These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

PARKLIFE

To be published in the National League South game v Welling United Saturday 17th October


I spent last weekend watching park football, although unfortunately none of it at Arbour Park.

I went to see Southwick play Stedham United in the Sussex County Cup, then off to Little Common in Bexhill to watch my eldest narrowly lose in his Under 15s game.

While this was happening the top teams in the Premier League were acting like any moneylender; offering cash but with strings. Project Big Picture written to favour, would you believe, the Big Six clubs. A deal so bad even the government have told them to stop taking advantage of the pandemic while they hand over another £100 million to a pest control company. They will give cash to the lower leagues as long as they can never lose a game of football ever again, or something like that.

Meanwhile in another footballing universe, Southwick took the lead. The Wickers were relegated two divisions for trying to do the right thing, and were then thrown out of their ground by their council landlords who had let the place fall apart. They have got together with a football foundation to submit plans to go back home apparently with an all singing and dancing 3G pitch. Its the non-league no-brain future. Artificial Arbour Park is home to so many teams its in danger of breaking social distancing rules. I get the Southwick fan saying he loved the smell of grass and mud, but its hard to play football on bobbles, divots and dogshit.

At Little Common their pint size ground isn’t good enough for the first team to play in the Southern Combination and so they have spent the past 4 seasons away in Eastbourne (like Eastbourne really needs another non league club). The guy serving teas in the clubhouse said they had permission to enclose the ground and build a new stand to satisfy the ground grading Gestapo and should be moving back next season.



While Southwick ran out 5-1 winners, my twitter feed was going into meltdown. Brighton supporters with Sky, BT and Amazon subscriptions and season tickets they can’t use, have been told by the chief executive to stop expecting things for free and cough up nearly £15 per game if its not on those channels. This is the same man who doesn’t believe in a salary cap. He’s like the cornershop owner trying to keep up with the supermarket mafia until they trample all over his business model – a model suffering not because fans wont pay out but because of eye watering transfer fees and wages.

In the middle of a pandemic the Premier League have spent £1.2 billion between them on bringing in new recruits. I'm not sure my £15 to watch Brighton v West Brom in an empty stadium will really touch the sides.

As football journalist Henry Winter said “If you're really panicking about the amount of money you’re losing – and we all accept those numbers are significant – why not get together and agree a maximum spend in the last window rather paying £27m for a defender from Saint-Etienne, sticking him in the reserves and sacking the bloke who wears a dinosaur costume and is loved by the club’s supporters?”

Even this isn’t enough for Manchester City whose chief executive was acting like the fat bloke stuffing his face with doughnuts while telling everyone they should watch their figures. But here he was, lecturing football league clubs on how they need to be sustainable while Manchester City have guzzled billions of cash. You see, the solution is for B teams to be part of the football league. Forget that the EFL Cup that allows B teams has set all number of records for lowest ever attendances or that in Europe Barcelona B are the best supported managing an average of just 1,400, while Bayern Munich B get less than Sloughs average gate.

To be honest, I’m not really bothered if I never set foot in the Amex again. I always hope that people get sick of being ripped off and go and support their local lower league club instead.

Unless the government intervene and set the rules the top clubs will carry on demanding they are treated like Kings while the rest fight for ever decreasing scraps off their tables and some break the bank trying to join an elite club that will never admit them.


Me? I’d rather watch football in a park.



Saturday, October 03, 2020

A PLAGUE ON OUR ELITE HOUSES

To be printed in the National League South game v Hemel Hempstead Tuesday 6th October 2020



Like the covid cruise ships that no country would let dock, the elite fans of National League North and South found out just 4 days before a ball was kicked that they weren’t welcome to the FA Cup party. While supporters of teams below us can cheer on their team, we’re apparently far too elite to enjoy that honour.

While the government and the Premier League played a last minute game of poker waiting for the first to blink, clubs were in the impossible position of knowing that to kick that FA Cup ball would mean triggering players contracts; a wage bill that without financial support or crowds to generate income would spell financial ruin.

Finally just before kick-off the government came up with a plan to support lower league clubs. But rather than hand-outs wouldn’t it make sense to let clubs help themselves and have limited crowds?

It’s hard to get excited for a new season when you still don’t know if you can go and watch your team or even if it will reach a conclusion.

In the middle of a pandemic lower league football is probably not high on the list of peoples concerns, too busy once again panic buying bog roll. But without a proper support package many clubs will go to the wall. Like the drunk bloke moaning about the 10pm curfew I don’t think that’s acceptable. Run properly football clubs are more than just 90 minutes on the pitch and are an integral part of their communities.

I was also naively hoping that football might change its tune but it seems not. The story of Harrogate sums it up perfectly. Promoted to the Football League behind closed doors they got to celebrate in front of no one by ripping up their 3G pitch while having to play home games at Doncaster in front of no one. Because we can’t have any of that artificial stuff. But surely if artificial is good enough for the Champions League then its good enough for Scunthorpe and Stevenage? Meanwhile Macclesfield Town were wound up in the courts.

So instead of Slough I’ve been getting my football fix across Sussex. I managed to hide my elite football hat to watch Eastbourne Town fans set off so many flares the coast guard were called as they beat Saltdean United in the extra preliminary round. I went to the first Southern Combination league game of the season at Shoreham where for a fiver I was treated to a 4-4 draw. I nearly got my head kicked in at Newhaven after asking Corinthian players how they did in the FA Vase semi final penalty shoot out. The bunch of moaning gits had play acted and given endless grief to the officials throughout their FA Cup preliminary round game. But it turns out they can give it out, but can’t take it. Hardly the Corinthian spirit.

I went to see Southwick play in a park league in a park opposite their ground. They’d been kicked out of by the council who forgot that as landlords you should occasionally check that your property isn’t falling to bits. Now community-run nearly 200 turned up to see them win. I saw Whitehawks first game of the season, met a lady dressed as a lobster and saw thirsty fans served beer in 4 pint jugs to enjoy on the terraces and stop any social mixing at the bar.

All these clubs and others up and down the country have enjoyed more fans thou the gates desperate to watch a game and I do wonder whether we should just knock this season on the head, loan our players and fans out to other clubs and wake up again next season.

Saying that, although I enjoy visiting other grounds I really miss going to Slough. Curry for breakfast, the pre match pints in the Wheatsheaf (and post match come to think of it) then off to Arbour Park. Like so many it’s my time to relax. A chance to meet friends, have a laugh, a few drinks and a sing-along. Although that’s a bit harder when your muzzled with a mask. I would say its good for my mental health but I’m not sure spending the afternoon with some of the Slough fans is good for anyone's sanity.

Its insane that Chalvey Sports and Langley can play at Arbour Park but we can’t because we are elite. A label that helped us compete in the play-offs but is now threatening the existence of so many clubs.

On top of this, the government have hardly played a pandemic blinder. Unable to organise a decent track and trace system, handing millions to consultancy firms and setting up an app that isn’t compatible with the NHS (yes really) or 20% of phones or anyone in Scotland or Wales doesn’t fill you with confidence.

This virus ain’t going nowhere and as we enter the second phase and winter it’s going to be much harder for people to swallow. So surely it makes sense to let in limited crowds and enjoy football in the open air. Otherwise what’s the point in Slough playing? More importantly why jeopardise our club? Football without fans is pointless as well as financially catastrophic.

I was hoping a pandemic would pave the way for football to have a good hard look at itself. But it seems they can only do that for VAR handballs. And while people get worked up about a disallowed goal, clubs up and down the country are in grave danger of never kicking a ball again.





Sunday, September 20, 2020

WEST SUSSEX-BY-THE-SEA


It’s the first league game, of a season already like no other, and a trip to Shoreham to see them take on Billinghurst in the Southern Combination Division One (just below the Southern Combination Premier, cos every league apparently now needs a premier division). You always get a warm welcome at Shoreham from their co-chair Stuart Slaney who over the past few years has overseen gradual transformation of the facilities as well as soccer schools, networking events and more teams under the Shoreham umbrella.

A disastrous promotion a few seasons back saw a brief spell in the Isthmian League before two relegations on the bounce. Football is like no other business, where doing the right thing and not bankrupting your club can get you punished on the pitch by others that roll the financial dice. So it was good to see the club getting a break and winning £25,000 from the Buildbase funding scheme to spend on improving facilities to attract more youth and girls teams.

Both clubs had already fallen at the first FA Cup hurdle with the Musselman taking a 9-1 hammering away to a Alford who are no doubt Premier league material.

I was hoping they would get a few more than the 89 through the gate...surely there most be plenty of Brighton fans in need of their live football fix? For a fiver with a pint in hand we got treated to a feast of goals with Shoreham turning round a 3-1 disadvantaged to finish the game 4-4.

Just down the road, and things were looking bleak for very near neighbours Southwick.

What should have been a joyful renaissance when the club became supporters owned, instead saw them booted out of their ground and relegated to park football. In fact it is the park next door so close the floodlights peered overhead from their Old Barn Way ground which now resembled more of an old farm yard.

Over the years the council were happy to lease to owners who only cared about profits from the bar but not the football club. One ended up in prison for drugs while the most recent tenant walked away when the pandemic closed the pubs. The council then shut the place down saying it needed half a million quids worth of repairs. Er, shouldn’t the council have had a duty of care to look at their property occasionally? It seems such was their disinterest when they came to turn off the electrics they were told they couldn’t because of the phone masts on the floodlights – something they apparently didn’t even know the previous leaseholder had installed and pocketed the cash.

The new club were understandably unwilling to take on the previous debt but are willing to do the place up a lot cheaper than the quoted repair bill.

Meanwhile people who refused to set foot while the club was run by crooks are now their biggest cheerleaders – including local resident John Baine aka Attila the Stockbroker with the sort of contacts and campaigning nous that was key to getting the Albion back home to Brighton.

The club are certainty playing a blinder with their Bring Home the Wickers campaign. Nearly 200 turning up for a hard fought 2-1 win against Ashurst Wood in the Mid Sussex Championship (just below the Mid Sussex Premier). Most of last seasons squad including their manager were happy to drop down the divisions while Ashurst named 67 players in the programme - more than double what Southwick used to average at home! With local councillors and the local MP in attendance and seeing first hand the strength of feeling, hopefully it wont be long before a rebooted, rejuvenated club can get back to where they belong.


Monday, September 14, 2020

CORINTHIAN SPIRIT

 

Newhaven 1 Corinthian 2 FA Cup Preliminary Round Saturday 12th September 2020

I'm currently half way through The Farther Corner by When Saturday Comes contributor Harry Pearson who rekindled his love of the Northern League as a cure for a mid life crisis. It’s a great read that focuses as much about the characters in the crowd as the football on the pitch. When Dunston sensationally knock Chester out of the FA Cup it’s the story of his first ever football that gets centre stage. As Slough have gone up the leagues your voice can get lost in the crowd but just like every club we have supporters shouting the same slogan in a timeless loop season after season. In an ever changing world its kind of reassuring. But it wasn’t so long ago when a stray word on a sparsely populated terrace would lead to some lively player-crowd debates.

I should have beared this in mind when I headed to Newhaven to see them take on Corinthian in the FA Cup preliminary round

Newhaven as a club continue to grow on and off the field. Todays attendance was 184 plus numerous youngsters helping and I reckon they could easily compete in the Isthmian League. All they need is some young Ultra Dockers to get the place rocking, oh and winning the Southern Combination League.

My mate Gavin is the only Northampton Town supporter I know, and likes to get involved in a game at the best of times. Six months of lock down with two small children while trying to work he informed me that under that mask on the bus to the game he was grinning from ear to ear about the prospect of actually watching a live game. Especially after having to listen to Northampton's improbable Wembley play off promotion on the radio. Gavin is also a football tactics encyclopedia. He sees the changing formations on the pitch and what players to watch out for just from observing the warm up while my brain comes up with ‘Shoot.’



Meanwhile fellow non league supporter Duncan also starved of football, noticed the Newhaven stand was named after one of their players who I later found out has been with the club for ten years.

Corinthian meanwhile were founded in 1972 by a Mr RJ Billings to ‘provide football in a safe environment whilst teaching the players the principles that he believed to be important in sport.’ Somewhere along the way, the old Corinthian motto of ‘hard but fair’ has got lost.

While nursing a beer just before the half time rush I stood by the Corinthian dugout. As soon as they scored one of their officials barked instructions to start wasting as much time as possible while continuing to needle the lino. By the second half the ref finally had a little chat about his behaviour while the Newhaven fans in the stand were having a bit more than just a word. At one point a stray ball that might well have been aimed at their dugout hit a bloke with a pint where I had previously been standing. While wiping beer from his clothes and enjoying one of the biggest cheers of the day he nonchalantly continued to Vape away.

Watching my eldest play football you can see how the opposition coaches set the tone for their players. Grown adults cheering when my then 11 year old was rightfully sent off was a particularly highpoint. Beating that very same team to the league title the following season was lets just say, satisfying.

In this topsy-turvy pandemic world where competitions begin before the last lot ended, Corinthian had only just lost on penalties in the FA Vase semi final. There a good side and as soon as Newhaven draw level, they started to play again until they got the winning goal a few minutes from the end. So why the constant earache to the officials? Eventually I’d had enough of the abuse and with my Slough mouth on might have asked one of their players how they did in their FA Vase semi final.

My old dad used to remind me that if you can’t take it then don’t dish it out, and as we left the building, let’s just say I wont be getting any Christmas cards from them anytime soon.

With more teams having to forfeit cup and league games because of covid, you feel the season is on borrowed time so while the sun still shines we should get behind Non Leagues biggest cheerleader Tony Incenzo idea to promote lower league football. With Non League Day postponed it seems a simple message #footballforatenner to include entrance, a pint and a pie is a good place to start.

Maybe we can put that slogan on the side of a bus.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

SALTDEAN PROMISE, EASTBOURNE FLARES


Saltdean United 1 Eastbourne Town 3
FA Cup extra preliminary round Tuesday 1st September 2020

Last time I went to Saltdean I nearly got hit by a tractor; this time round I was hoping to dodge the corona virus while satisfying my need for some live football after a five month forced abstention. But this wasn’t just any old match but a good old FA Cup knees up.

The first competitive game of the season. The extra preliminary round. Later than usual and on a Tuesday night.

Replays have been cut, extra time has been cut, prize money has been cut and capacities limited to just 300. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem but with so many people denied their football fix including me (I support an elite club don’t you know, yeah Slough Town) it was obvious it was going to be a bumper crowd so I bought my ticket on line.

Especially as near neighbours and arguably the biggest team in Southern Combination Eastbourne Town were rolling into town along the coast road. Surprisingly, they had never met each other before in the Cup. The Tigers have never been past the 3rd qualifying round while Eastbourne have never got past the 4th qualifying.

Arriving by bus you get a panoramic view of the place, nestled into a valley with grand art deco buildings, including one that was once a Butlins camp and another that is now a community owned lido.

The football club is on the outer edge and entrance is along a dirt track towards farmers fields and the South Downs. With two small stands either side of the pitch there is also a massive grass bank giving spectacular views and a chance for some roly-poly celebrations if that's your sort of thing. 

Maybe I shouldn’t judge a club on its social media presence but its such an easy win and Saltdean had been busy on theirs. They’ve also been busy off the pitch. The place looked smart, the pitch in much bigger shape – and the game had sold out on line with an attendance of 235 rather than last seasons average of 66.

One of the newest clubs on the block, Saltdean were only formed in 1966 while Town are the oldest senior club in Sussex having been founded in 1881. The Saffrons has a listed turnstile block, while Saltdean have a table. My phone scanned a barcode and wanting to help clubs out in these driven-to-drink times I headed to the bar.

Within a minute of the game starting the Saltdean keeper, who had a great game, pulled off a top save. This set the tone for the next 20 minutes but slowly the Tigers started to compete. Then just after the half hour mark Eastbourne scored and their Ultras amassed behind the goal, finally found their voices, their drums and blue flares. Another goal just before half time and the Ultras were starting to dream of Faversham away in the next round.

Despite plenty of probing in the second half, the Tigers couldn’t find a way in until getting a soft penalty at the death. But then Eastbourne went the other end and got a third, queue more flares that put air and sea rescue on high alert.

Like any club that means business Saltdean have a multitude of teams behind them and their young cubs went through the Premier league song book behind the goal. One of the lads next to us admitted one was his little brother ‘Yeah he’s annoying and mouthy like that at home.’

This is certaintly going to be a season like no other and the last one was pretty out there. Three clubs had to pull out before a ball was kicked because of the virus. I will grab games where I can. In fact it feels like my football loving public duty that I should.

But the FA have missed a trick not distributing prize money more evenly especially this season, unconvincingly explaining that they cant do that as the big prize money makes the top clubs take the FA Cup more serious. Really? It hardly touches their sides but can throw a financial lifeboat for those that really need it. Just look at Chichester City and Maldon and Tiptree last season. But its more than that. When clubs like Eastbourne Town have Ultras you know that many football fans are turning their backs on the elite many of whom have just become money laundering exercises or excuses to sportswash their countries owners sins (‘yeah ok, so we behead our political opponents but just look at how much we have spent on a new striker for the club’).

What this pandemic has shown more than ever is that people want to belong, to be part of something. Up and down the country clubs like Saltdean United have an important role to play in being a big part of that community glue. 











Thursday, July 16, 2020

THE PANDEMIC PLAY-OFFS

Printed in the National League Play-off game v Dartford Sunday 19th July 2020

So here we aren't, not at Arbour Park for the long drawn out pandemic play-offs in front of a couple of crows watching from the trees. 

'Football is nothing without fans' has long been a rallying cry of supporters fed up of being mucked around and taken for granted - thanks to covid-19 we now know why fans are so important to a football match. I've watched a few Premier games on the tele and they are about as riverting as watching curling or bowls. 'All fur coat and no knickers' as they say in Britwell. 

Living in Brighton, it's hard for some people to understand why I support Slough apart from you know being born there ('Yeah mate I support Arsenal, despite being born in Brighton because my dads uncle Keith once delivered milk to George Graham and I feel a special bond'). This was especially puzzling for people when I said i was off to AFC Hayes or Arseley, getting lost on the way and then watching us get beat in front of 100 people.
But it's never just about a game of football. 

We all want to belong to be part of something. Even before the pandemic there was a loneliness epidemic; social distancing has meant that the majority of us have had a taste of that medicine and it's not very palatable. I love a home game; meeting up in my Slough local the Wheatsheaf to chat football before heading off to Arbour Park. I love an away game; the planning, meeting up, pre-match, half-time and post-match beers then playing the how-will-Deano-get-home quiz. Oh and bonus - there's a game of football inbetween; the mangled emotions, singing our drunken hearts out while enjoying the vagaries of the English weather and banter with opposition fans.

Getting promoted to the National League after an absence of 22 years will be a massive achievement for a club that not so long was on its knees, when those 90 minutes of misery couldn't go quick enough so we could get back to the fun bit of the 'football experience.' Infact our last stay in the Conference was the beginning of our fall from grace; demoted despite finishing 8th for financial irregularities, having a tea hut suspiciously beside the mens toilets and not enough amber and blue deckchairs.

Post-pandemic I worried how Slough would cope financially if we got promoted to the National League going up against full time ex league sides. But the financial times they are a changing, and about time too. A league chairman recently said that players on £3,000 a week will now be lucky to be offered £1,000. Hartlepool have already lost players who are refusing to take pay cuts – but this is just the tip of the iceberg and could well play in our favour. Our joint managers have worked wonders on peanuts, and ironically, the very things that would have hamstrung us - a council owned ground and small budget - could now be our saviour. 

We all know about the greed of the Premier League but this no holds barred interview from a Premier League footballer says it all. "It's absolutely disgusting the amount players get. It's ridiculous. We're just footballers, not brain surgeons. The fact that i'm paid more money than an actual brain surgeon is stupid. And all the while millions live in poverty, getting cans of beans from a food bank. How can that be? I couldn't live with that, which is why I give it all away now." 

Still the Premier League have bunged the National League £200,000 to help towards the play-offs, a bit like my old dad giving me and my mates twenty quid so we could sod off down the pub and leave him in peace. 

The outspoken Accrington Stanley Chairman Andy Holt has said many times that you have to be mad to take on a football league club and with the economic turmoil that is happening, just how many more lunatics will be left to come to footballs rescue? As he says 'Football is the only industry I have ever known where you're punished for being sensible.' In the case of the National League play offs, you're now punished for being successful and have to fundraise to be able to afford to take part. Meanwhile Wigan have gone into administration just a month after being taken over in what appears to be some dodgy betting scam. The Fit and Proper owners test once again coming to the rescue of dodgy owners.

It's not exactly rocket science to conclude that we need a total reboot of the game. Firstly though, I don't buy this argument that there are too many clubs. Each city, town, village even housing estate is unique. People want to belong and their local football club is perfectly placed to bring people together. 

So here's a few suggestions.

The English Football League have got to see sense over artificial pitches. They are going to become even more of a lifeline. The Arbour Park pitch is in constant use and is now home to 3 senior football clubs. 
The FA should relax ground grading rules. A team that is lucky to get fifty people watching doesn't need a two hundred seat stand or a turnstile block. Instead invest in artificial pitches and community facilities.
We've got to put a cap on clubs spending to stop the Salfords of this world buying promotion. Barnet lost £399,000 in 2018/19, Orient £2.7 million despite being promoted. Notts County £2.8 million taking total losses over the last few years to over £23 million! While Bristol Rovers have debts of £24 million despite two recent promotions. And that's before the pandemic. Since then Yeovil have asked staff and players to take a 50% wage cut while Barnet have sacked 60 staff. 
Neil Baker kicked off the debate about regionalisation and it's a question that is getting ever louder. Do we need a National League? Do we need part time players making Tuesday night trips from one end of the country to the other? When we go back to 'normal' how many of these companies are going to be as flexible about players taking time off for a midweek trip to Halifax? How many self employed players are going to be able to turn down work for a football match?
How many companies will have the spare cash for advertising and sponsorship? Already West Hams sleeve sponsor has gone into administration. Will supporting their local football club be top of their agenda? Will programmes survive if advertisers desert them? I like a piece of paper in my hand but tech advances are running at a frightening pace and I can see many more programmes only being available online. 

Thanks to our fantastic former chairman, Steve 'Sensible' Easterbrook, Slough are in a sound position, just not very flushed with no big backers. It we got promoted we would no doubt be the poorest club. We can play on this backs-against-the-wall mentality but it's not exactly fair to have our legs tied together as well. I don't want a suicide mission. I want a level playing field, because isn't that what sport should be about?

When football does restart I expect, just like after the Second World War, crowds will flood back when allowed. With peoples finances tight we need to look at admission prices. We've already been dishing out free tickets to attract new people, and I reckon kids going free with an adult should be a minimum but we have to be clever and we need to show as we had been doing before the crisis, that Slough Town is a proper community club and not just about ninety minutes on the pitch. And how do we support those that are too nervous to come along for whatever reason? Our excellent awards ceremony showed that we can do online very well, with a focus not just on the first team but all the football teams under the Rebels banner and the community work that happens. Could we livestream games for our more vulnerable supporters?

It's also the little things that make a club special - supporting fans and their families when they have needed it. Regular quiz night, players interviews, the rewind games so Saturday still had a football feel. A small football club with a very big heart. I'm excited but nervous about possible promotion but know in life that you have to enjoy the moment and seize you chances when they come. 

So, come on you Rebelllls.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

RELIGHTING THE WICK

Southwick might not have the bling and bright lights of Brighton but the small town to the west of the city has a much more illustrious past - from prehistory to the Romans, Tudor to the Victorians, giving the place its unique character. It is also home to punk-poet Attila the Stockbroker - and Southwick FC.
The football club currently play in the Southern Combination Division One. One below the Southern Combination Premier and ten leagues below the likes of Brighton and Hove Albion. They have a bar open seven days a week but their ground has seen better days with crowds averaging around 50.
With the FA taking the decision early on to void Steps 3 to 7 (a season that had already been battered by bad weather and postponements) Southwick have kept busy on social media delving into their past exploits. Behind this twitter frenzy is Dan Gander whose dad has been supporting Southwick since the 1960s, and club secretary Clive Harman who made over 200 appearances in senior football including playing for Southwick. Both Dan and Clives first taste of live football was watching the Wickers, so it's fair to say the club is in their blood.

There's been lots of posts about the heyday of Southwick - cup finals, big crowds, away to Bournemouth. How did that come about?

"We have had great feedback regarding the twitter posts; people from all over the world whether its an old supporter whose moved away or past and present players. It's very easy to forget history but if we can bring back memories for people and put a smile on their faces then that's great. A lot of people don't realise how big Southwick Football Club was. FA Cup days, league titles, cup winners. When a professional was released from Brighton, Southwick was the team they wanted to play for. Growing up it was a big part of a lot of peoples lives, but over the years it's lost that appeal. The world has changed, there is a lot more things for adults and children to do. But we would love to bring those days back to Old Barn Way."



There's so many teams within touching distance of each other, how hard is it to compete for players, sponsorship and support?

"It's very difficult as you have the likes of Shoreham, Mile Oak and Lancing all within a few miles of each other. A lot of clubs I know have built a good relationship with sponsors over the years which helps massively. When it comes to looking for new sponsorships it often comes down to who you know; you might have a player who owns a trade/shop/business or a family friend who has the same.
Brighton playing at the Amex has had a big affect on Sussex County football. When Brighton are at home attendances around the non league circuit are down but when Brighton are away attendances are up. Players now also have season tickets at the Amex so player availability is sometimes hard.
On the playing side of it too, players like to be comfortable. You find in most County League sides the players have often grown up with each other through school or playing junior football over the years with each other. At Southwick we try our best to get players who look forward to turning up to training and being with each other. Who want to almost be like a family and work hard for each other on and off the pitch.”

If you could grant 3 wishes from the FA to help transform clubs like Southwick, what would they be?

"I think it would be to stablise and keep an eye on local grassroots football a lot more. The money in the professional game is enormous and if that could be filtered down it would massively help. You find a lot more football clubs are going into liquidation and administration (*two clubs folded in the Southern Combination this season) simply because they cannot afford to keep going. 
To have visits from the professional games representatives would also be a good idea, so that you know your not a forgotten grassroots team.
A lot of people’s times, effort and life’s goes into non league football and if they could be recognised and rewarded that is something that would also be appreciated.”

How do you think football will look after this pandemic  

"It will take a while for football to adapt and to carry on as normal, especially not knowing when it will restart or even if it will be this year. Financially, I think it could affect certain clubs very hard with upkeep, rent and maintenance side of things. Hopefully with the FA's help this can be cushioned a little bit. Going from what I read on social media, a lot of people are getting the preparation off their pitches started already, which I think is great and again goes back to taking your mind off things that are happening. We all know football is the least of people's worries right now but also there is nothing wrong with planning and looking forward. 
The price of professional football means lot of people have to miss out as they cannot afford it, so when the season starts we would love to be able to offer friendly, fun and enjoyment to everyone from all walks of life. To be that club people look forward to watching, coming too socialise with friends and family. It may take a few years to get where we want too be, but you can never say never and you have to dream big in any walk of life."  

You can follow Southwick on twitter, facebook or visit their website


Sunday, April 05, 2020

TIME TO PAUSE

While the arguments continue over whether the football season should be paused or not, now is the perfect time to look at how the game is run. I could write a book on what's wrong with the Premier League but someones already done that, but it's no surprise that some of the richest clubs are showing their true colours.  

This no holds barred interview with a Premier League player says all you need to know. "It's absolutely disgusting the amount players get. It's ridiculous. We're just footballers, not brain surgeons. The fact that i'm paid more money than an actual brain surgeon is fucking stupid. And all the while millions live in poverty, getting cans of beans from a food bank. How can that be? I couldn't live with that, which is why I give it all away now. But the thing with this current situation is, it shouldn’t be left up to the lads to make individual donations. The non-playing staff wage bill isn’t that big. The club should fork out for that or the fucking owners should; they’re richer than any of us. The FA or Premier League or PFA or whoever should just say ‘no money for three months, we’re putting it all into an account to donate it to the NHS and other charities.’ Make it compulsory and across the board, including directors. So no-one has to make a choice. Because some will give all their money and some only a few quid. There are greedy, selfish bastards in football like in any walk of life and there are lovely lads who’d do anything they can to help."  

The outspoken Accrington Stanley Chairman Andy Holt has said many times that you have to be mad to take on a football league club and with the economic turmoil that is happening, just how many more lunatics will be left to come to footballs rescue? As he says 'Football is the only industry I have ever known where you're punished for being sensible.'  Football finance expert and author of 'Price of Football' Kieran Maguire said "I do think the football industry, which has been living on credit and living on owners subsidising clubs for many years, was in a very, very weak position if a relatively small shock hit the industry, but this is obviously far more than that. Football is not well placed to deal with this, it is a house of cards that we operate on and we all kind of accept that as well. For instance, operating looses in the Championship were round and about £600 million last season. Nobody is denying that the clubs are losing the money but it's always just accepted with a nod and a wink that somehow they'll muddle through on a the basis that there's another match soon and they'll get some money from that." 

So it's not a pause we need but a total reboot.  

For starters, I don't buy this argument that there are too many clubs. Each city, town, village, even housing estate is unique. People want to belong and their local football club is perfectly placed to bring people together.

So here's a few suggestions.

The English Football League have got to see sense over artificial pitches. They are going to become even more of a lifeline when football restarts. Refusing to promote clubs from the National League and worse threatening to relegate them if they don't rip them up if they get promoted, is insane. Slough's is in constant use, which as much as anything shows people that there is a club in town. 

Relax ground grading regulations A club getting an average gate of 80 doesn't need a 200 seater stand or a turnstile block. Instead help them invest in artificial pitches and community facilities. 

Put a cap on clubs spending to stop the Salford City's of this world buying promotion. Barnet lost £399,000 in 2018/19, Orient £2.7 million despite getting promoted. Notts County £2.8 million taking total losses over the last few years to a staggering £23 million! Bristol Rovers have debts of £24 million despite two recent promotions. And that's before the coronavirsus pandemic. Since then Yeovil have asked staff and players to take a 50% wage cut, Maidstone are talking about going part-time again and Barnet have sacked 60 staff.

Do we need a National League? Should part time players have to make Tuesday night trips from one end of the country to another? Slough have gradually added to our squad each season, with stability the key and the majority of our players on 100 plus games. When we go back to normal, how many companies are going to be flexible about players taking time off for a midweek trip to Hartlepool? How many self employed players who have taken a financial hit are going to be able to turn work down for a football match?

Advertising. Business is taking a battering - how many will have the spare cash for advertising and sponsorship? Already West Hams sleeve sponsor have gone into administration, how many others will go that way. If a company does survive, will supporting their local football club be top of their agenda? 

Programmes. Will they survive if advertisers desert them? I like a piece of paper in my hand but this virus has massively accelerated peoples use of tech and I can see many more programmes only being available on line. 

Thanks to our fantastic former chairman Steve 'Sensible' Easterbrook and a couple of decent FA Cup runs, Slough are in a sound financial position, even if we are not flushed with cash and have no big backers. If we got promoted we would no doubt be the poorest club in the National League. We can play on this backs-against-the-wall mentality but it's not exactly fair to have our legs tied together as well. I don't want a suicide mission. I want a level playing field based on sporting prowess because isn't that what all sport should be about?

When football does restart I expect, just like after the end of the Second World War, for people to flock back to football. But with finances tight we need to look at admission prices. We've already been dishing out free tickets to attract new people but I reckon the minimum we do is kids get in free with an adult. We need to be clever and show what we have been doing before the crisis, that Slough Town is a proper community club and not just about ninety minutes on the pitch.

And whenever we do restart, let's get off to a bang with the Vase and Trophy semi finals being made one leg at a big neutral venue that thousands can attend. Beats all those meaningless friendlies anyday, although suddenly Slough playing any sort of friendly, becomes a very enticing prospect. 

Saturday, April 04, 2020

AND THE BEAT GOES ON

Published in the National League South game v Hungerford Town Saturday 7th March 2020. We lost 2-0 in front of 885 in what could be the last home game of the season.

The world just got a lot quieter with the passing of DJ and musical genius Andrew Weatherall. The charismatic Windsor boy and Terry Farley a football supporting, gas fitting, soul boy from Slough, were part of a group of people that sparked a musical revolution in the early 90's. And who would have bet on Slough and the surrounding towns being at the revolutions epicentre with Berkshire going Baleriac. And it wasn't just the full-on raves at the Slough Community Centre, free parties in fields and warehouses; there were bands playing gigs in every pub and club and independent fanzines popping up all over the place.

Andy Weatherall was known affectionately as the Governor, a DJ who also had his own music and remixed others, working with everyone from New Order, Happy Mondays, Saint Etienne and Manic Stree Preachers. He's probably best known for his remix of Primal Screams 'Loaded' which became an instant dance floor classic. 

It was also a time of spiraling football violence and Slough had its own gangs that spoilt every party you went too and often came looking for trouble whenever the Rebels had big games. But with the partying came a new drug Ectasy and I remember walking in the Orchard Centre open mouthed as some of the very same people who wanted to take on the world were dancing to this new music and massaging each other blissed out! To quote Primal Screams Bobby Gillespie 'From time to time, there's a crack in the sky and light gets through it; a lot of great people come along and make people feel good and connect people." Weatherall was one of those people.

In Slough Town terms that crack was opened with a crowbar by our former chairman Steve Easterbrook. Steve finally brought the Rebels back home, so desperately needed for the club to survive and prosper. That crack has recently appeared again as people try and take the club to the next level. 

As a pub campaigner, I hear every every excuse in the book from developers and councils who often site changing demographics as to why a pub has to shut. Imagine applying that nuclear option to football clubs? Your team are bottom of the league, getting tonked every week. Do you call time, shut the club down and turn the ground into luxury flats? Slough Town would be long gone under that option.

Or do you change the way its run, which is exactly what the Three Tuns on the Bath Road has done and is now rammed to the rafters. A few of us Rebels popped in after the Chelmsford away game to sample the best pub menu I have ever seen. Our community engagement officer Mark says he has already seen a much more welcoming attitude when he walks into pubs with matchday posters. Here he was weaving his magic round the tables, with people wanting to talk about our football club and happy to take those complimentary tickets and come and see what all the fuss is about. An Asian football loving pub, supporting a club that needs to move with the demographic times - the perfect match. 

So is this our epiphany? Our away support is continually growing, constantly singing and good humored. A Dorking fan tweeted 'Slough have some of the best visiting fans. Good songs (Beatles and Slade tunes!) nothing derogatory and genuine support.' At Havant a group of Waterlooville youngsters changed ends with us and joined in with the Slough songs because they said we were more of a laugh. 

But its more than just 90 minutes on the pitch and our community work has a constantly growing reach. Long term supporter Damian told me 'After the loss of my son in January the thought of being in a crowd watching something as trivial a sport seemed impossible. But as the days passed my family and I were overwhelmed by the numerous messages of condolence and support from Slough Town FC. Not just my friends but players, staff, officials and supporters I had never met. This really is a special club and I'm now looking forward to taking my place on the terraces with my Rebel family.' 

The crack in the sky is gaping open and is shining an amber and blue light on our little old club. Let's grab this Rebel Revolution with open arms and just like Weatherall did, send a cultural tidal wave across the borough of Slough and beyond!  

* This doesn't happen without blood, sweat (and during away games) beers. If you can help the club in anyway, drop Mark a line or chat to him on matchdays.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

FORENSIC FORUM

Printed in the National League South game v Havant and Waterlooville 2nd v 3rd Saturday 15th February 2020 We drew 1-1 in front of 1,028

'Seeing as 90% of our songs contain the words Bakes and Unders, how obligated do you feel to stay at the club?' It was a brilliant ice breaker question to kick off the recent fans forum – helpfully recorded for prosperity for those of us who couldn't make it. Chaired by Rebels Radio superstar Ade Gomm, the first question calmed the nerves after worries that the club couldn't match our managers ambitions. "We are not going anywhere." replied joint manager Neil Baker "We like it at Slough Town and our aim is to win promotion to National League with Slough Town. The fans are brilliant, particularly away from home."

One supporter asked if we can afford to stay in the league we are in now, let alone get promoted and how prepared are we for the league above. Acting Chair John Porter replied "There is no specific five year plan but the club aims to become an established National League side aiming for the English Football League. From the experience gained from the Hereford, Rochdale and Gillingham matches, the club would be able to cope with the requirements of National League matches."

Others asked if we need new players to push on? The managers admitted they are loyal and like a small squad of players that work hard for the team. Neil Baker "We have a small squad but most players want to be playing. The area which needs improving is the final third so that we score more goals. We have had Premier League clubs offering us players on loan as well as every reasonably local League One, League Two and National League club. Loan players expect to play and unless we have an injury, we do not want to upset our squad by restricting their playing time by bringing in loan players."

Others asked how we can grow our crowds and more importantly increase the diversity, essential in a town like Slough. This was the chance for our community engagement manager Mark Bailey to chip in and Mark talked how he continues to make contact with local organisations, ethnic groups and schools to promote interest in the club. Batches of free match tickets have been delivered to pubs, Mosques, Temples, police stations, hospitals and schools in the hope of enticing more people to games.

Kay Lacey, general secretary, talked about the development of teams. The club only had a first team when it moved in to Arbour Park. Now it also has under 15, under 14 and under 10 boys teams, a ladies team, under 13 and under 11 girls teams and a Community team.

Commercial Manager Craig Edwards focused on how the club are trying to increase corporate revenue. In a question about how half the advertising boards are council ones, he talked about how not being our own ground makes it difficult to make homely but he is working on bringing in more finance. We can't name the stands after legendary supporters that have passed away. We would need people to put together a football memorabilia board to be wheeled in and out at match days.

It was lively, good natured and honest. Exactly what a fans forum should be.

It's also clear from the discussions that Slough Town are seriously punching above their weight. We don't own the ground, we haven't got any investors but are instead run by a small committee of supporters and volunteers. Our managers are working miracles and you can't help but look upwards. But Torquay lost nearly a million quid getting promoted out of the National South last season and top of the National League table Barrow are set to lose £850,000 this financial year despite a smaller playing budget than many. One National League striker is said to be picking up an eye watering £2,800 a week. Barrow, who are run by local businessmen, pay nothing like that much with their average weekly salary said to be about £750. Essential ground work and clearing old debt have resulted in this large loss but how would the Rebels ever compete against that?

If it was up to me I would publish matchday takings, sponsorship, fundraising and expenditure so everyone gets to realise where the club is and also be specific about what sort of investment is needed.

Todays crowds is expected to be a bumper one but really the position we are in, we should be expecting a thousand every game. But 15 years of homelessness means almost starting from scratch.

As the panel kept reiterating, they need everyone to pull together, to go out and promote the club and help it push on. Distribute match day posters, ask your company if they want an advertising hoarding, see Mark Bailey if you want to target a group with free tickets, join the 500 club.

So lets enjoy the ride, try and sieze our moment and see where it takes us. If that means to the far reaches of the country to watch games of football, then so be it.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

PLAY IT AGAIN SAM

Published in the National League South game v Oxford City Saturday 1st February 2020  We lost 1-0 in front of 884

Seven hundred and thirty five clubs entered the FA Cup this season including Chichester City who played their first FA Cup game tie on the 10th August. They then played an FA Cup game more or less every 2 weeks until Round 2 in December. As a result the part-timers now have 9 games in 28 days in February. So what do Chichester have to say about all these extra games: 'Would we change it? No. Are we complaining about being knackered? No.'

But the FA Cup replay whinge-aphon is on. The top teams, with riches beyond most clubs wildest dreams, with second strings stuffed full of internationals are on the warpath, brought to a head by Shrewsbury having the cheek to draw with Liverpool and earn themselves a dream replay, which is in the middle of the top teams new winter break. The Liverpool boss has thrown a hissy fit and said he won't be there and his U23's will play instead. Shrewsbury and Liverpool have played exactly the same games so far this season. But guess which club is moaning about the extra game? Surely not the one that has a massive squad with players on big bucks and state of the art fitness facilities?

Some of that wealth will now be shared with Shrewsbury whose manager pointed out that not so long ago they were drowning in debt but now own their ground, their training facilities and turn a profit. The cup replay money will enable the club to buy video analysis equipment for the training ground and better drainage for some of their pitches. Surely that is something to celebrate rather than focus on Liverpool saying they've booked a holiday and won't be playing.

The top teams wanted their B teams to play in the Leasings Trophy; a cup that used to be just for first and second division league clubs with a chance to get to play at Wembley. The top teams said their academy players need competitive football, so demanded the changes. The result? A cup that is so popular it has managed to smash attendance records across grounds – for lowest ever crowds attending a competitive match. And a cup whose rules state that if managers dare play weakened teams they will get fined.

Maybe, just maybe, they need to look at themselves and the way they hoover up the best youngsters in the world like old people stocking up on food in case of a nuclear war. Too many games? The European Club Association wants four additional matchdays in the Champions League and Mr.Pep now wants rid of the League Cup to ease the pressure on players. Perhaps teams finishing second, third and fourth in the Premier League shouldn't be in the Champions of anything. Meanwhile The Europa league has grown into a fixture creating monster. 

Then there’s the Club World Cup, scheduled to begin in its new expanded format in summer 2021. It is not yet clear European clubs will compete but already the tournament has forced the Africa Cup of Nations to be re-rescheduled to avoid a clash.

So who gets to make these decisions?

Accrington Stanleys forthright Chairman Andy Holt spills the beans

The English football pyramid should be the envy of the world (but) nobody knows or is following a grand strategy to get from A to B. I’ve asked to see the strategy and 10 year plans. There isn’t one. How can we hope to improve the game without a plan.”

Mr.Holt then spells out there is little chance for clubs to speak out and make change. “Within the confines of each meeting and especially divisional meetings, the opportunity to change course doesn’t present itself. It’s a tightly controlled agenda presented by the board. Most of the meetings are a waste of life, packed out with irrelevance to the real issues. The Championship set of to a separate room, League One to another, League Two likewise. All discussing minor issues. But who’s discussing the major issues? We never discuss relationships with the Premier League or the National League. That’s above our pay grade. Shaun Harvey (former EFL Chief Exec) would have an agenda set with and by the Premier League. No English Football League (EFL) teams were asking for B teams. No EFL clubs were pushing for changes to the transfer window. No EFL clubs were asking for 5th round replays to be scrapped. The board just found ways to get what they wanted. When a vote was had, many times all of the options available suited the Premier League. We tried to get failing clubs on the agenda. Nicolas Palios (Tranmere Chairman) stood up in a meeting to raise the issue and was swept aside, like I was when asking WHY we were discussing irrelevant issues whilst the house was burning down.” 

Despite all its riches, football is a financial car crash. The FA Cup is one of the few ways left to throw lower league clubs a life raft. Yet this is now under attack. But as Andy Holt points out “They don’t realise that they to are on the ship that is listing. It doesn’t matter what class of passenger you are when the ship goes down. The top 6 are eating caviar at the captains table, down below decks we can see the water coming in.”

The FA Cup binds the pyramid together. Big clubs, small clubs come together annually in a celebration of English football. We need to cherish it.”