the teams as well as a veritable smorgasbord of goal-scoring chances being spurned in farcical fashion.
In just 122 seconds of highlights, we see countless attempted shots blazed high and wide of the target, a classic brawl, a full gamut of horror tackles and even a hapless striker falling over under minimal pressure while clean through on goal. Fittingly enough, the only goal of the game -- scored after 20 minutes by Three Bridges forward Noel Leighton -- came as the direct result of an error from Whitehawk goalkeeper Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke.
The first half ended with Three Bridges a goal to the good and all 22 players still on the pitch, but that was soon to change amid an eruption of red and yellow cards after the break.
The disciplinary fall-out began on the hour mark when Whitehawk duo Jamie Splatt and Joe Stone became embroiled in a scrap with Three Bridges' Bryan Villavicencio and goal-scorer Leighton as tempers flared over near the touchline. Furious unpleasantries were exchanged between the two sides for several minutes before the referee brought things to a close by dismissing Splatt, Stone and Leighton in one fell swoop.
Whitehawks defender Alex Malins was then sent off in the 85th minute for angrily rugby tackling an opponent to ground, after he'd been clocked in the face by a stray elbow from the same player.
Context: we edit alot of games quickly and sometimes miss bits.— Your Instant Replay (@YourInstReplay) January 5, 2022
The player in question has requested we include the seconds before the red card to show why he reacted @AlexMalins29 pic.twitter.com/zddjS8IX10
The card-fest was completed when Villavicencio, who had previously escaped unscathed after sparking the aforementioned scuffle that saw three players sent off, was shown a red card of his own for a studs-first, pelvis-high lunge. One clip of that tackle alone has attracted almost 150,000 views since it was posted.
The final whistle brought things to a close with just one goal to speak of, but the eventful encounter sparked a huge reaction online, including from former England captain Gary Lineker.
Classic. The tackle at 1.30 🤣🤣🤣 https://t.co/xMNDDMVXY0— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) January 4, 2022
This is the best thing I've ever seen— Christopher Aspland (@chrisjaspland) January 4, 2022
That has everything. Scraps with crowd, 2 million red cards, shots to the car park, kung fu and someone was setting up to land a pedigree at one point— Oggy Doyle 🏴 (@OggyDoyle) January 4, 2022
Some were keen to stress, quite rightly, that not all non-league football is so calamitous and there is plenty of quality at that level, while others were eager to point people in the direction of the full Whitehawk vs. Three Bridges highlights to show them that even this match was not a total lost cause.
1/ While the Whitehawk vs Three Bridges clips are amusing us all on one of the most miserable days of the year, it's worth remembering that these videos only strengthen the stereotype of non-league.— Joe Short (@_jshort) January 4, 2022
So let's take a look at some positive action from the last few days as well... https://t.co/7LhInW1Ilf
According to Your Instant Replay, providers of nonleague broadcasts and highlights who delivered the coverage of Whitehawk vs. Three Bridges, that match's viral status helped their coverage of Monday's games attract more than 2 million views on their accounts in less than 24 hours.
Three Bridges manager Jamie Crellin spoke of his pride in the aftermath, heralding his side for holding out for the victory despite their numbers being gradually depleted further and further over the course of the evening.
"I couldn't be prouder of the players," he said. "They showed tremendous team spirit and togetherness. Three points and a clean sheet away from home while playing 35 minutes with nine men, 15 minutes with eight men, and finishing with five under-19 players on the pitch, I couldn't ask for any more."
Summing up the game in their own postmatch report, the official Whitehawk club website branded the game a "bewildering and nonsensical spectacle."
Given the evidence on offer, it's certainly hard to disagree.