Watters moves to web for non-league challenge

By Ian Lamont
Dave Watters, the former editor of Non-League Today, is taking on his old bosses at the Non-League Paper for a second time – though not without one deal that sees him supplying his rivals with match results each weekend.

The website is, Watters admits, something of a work in progress after a less than perfect launch on the opening day of the non-league season earlier this month.

“There were problems with the electronic feed and our website building,” said the former news editor at the Non-League Paper, who was threatened with legal action by his old boss, David Emery. The matter was settled out of court.

It was August 2007 when Watters set up Non-League Today, with International Publishing Group, an Australian media company that owns British Football Weekly. The Sunday newspaper was clearly looking to go head-to-head with Emery’s title.

But NLT closed last January, Watters saying his superiors did not share his vision of improving coverage of the lower reaches of non-league, and then raising the cover price to an off-putting £2, against the NLP’s £1.50.

Now on the web, Watters has the backing of Simon Morgan, until recently the chairman of Harlow FC, a property and motor trade businessman.

Watters says he has driven 3,000 miles this summer to visit clubs to promote the venture.

The website will produce daily news plus a vidiprinter service via “an army of club texters” during matches in the three Blue Square divisions, plus levels three and four of the non-league game – namely the nine Ryman, Zamaretto and UniBond Leagues.

Results and tables of dozens of other divisions down to county leagues will follow shortly after matches finish.

Non-League Today was notable for bringing readers more news about divisions and shorter match reports of lower division matches than its rival, something Watters is still keen on.

“I believe non-league means everything, not just the Blue Square divisions,” Watters said. “I had a potential investor who wanted to concentrate on just those divisions and I said ‘no’.

“I still think there is room in the market for another non-league paper and we haven’t totally ruled that out. I never thought they did enough news.”

Watters is also working on a “Four-Four-Two-style” magazine for non-league. Clubs will take a cut of sales on the 130-page magazine, which will have an initial print run of 30,000 and be priced about £3.85. It will feature expanded articles by the bloggers he has lined up for his website. He is using commission-only advertising salesmen.

Tony Williams, who ran a non-league magazine for many years and compiles the annual Non-League Directory, is a consultant editor, and six journalists, mostly with Watters at NLT, have joined him, including chief reporter Robin Jones and feature writer Tom Youngs.

Key staff at the Morden, Surrey-based operation have been given shares in the company, in which Watters also has a stake. He is looking to build a regular crew of Saturday freelance sub-editors for the website, and is also looking for people to work on the magazine.

There is one irony to the launch that Watters cannot help but reveal. His contract with one league requires him to supply results to, among others, Emery at the NLP. “He hasn’t rung me up to thank me yet,” Watters said.

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