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.

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.”




Friday, January 17, 2020

SLOUGH TOWN NEEDS YOU

Printed in the National League South game v Dartford Saturday 18th January 2020 
We won 1-0 in front of 854
 
The past decade has been kind to Slough.
Just ten years ago we were homeless and playing against Beaconsfield on a Boxing Day derby in front of just 297 people in the Southern League Central Division.
Some local councillors told us we should merge with Windsor. We spent one season getting thrashed every week culminating in a 9-0 defeat at AFC Wimbledon which sealed our relegation. I remember turning up at Chelmsford and our manager telling us another five players had left and half-joking with one of our supporters that he might have to pull on his boots. Local clubs enjoyed taking us down a peg or two, with the AFC Hayes tannoy man and their manager always asking sarcastically how our search for a new ground was going as they once again beat us. We were knocked out of the FA Cup by Erith Town, Hanworth Villa and Wroxham.
I was there when Steve Easterbrook was introduced after a game as our new chairman. With Steve at the helm the building blocks for a new club were slowly put in place. He didn't splash the cash or promise football league in five years like so many flash-in-the-pan idiots who are foolishly entrusted with running football clubs. I interviewed Steve for that Boxing Day Beaconsfield programme. He talked about his plans for the club, how it was much easier to be chairman when the club was winning; the difference between running a successful business and a football club – and how incredibly frustrating the slow progress of getting a ground back in Slough was. Following that interview it was to be another six years before we finally moved into Arbour Park.
But the last answer to the question where he would like Slough to be in 10 years time was very prophetic. “Assuming we are back in Slough I see no reason why we should not be in the Conference South League competing for promotion into the Conference.”
Enter joint managers Neil and Jon who have been at the club seven years and overseen over 500 games delivering success after success. If you haven't yet done so, I recommend you listen to The Non League Gaffer Tapes where they are interviewed by former Rebels assistant manager Dave Anderson for a fascinating if slightly concerning discussion.
The hour long candid talk covers everything from how joint management works for them, how they embrace social media but try to inform rather than get into debates. It is also evident that both are ambitious and want the chance to manage as high up the leagues as they can.
So can Slough Town match these ambitions?
Crowds are not growing as much as they had hoped (up just 5% on last year) and its hard for a number of reasons to get Arbour Park rocking. But really in a town like Slough we should be knocking on a thousand for every game.
Ten years ago Windsor went bust under debts of nearly £250,000. They have spent the proceeding decade as a mid-table Hellenic League club. It's a stark reminder of how not to run a football club. In contrast the Rebels are financially stable after prudent management and two memorable cup runs. But it's expensive running a football club at our level and the steering group that took over from Steve Easterbrook are looking for investors to push the club forward. To meet Neil and Jon's ambitions the club would need a financial boost to support the significant increased costs of running a National League team. If investors are out there, now is the time to come forward.
So apart from chatting up rich relatives what can we do as supporters?
One simple but very effective way to help is bring more people to games. Slough Town needs to better reflect the place it represents and we all need to get behind Mark Bailey, our new community engagement manager if this is going to happen. Ask for posters and free tickets so you can entice people to come and Mark is always happy to provide these. If every regular Slough fan took a poster and two tickets for six local schools or businesses in their neighbourhood that would be a tremendous boost to attendance and would only take an hour of your day to distribute. This strategy is already working but there is only so much of a huge town like Slough one man can cover!
It's a fine balancing act. As someone with a Slough and Brighton season ticket, I much prefer the family friendly feel of non league. I love what we have now and I wouldn't want to jeopardise that but like all Slough fans we don't want to lose who I reckon are the best two managers in my Slough Town footballing lifetime.
It's in our hands.

Monday, December 30, 2019

THERE'S ONLY ONE MISHI MORATH

Published in the National League South game v Eastbourne Borough on Saturday 4th January 2020 We drew 1-1 in front of 712

Every club has that one person who you can't imagine not being there. For Slough it was Chris Sliski, for Dulwich Hamlet it was Mishi Morath who sadly passed away just before Christmas.

Mishi always said if you cut him he would bleed pink and blue. His support wasn't just for the first team, but for all the teams that put on the Hamlet colours. Reserves, woman’s team, youth. He would be there if he could. He was eccentric, out spoken, a wordsmith who was proud of his Sarf London working class roots and staunchly Labour. He was a former alcoholic who had kicked the bottle a long time ago with many drunken tales of the Dulwich rabble away days. He loved non league football and was well known especially across London lending his support to all levels of football. He loved visiting museums, tweeting out odd nuggets of history, and of course couldn't pass a pie and mash shop. He was a librarian who loved his profession, and didn't enjoy seeing it being taken over by volunteers – 'you wouldn't have a volunteer bin man so why a voluntary librarian?'

Ironically it was Non League football that also saved his life earlier in the year when he was resuscitated by soldiers after having a heart attack while watching a Royal Engineers football match. This meant he finally got to see Dulwich play in the 1st round of the FA Cup for the only time in his lifetime. Of course he got a starring role on Match of the Day where he even managed to have a dig at arch rivals Tooting and Mitcham. Infact he once produced a fanzine celebrating 100 glory years of Tooting and Mitcham – which was just empty pages!

A few days after his death Dulwich were voted the Football Supporters Association Club of the Year. Some achievement for a club a little over 12 months ago who were locked out of its ground and fighting to stay alive. Dulwich's community manager said “Putting on a community initiative is relatively straightforward. Getting everyone to buy into it and support in their thousands is the challenge. Finally, this award is down to the club’s work for many years. This type of recognition doesn’t happen because of one idea or initiative. This award recognises Dulwich Hamlet’s commitment to their community for many years. My involvement, as part of the community team, has been fairly recent. I inherited a role which has been built up and established by my predecessors. This is testament to their work as much as it is to the current community team. On behalf of the club, I would like to dedicate this award Mr Dulwich himself – Mishi Morath. Without his hard work and dedication over the years, this award would not have been possible.”

What I really liked about Mishi, is that he embraced all the new fans coming to the club. Infact he loved how little old Dulwich who used to struggle to get crowds of 200 now regular packed them in at over 2,000.

The Dulwich management team, celebrating 600th games in charge, gave a moving tribute to Mishi "We've lost a part of Dulwich. He was one of the main factors I understood what the football club was all about, its traditions, what it meant to local people. Mishi was able to put that into words. What he done for the football club was unbelievable. A lot of the outreach work, the community work was started off from Mishi, the crowds that we see now and the legacy is due to Mishi.

"For a football club to be successful it needs more than players, more than management, it needs everybody and Mishi epitomized that. People often use the word legend loosely, but at this football club, what he did here, 100% an absolute legend.”

Football clubs are nothing without fans and if run properly are so much more than just 90 minutes of football. The Hamlet and Mishi's lives were entwined for so long that it's going to be hard to imagine one without the other.

There will only ever be one Mishi Morath. RIP

 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

WHEN SATURDAY COMES

Printed in the National League South game v Wealdstone Boxing Day 2019. We beat the league leaders 2-1 in front of 1,307 people. Not a bad birthday present.

When Saturday Comes and if I can't get to watch Slough or Brighton are playing on a Thursday morning at 6am to satisfy Chinese TV, I still need to watch a game of football. Any level will do and I'm always amazed at how many clubs survive in this country. Within a few miles of my house I can watch a dozen teams who enter the FA Cup or Vase. Every year there's a Chichester City who get an FA Cup break, transforming the club from one recently on the brink of bankruptcy, to one with a lot more financial breathing space.

But it's not all a bed of roses. The other Wednesday I went to see Southwick v Arundel in the Southern Combination Division One, just below the Southern Combination Premier League, seeing as every league now boasts it has a Premier League. Their ground has seen better days, they've had to call time earlier in the season on their under 18's as too many players had work and college commitments. They've got a smart clubhouse that's opened every day of the week, but they have to compete with neighbouring teams for players, sponsorship and crowds. 


I managed to get along to near neighbours Shoreham for the first time since they got promoted to the Ryman League. Promotion was at the expense of Champions Haywards Heath losing points after failing one of those player registration bureaucratic puzzles where you need to be fluent in Latin and a mind-reader to understand. It was a promotion to far, financially crippling the club so I asked their friendly co-chairman Stuart Slaney how the FA could help clubs like Shoreham. 'Making funding more accessible to clubs to help with the stadium upgrade criteria when being promoted; in my opinion the criteria is far to strict. It can cost a club thousands of pounds to upgrade even before a ball is kicked.' In their one and only season at that level they finished rock bottom and were relegated back to the Premier then again last season into Division One where they are struggling. There's no doubt the ground grading rules has made the place smart but with average gates of just 57 (83 when the Albion play away) is a 250 seater stand the priority? Surely it should be pitch that should be receiving investment, as the more games it can take, the more income for the club, but like so many it bobbles and is full of divots that doesn't help the game flow. I ask Stuart about 3G 'That is every lower league clubs dream but again funding is not that straightforward and you need a dedicated person to try and process an application for funding and even if you application is successful you still have to find around 20% of the final costings which again is out of the reach of most clubs.'



This season alone two teams in the Southern Combination, Siddlesham and Cowfold, have had to withdraw their first teams because of rows with their parish councils over lease agreements. 
And at grassroots level things are even worse. 
As I watched my eldest play on pot holed, sloping, mud bath I wondered how this was meant to help with his development unless he was going to make a career from planting potatoes. An FA report published in December 2015 found that 2,360 grassroots teams had disbanded over the past three years and the number of regular 11 a side players aged 16 or over had fallen by 180,000 since 2005. More FA Commissioned research spoke to players with nearly all citing facilities, finances and red tape as off-putting factors. 'Players don't want to play on shit pitches with cold showers when you can go play fives or sevens on 3G flat pitches with good facilities for the same price, and not get fined for bookings of wearing the wrong sock tape.'
The Tory Manifesto promised everyone the moon on a stick and to fix the things they broke in the first place. They said they will invest £550 million in grassroots football and "ensure every family in England will be, on average, 15 minutes from a great football pitch."
Our national game has been crying out for investment for years, thankfully Slough Council had the foresight to invest in new facilities not just for our club but for everyone in the borough. Meanwhile the FA stood motionless as Bury went bust, and other clubs can't pay players or staff. The government has starved local authorities of cash so they have no money to maintain their pitches, so I wouldn't hold your breath that things are going to change soon. 
So if you've been thinking of a New Years Resolution, why not go and help out your club and become one of the army of volunteers that keep our beautiful, bobbly pitch, game alive and kicking.

 


Friday, December 06, 2019

THERE'S ONLY #ONESLOUGH

Printed in the National League South game v Braintree Town Saturday 7th December 2019 We won 1-0 in front of 739


I was recently at the funeral of my Uncle John. John was a black man growing up in Slough in the 1950's. In the swinging sixties he started dating a white woman. I remember listening in disbelief at the stories of people deliberately crossing the road to spit in her face for the crime of going out with someone a different colour. Although not so shocked at the stories of my dad and John taking on the world when people insulted him! When John started dating Pam, people told them it would never last and her parents wouldn't have him in the house. They were married for over 50 years and in the end her parents accepted John for who he was rather than the colour of his skin.

One of our players said that because of his mental health he needed a break from the game. Such honesty would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. Remember that dirtrag of a paper the Sun piling on boxer Frank Bruno for his mental health issues? But the outpouring of support to Simon Dunn was heart warming and will in turn help others to speak out, because we have a mental health crisis in this country. It's shocking to think that the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide, so it was great to see people lose their flowing locks and raise over £2,000 for MIND at last weeks headshaveathon.

We all want to belong, to feel part of something, and football clubs like Slough have a massive part to play, but also have to be more than just about ninety minutes of football for that too happen.

If Slough Town wants to grow its crowds, we need to better reflect the place it represents. Since Mark Bailey's inspired appointment as Community Engagement Officer every game now feels like Non League Day with different ways being tried to get new punters through the turnstiles. Last week 61 people, mainly police officers, took advantage of free tickets for public sector workers. Today is the beginning of the #OneSlough campaign with free tickets handed out to mosques, temples etc. The club has also just signed up to the Kick It Out Equality Charter.

As Mark said “My remit will be to raise the profile of the club with the local community, the outcome of which should be a significant increase in attendance on match days, not only in terms of overall numbers but also the diversity of the crowd. My absolute focus from now to the start of the season will be getting more kids down to Arbour Park. We will be offering schools, youth clubs and youth football teams in the area free tickets and match day experiences at every home game. Alongside this, we will be targeting other areas of the population we feel are under-represented in our support base.”

It shouldn't just be up to governments to provide for everything but it shouldn't be cutting safety nets for those that fall on hard times. The charity I run works with adults with learning disabilities and children struggling at school often with their mental health. We have had to deal with a £36,000 cut in the past year – for a charity that had a turnover of just £100,000 that's a hefty slice. Adults with disabilities have their services shut and are then sent to us with no extra resources to look after them. School kids that don't fit into educations square pegs need support more than ever but schools can't afford to pay for our services. I'm a parent-governor at a secondary school which has had to cut £150,000 off its budget last year while the primary school I work in one of Brighton's poorest estates, has laid off a dozen staff and lost a staggering £388,000 in four years. Is this how the 5th richest country in the world values education? The OFSTED inspectors then pile in. Instead of measuring where a pupil starts to where they end up, insist that all children are the same; forget the poverty, forget that some are 18 months developmentally behind their peers when they start nursery, apparently they are as equal as the most affluent schools in the city! Which is the footballing equivalent of complaining that Slough Town can't beat Chelsea despite the huge gulf in wealth and resources.

Everything has become back to front. We have a Minister of Loneliness while pubs, libraries, community centres not to mention football clubs where people can meet and feel less lonely, are closing. We have a Health and Well Being Champion while mental health support services are becoming increasingly impossible to access. My local primary school has free bagels for children at breakfast. Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone had decent enough wages with capped rents so they could afford to feed their kids properly? And according to Shelter at least 135,000 children will be homeless and living in temporary accommodation across Britain on Christmas day – the highest number for 12 years. So it's all very well for the Tories to shout about more nurses, more services, more sticky toffee pudding, but ain't they the ones that have been in charge for ten years busy dismantling it all?

Christmas can be hard for some, but I think the club creating Mark's community engagement role is such a positive step that can only be a good thing not just for the club but for the town of Slough. And maybe, just maybe get some people to realise, no matter how different we are, if you cut us, we all still bleed.

Friday, November 15, 2019

WATERLOGGED-VILLE

Published in the National League South game v Tonbridge Angels Saturday 30th November 2019 We drew 0-0 in front of 771
 
Maybe we shouldn't have sung so loudly when the game was called off, although to be fair we were in such high spirits we were singing songs about Deanos dysfunctional balloons. Havant and Waterlooville was becoming Waterloggedville, the ref losing his footing, the ball not moving, the rain continuing to pour. It was more conducive to water-polo than football. We had just gone 2-0 down and their supporters weren't happy, some giving us an earful as we replenished our glasses in their bar; not that I remember me personally making the decision to call the game off. 

 
So it got me thinking of where else Slough fans had travelled across the country to see half a game. I'm sure if the legendary John Tebbit was still around he would let us know about those long forgotten abandoned games in Sloughs distant past, but these are some I can remember.
I got totally lost in the pouring rain one Tuesday evening trying to find Walton and Hersham's ground and arrived just before half time starving and soaked. I could only find a burger bun with onions to eat and the game got called off before the second half started. I sat freezing waiting for the train back home questioning my sanity after seeing no football but feeling like i'd wet my pants.
At Horsham the heavens opened and the game was called off with just 20 minutes played. While I sat miserable on my rail replacement bus at least I was better off than Yeovil Steve who had legged it after work to see the game from the West Country and whose car was stuck in the mud in the Horsham car-park. Slough fans helping him push out the mud, got covered in crap for their troubles.
It took us weeks to walk from Arlesey train station to the football ground, the longest village in the world. Luckily we got picked up by our manager before we ran out of food and water. But the ref injured himself during the game, and no one would step up to be a replacement lino so the game was called off. Once again I was handed a useless ticket to come to the next midweek game which I would never make. Then we found out that under the rules, the game could have carried on with just one linesman!
At Banbury a teenager who had apparently already been thrown out, hit the ref with a bottle of water full in the face at half time, knocking him out. The ref then refused to come out second half and the game was called off. The league bottled it as well, taking an age to make a decision before saying we had to play a meaningless game at the end of another waterlogged, frozen off abandoned season.
So thank our plastic stars for artificial pitches. It would take a nuclear war or stray firework to call a 3G game off and it is the future of non league football.
I'm not sure we will get such a warm welcome at the rearranged Havant game but calling the ref a cheat is the sort of nonsense which has ultimately led to VAR which as we can all see has sorted out the contentious decisions
As for Slough, maybe Deano will have patched up his balloon for Chippenham, but does this make the Chippenham match Bakes and Unders 501¾ game in charge? We're going to struggle with a song and a balloon for that.


 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE HAPPEN

Published in the National League South game v Chelmsford City Saturday 2nd November 2019. We won 2-1 in front of 731

Last week I was in Hastings talking about the Bevy Pub and how we achieved the impossible. Re-opening a dodgy estate boozer and turning it into a co-operatively owned community centre which runs everything from seniors lunch clubs, kids cooking, art clubs, dementia café, parkrun etc. You sing it, we will put it on. Joining me on stage were some very impressive people.

There was Sally from Watchet in Somerset, a town devastated by the closure of their 250 year old paper recycling mill. She is part of the Onion Collective a remarkable group of women bringing investment and jobs back into their small town. Two of their team had been raised in a zoo their parents had built from scratch and so have a we-can-do-anything attitude built into their DNA. Their latest venture is working with a bio-tech company to use mushroom mycelium (the thread like material of the mushroom that grows underground) to eat plastic waste and turn that into building materials which will create the hundreds of jobs that had been lost when the paper mill closed. The Library of Things is a simple idea where equipment is lent out so you don't have to buy stuff like a drill which you will only use once in a blue moon. Repowering London put solar panels on some of London’s poorest housing estates creating training, jobs and cutting electricity bills for people with few opportunities.

What we often ignore is that most of these people and their ideas come out of protest movements. The ones like Extinction Rebellion where people dress as broccoli and octopuses, block roads and have put climate chaos back on the agenda. Of course its easy to pick holes when people protest. 'How can we take you seriously, when you're not wearing potato sacks for clothes' they cry. 'You've got a phone! You don't live in a house carved out of a mushroom.' (that will come later from Watchet).

But let's be honest 'Please Sir can we have some more' just never really washes with the powers that be.

Take the Suffragettes, who everyone now idolises but did a lot more than stop a few cars to get the vote. We all know about Emily Davison who threw herself under the King's horse in June 1913. But less so about the letter boxes they set alight, the thousands of windows they smashed, the telephone wires cut, and graffiti scrawled. They burned down the empty houses of the rich and dug up golf courses. They attacked British Museum exhibits and paintings in the National Gallery. Imprisoned suffragettes went on hunger strike and were force-fed while others started planting small bombs until the outbreak of the First World War saw the abandonment of the campaign.

As Nicholas Klein quoted at a Trade Union convention in 1918. 'First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.'

The people who spoke in Hastings have a pig headed never say no attitude that started on the streets protesting but has metamorphosed into creating something that will make everyones lives better. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

This attitude is one Slough supporters had to adopt when everyone in authority turned their back on the club and even suggested we merged with Windsor. It was the supporters who formed a Trust and started campaigning outside the Town Hall; held a red card protest during our FA Cup game with Walsall, and stood candidates during local elections. I knew the leader of the council at the time who complained bitterly that people had been rude to him on the phone because his Liberal Party brushed aside the Rebels pleas. While we plummeted homeless down the leagues, others said that no one really cared about football in Slough. Yet here we are. A mix of stubbornness, business brains and volunteer hours, which means we are already part of the fabric of the town despite only being back home for three years.  

There's so much amazing stuff happening in this country but it is drowned out by politicians simple slogans or ridiculed by newspapers owned by billionaires written by columnists born with a silver spoon. We get more in-depth football analogy than we do political. So turn off the TV news, recycle those newspapers, ignore social media and sit down with a good history book.

The politics of pointing fingers and blaming everyone else can take you down a dark road. I'd prefer to try and work with people to make things better. Sometimes that will be on the streets, sometimes that will be hunched over a computer or chatting over a pint or on the terraces. It's a lot more fun as well than moaning and waiting for others to make things happen.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

CARE PLAN

Published in the National League South game v Welling United Tuesday 29th October 2019. We won 1-0 in front of 630


This year’s 10th anniversary of Non League Day saw me celebrating, not on the Arbour Park terraces but at a wedding where I bumped into Slough resident Tony Johnston who previously lived in what was the Vicarage and is now the care home right next to Arbour Park. Here's his story.

Oxford House was built around 1907 as The Vicarage for Saint Paul's Church just a few hundred yards further up Stoke Road. In the late 70's it was acquired by the Johnston family to house their growing family and was later adapted into a Nursing Home in the early 80's. The Johnston family remain the proprietors of Oxford House today and it is now a comfortable home to some 34 local elderly residents. It has a reputation for outstanding quality of care and is held in very high regard locally as one of Berkshire's very best care homes.

Tony continues the story “The current Arbour Vale site was previously the playing fields of Orchard School. When plans were first mooted for the site to be Slough Town FCs new home ground, we viewed the plans with a mixture of apprehension and enthusiasm. As a local family, we share a sense of connection with The Rebels and a number of close friends are life-long fans of the Club (some might say obsessed). Fans have long pined for a return to having their own home ground and this seemed to be a great solution after many false starts. However, we did had some concerns around security, light pollution, noise levels and increased local traffic congestion, not to mention the thought of a previous green field site becoming a potential eye sore.

The Club, its main building contractors and Slough Borough Council's planners worked with us collaboratively to address each of those concerns. Due consideration was given to enhanced security fencing, thoughtful floodlighting, road planning and parking restrictions, so that none of our concerns have proven to be a problem. The eventual site layout and architecture has subsequently enhanced the local landscape and is now a local landmark for the town. Throughout construction, the assigned Project Manager met with us regularly to update us on progress. We think the ground looks fantastic and offers a brilliant new facility to Slough residents. Recent form suggests players feel good about the facilities too.

The Club have been kind enough to provide Oxford House with a number of complimentary season tickets allowing our residents, and their Carers where necessary, to attend matches. These tickets are well utilised and we now run a 'book' to ensure they are used evenly across all of those residents that enjoy the game as demand for the tickets is always high. We have many family members who comment that for "Mum or Dad" the outings to Arbour Park are often a highlight in their week. Slough Town FC Staff on match days are very accommodating and the allocated viewing area is spot on. Competition amongst staff to accompany residents can often be fierce! We have some families who particularly wanted their parents to reside at Oxford House because of this ease of safe and accompanied access to match days. One of our current residents has been a huge fan since the 1930's and one of their relatives, Charlie Wakefield, was a goalkeeper with the club between 1937 – 1949 making 232 appearances. His brother, Percy Wakefield set up Upton United and Slough Villa in the late 1920's, and in 1930 when he was 19, played his first match for Slough Town but mainly paid for Slough reserves. He eventually became a ref and was later vice-chairman of the Slough Referees Association. Two brothers and two keepers!”  

So much happens behind the scenes to make a football club tick, to make it part of its community. The story of the Rebels relationship with Oxford House care home, to me sums up all that is good about the club and why it’s so important to get things right off the pitch as well as on.



Saturday, September 28, 2019

YES WE HAVE NO BANANAS

Published in the National League South game v Billericay Town on Saturday 12th October. Non League Day.  We won 3-1 in front of 1115

It's what FA Cup dreams are made of. A local derby. Village side managed by former player at home against a team three leagues higher. On a sloping pitch. But would it be full of banana skins?
I hadn't watched Slough play at Flackwell Heath since 1979. I remember snow, the ref asking for a replacement whistle after his pea fell out and a stonking crowd of 800 – boosted by the fact that all other local games were off - squashed into Wilkes Park to see us win in the Berks and Bucks Cup.
But today was the beginning of the Slough Town FA Cup adventure, on a beautifully sunny late September, a venture that has seen us reach the Second Round proper in the previous two seasons; like the previous rounds are somehow improper. Could we finally get the Third Round monkey off our back, or would we continue with the unwelcome accolade of the team who has reached the Second Round the most times without ever progressing to the Third?
Flackwell had already played three away games and a Tuesday night replay to get to this point, beating Oxhey Jets, Newport Pagnell Town and Sutton Athletic, earning over £10,000 in prize money to boot. Lose in any of the qualifying rounds and you now receive some cash, giving the FA Cup not just prestige but a real money spinner for clubs lower down the pryamid pecking order.
I was going to get the train to Flackwell until someone pointed out that the station had been closed since 1970. So I was Bourne End bound to meet up with the Rebel Rabble in Slough fan Carl and his missus Kim's Keg Bar. Opened in a former hairdressers The Keg Bar is a micropub, which according to The Micropub Association is defined as “a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks". The first one opened in a former butchers shop in Herne, Kent in 2005 and with so many traditional pubs closing, micropubs are a beer success story. A friend opened one in Shoreham in an old pet shop that had originally been a pub that had shut 100 years earlier! The Door Hinge opposite Welling's ground, bans mobile phones and larger and when I went to use the loo thought I had walked into someones front room as I disturbed a couple sat on a settee. When I found myself wandering round Newcastle recently, I came across one on an industrial estate. With lower overheads than a pub, it's no surprise there are hundreds with more opening every week. 

 
The Keg Bar is a great little boozer but it was time to taxi to Flackwell Heath, where a crowd of 484 gathered ready for some cup action. Flackwell averaged 73 last season in the league (with a total of 1,757 all season) and these Cup games give a real sense of occasion. They fired up the BBQ, the publicity and when the circus rolls out of town, you hope they have managed to hook a few new fans into supporting their local club.
Flackwell Heath are ambitious but not stupid. When they won the Hellenic League in 2014-15 they were set to be promoted to Division One Central of the Southern League. However, after Clevedon Town were demoted, they were provisionally placed in Division One South & West and subsequently declined promotion due to the doubling of travelling costs.
In the opening half Slough supporter Mick Carter took one for the team. Ben Harris was either jealous of us drinking or felt Mick had had enough as his dipping shot hit his pint clean out of his hand and the lenses out of his glasses. Luckily we hadn't drunk the Heathens bar dry just yet as Mick muttered something about having a word with Ben's dad as he sloped off for a refill.



Flackwells defending was resolute, but Slough finally got the first goal in the 36th minute with Ben Harris finding the net rather than Micks fresh pint. From then on, Slough were always in control. There would be no bananas or being splashed on the front page of the Non League Paper. It ended 3-0 Slough. Job done.
Next up Chippenham Town away.