WHEN you cannot go and watch one of the Northwich teams, what better way to stay engaged with your local sides than virtually over a football game?

And one non-league fanatic has been doing just that.

Gary Pidwill, also known as ‘The non-league Nomad’, 38, has been modifying popular football game, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), to include Steps 1 and 2, as well as a large swathe of Steps 3, 4 and 5 of non-league.

That has enabled him to replace his trips to Wincham Park with virtual games to keep him busy over lockdown, using the two sides that occupy the ground: Witton Albion and Northwich Victoria.

“I find non-league far more engaging than the Premier League. There is so much more to football than the Premier League and EFL,” Pidwill said.

“I like the vibe of non-league. It’s real football, in my eyes, but it’s chronically undervalued.

“I feel that this level of football is rarely represented in gaming, especially on consoles, so I decided to do something about it, and create some accessibility for it. PES is a perfect outlet for that, as it’s almost fully editable, compared to say, FIFA.”

Having shielded for 12 months, the modified games, which Pidwill streams on his YouTube channel, have given him a long-term focus, and as he identifies on the Anxiety Spectrum Disorder, he feels this has been useful to the project.

He continued: “A video game cannot replace live football of course, but in the absence of having the real thing, I’ve found that people are actually benefitting from my content as it provides a distraction from the situation we’re all unfortunately stuck in.

“As my live football blog is ultimately redundant in the pandemic, it simply acts as a unique workaround to the content I’d usually aim to offer. It’s a bit of fun, and the diversity of it is refreshing, even if it’s not to everyone’s taste.

“I’d rather be at a real game, but football video games are particularly immersive and Esports are extremely popular, so they have their own unique appeal, as such.

“The idea that younger non-league supporters can go home, put on their PS4’s (or other gaming consoles) and emulate their local Northwich non-league heroes with our work is a neat idea also. I aim for that level of engagement.”

After starting the project on PES 2018 to supplement his supported club, Ebbsfleet United, it has gained traction in the football community, with fans and clubs alike getting in on the act.

“I received a lot of attention from hungry gamers craving accurately researched and formulated non-league action. Clubs, players and sponsors were engaging with us, so I knew it was popular. It’s nice when your efforts are reciprocated,” Pidwill added.

“I like to think I have a good working relationship with Witton Albion. Some clubs, like Witton, recognise gaps in their demographic and the need to expand and engage with supporters, I like to think I provide something unique for clubs who utilise our content. A percentage of clubs engage with us solely on that basis.”

It is not just Witton that Pidwill works with. He has also modified the 1995/96 season to put Northwich Victoria to the test too and relive his childhood.

“My first non-league experience was aged 12, so the 1995/96 season is special to me. I have a lot of nostalgia and great memories from that season of football. It’s also been a comfort during lockdown to revisit those happier times.

“Northwich Victoria, in my eyes, are a sleeping giant on non-league from that era. As I now live locally, I’ve found myself drawn to Northwich football, in particular, Witton and Vics – which is an odd pairing to like, I know.

“I have a good working relationship with Vics. The club have been hugely welcoming to me and my work, and the club supporters engage superbly with us, so it was nice to give something back and positively reminiscence the biggest success of Northwich football.”

While the lower steps of non-league have been brought to a halt, Pidwill continues to fly the Northwich flags high in his own way, keeping himself and many other non-league lovers occupied along the way too.

His YouTube channel where he streams this content can be found here.