These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MARTYRS TO THE CAUSE


To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Merthyr Town Saturday 18th February 2017
  
I'll hold my hands up and say that I’ve got a soft spot for Merthyr Tydfil. Or maybe that should read a soft spot for Welsh cakes. One of my earliest memories is the smell of them wafting around my Welsh grannies house on the Wexham estate and I’ve loved them ever since.
My dads family arrived in Slough from the Valleys looking for work – and to escape disapproval with his mum pregnant and unmarried. My politics were fired up by the Miners Strike and I was part of a Slough delegation that spent a weekend in the Valleys listening to their stories. Two of my mates even moved back to the Valleys in the 1990's and we always seemed to be heading up the M4 to South Wales for a visit.
In 2006, a TV series ranked Merthyr Tydfil as the United Kingdom's third-worst place to live and after the miners strike South Wales definitely struggled with the closure of not just the pits but a way of life that had sewn the community together for generations.
So when I visited Merthyr on our last game of the 2015/16 season I must admit I was presently surprised. As we soaked up the towns history in the old Town Hall now the Redhouse arts centre I learnt of a town at the forefront of industrial revolution with iron then coal. About the 1831 Merthyr uprising where thousands of workers marching under a red flag which was later adopted internationally as the symbol of communists and socialists. For four days, magistrates and ironmasters were under siege in the Castle Hotel with the workers controlling the town. Described by one historian as “the most ferocious and bloody event in the history of industrialised Britain” the uprising was eventually crushed and led to the hanging of the first working class martyr Dic Penderyn. We of course had to have a pint in the pub named after him – and the football club are nicknamed the Martyrs.
The football club has also had a chequered past even appearing in the football league for 10 years. Now supporters owned, fans campaigned to get rid of their old chairman who at one point seemed to be offering to sell their Southern league place to another club! After they were liquidated, the fans began again as Merthyr Town in the Toolstation Western League Division One playing home games 20 miles away in Taffs Well. But it took them just three seasons to regain their Southern League status. A league they have won more than any other club in its history. Thanks to a £500,000 grant they installed a 3G pitch and are doing up their ground. Company secretary John Strand said: "The club sees this development as a springboard for the club to become a hub for football development in Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding areas." More matches on the pitch, more income, more people involved in the club. In 2015 they were named as the UEFA grassroots club of the year.
There's not much that keeps me out of the pub on an away day, but stumbling across a market stall packed to the rafters with Welsh cakes is definitely one of them.
Just seven years after being liquidated, the new Merthyr Town are fighting for promotion to the Conference South. And while we might be sick of the sight of each other in the FA Trophy, I will never get sick of the sight and smell of a good old Welsh cake.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

MY FA CUP RUNNETH OVER

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Weymouth on Tuesday 7th February 2017. We won 3-0 in front of 612 people. 

It's been an FA Cup season to savour. I mean who didn't enjoy watching Manchester United's hard-fought 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic which really captured the magic that the FA and BBC never tire of telling us about, like some drunk bloke at the bar. That's 56 non stop appearances for those Red Devils since 2005 who need that extra exposure so they can flog a few more shirts in some far flung corner of the world to help pay the millions of debt the poisoned dwarfs of America saddled them with. To be fair, the new leader of the opposition Gary Lineker - who somehow has to stop his sides splitting every time some twitter intelligentsia reply 'shat on' to his tweets - pointed out that the BBC wanted to show the Lincoln v Brighton game after Lincoln had beaten an Ipswich side so poor it look as if their players had been run over by a tractor. English football fans would have enjoyed it but their probably ain't a lot of Lincoln fans in the Far East so the FA weren't interested. Of course they dressed it up, with some flannel that it wouldn't have been fair to football fans to move fixtures at short notice! Come again? That's what happens to Brighton everytime they go to kick a ball. 

The Lincoln, Sutton, Oxford United and Wolves victories showed that while it's fine for managers to see how good your fringe players are, these wholesale changes give those players just the sort of confidence boosting shot in the arm they need - losing to lower league opposition. Dress it up how you like, but we all know that for the bigger clubs the FA Cup is just an irritant. I'd have rather gorged out my eyes than watch Brighton play Franchise FC in the 3rd round, which considering how excited I get about the early rounds of the cup, that's saying something. And when I told my eldest that Brighton had been knocked out, he said he didn't care.

The Whole Game Solution wanted to scrap replays which would denied Lincoln and Sutton their 3rd round victories and Plymouth their pay day with 17,000 packing out Home Park against Liverpool's not-quite-good-enoughs. These are the games that bring in new fans as well as a welcome cash boost. 

Football really needs to tell the top teams that it isn't all about them. That there is a thriving, underground  of lower leagues that sometimes pop up on our TV screens but is there every week for those might like to see an actual ball kicked in real life for a sum of money that wont leave your children starving at the dinner table. 
So here's my short manifesto to help improve the FA Cup
* More money to teams winning in the earlier improper qualifying rounds - do the winners really need £1.8 million?
* The team from the lower division always gets to play at home. I'm sure Arsenal players are going to love going to play at Sutton (where incidentally I nearly got crushed to death by former kit-man Jelly when we all piled into the players tunnel after Slough won the Isthmian League at Gander Green Lane in 1981)
* TV money to be evenly spread just not on those picked to be televised (I know, I know this might bankrupt Manchester United).
* More non league clubs to get to play in the first round
* With more places now up for grabs than actual countries in the world, the winners of the FA Cup to be allowed to enter the World Cup

So good luck to Sutton who are proper non league, unlike Lincoln who are one of those clubs who are just waiting to scramble back to the Football League once they've sorted out that faulty component that dumped them into the lower reaches (usually financial mismanagement). Sutton are part time, their manager gets paid nothing (ok, he's financially secure enough to do that, but its not often that very rich people do things for nought) and he doesn't want them to be in the League. Lack of ambition or a sensible bit of realism?
I wouldn't want Slough to be in the Football League either – too many rules and regulations, and its bad enough trying to find your mates at Arbour Park already, now our crowds have more than doubled since the move back into town. But I do want us to be in the Conference South – and get in the 3rd round of the FA Cup just once in my lifetime. Actually add that the manifesto list. Automatic Bye to the 3rd round proper of the FA Cup every season to Slough Town.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

MORE THAN JUST A FOOTBALL CLUB

Published in the Southern League Premier Division game v Dunstable Town Saturday 4th February 2017.We won 1-0 in front of 503 punters.

John Porter is Slough Town's General Manager. I caught up with him in Kev's physio room to find out about his role.

How did you get involved at Slough? 
 
John: I am close friends with Bakes and Unders and followed them during their first joint management post at Godalming. When the managers were announced at Slough, I began to follow the Rebels and attend games, acting mostly as the managers driver – though I didn’t have to wear a hat, just a Slough Town FC tracksuit! In February 2014 I began commentating on Rebels Radio (which Bakes kindly volunteered me for) and started completing pre and post-match interviews with the managers. I am really happy to have the opportunity to talk about something I love and have a good laugh at the same time.

Can you let us know more about your role now?

John: I began working with our chairman Steve Easterbrook during the summer as Bakes (again!!!) volunteered my services to help out. This was initially focused on the homecoming Hayes and Yeading match and using my organisational, planning and people skills to try and achieve what at some points seemed like the impossible! Through this process I saw the club and its volunteers (the heartbeat) in a very different light. I built some great relationships during that intense and stressful period and it really stood out was the selfless dedication of volunteers to put themselves out there for the club they care so much about.

One highlight was the amazing ticket sales and I still can’t thank the team of volunteers for the hours and efforts they put in to advertising and promoting the event, managing the orders, planning the allocations and seating, getting the tickets and actually sending/handing them out! Looking back I still can’t see how we did it all in such a short time and with so little sleep. There are many other highlights and people to thank I only hope they all realise how grateful the club are for their support and effort - boy they delivered! It’s an amazing success and one we should be very proud of.

The move from Beaconsfield to Slough has been much more than a physical move; the club is changing at a rate and pace not seen for a number of years. This is great for Slough and the team and results on the pitch have matched this. During the initial period Steve and I began working closely together and it became clear to us that the club needed to be restructured to support the new adventure at Arbour Park as match day at Arbour Park is so much more intensive than it was at Beaconsfield.

I became General Manager of Slough Town and my work is split into two core elements, operational and strategic.

As a club operating from (a partially built) Arbour Park the work put into getting the match day ready is at a different level to Holloways Park. It is not uncommon to have volunteers arriving at the ground shortly after 10am and not leaving until 7pm.
The operational side focuses on the ability for Slough Town to be able to communicate and deliver matches well for supporters, sponsors, players, officials, council and volunteers. Deliverables cover a broad spectrum of areas from social media/marketing through to putting out “no parking” cones on Stoke Road ahead of the match.
I am very lucky to have a great committee team around me, all with designated areas of responsibility, who work tirelessly to delivery matches whatever challenges come our way.
The challenges continue to come thick and fast, yet at every committee meeting I am proud and energised when people say “no problem, I’ll do that” or “have you spoken to” and we cross that one out and move onto the next.

The strategic element pretty much does what it says on the tin!
There is a dedicated steering group who look at strategic topics and decide on approach that the club will take. This is essential for the club to plan for the future - what do we want both on and off the pitch and how do we go about getting there? What does a good non-league football club look like? What do they do (that we don’t)? What can we do to move our club forward or make it unique? How can we engage with new fans and the community? How should we conduct ourselves and how do we want to be seen?
What are our footballing ambitions and what does it need to meet them? Is it realistic? Is it sustainable? Where do we want the club to be in 18 months? 3 years? 5 years?
We are in a very exciting period for the club right now and under the direction of the Chairman have made great strides. We cannot rest on our laurels and there is plenty of hard work to complete.

How many hours a week do you do you dedicate to Slough Town?

John: I probably spend minimum 2 hours a day working on club topics (don’t tell my boss), be that in the form of planning upcoming matches, communicating with the committee team or meeting people and preparing or debriefing from matches. 6 hours is normally dedicated on the evening of a midweek match, whilst at the weekend 9 hours is probably the figure.
Therefore if we have 1 home fixture per week the number will be approx. 18/20hrs per week.
Interviewing the managers, meeting with Steve, calling up the committee members and attending other matches to watch our opposition - its no wonder I'm single! (no comments please)

Who sorts out all the different activities during the games? There's always a collection, at Christmas a school choir, today we have one of our supporters promoting Frame Football with his son; it seems people want to be part of Slough Town now we are back in town

John: A lot of the community work comes from the committees ideas. For example we've been working closely with the head of St.Josephs Ciran Stapleton, a really nice guy who has turned the school around. The school have been using Arbour Park facilities while their sports facilities are being upgraded and our academy players are taught their. When we came up with idea for bit of a Christmas fair at the Kettering game, we got their choir in, gave away some mulled wine and mince pies, got some pizza in and beers to say thanks to our volunteers. We've had lots of collections such as poppy, collecting toys for children spending Christmas in hospital; one that was very special for the players and management side which was for Guy Hollis mum who sadly passed away with cancer. We are a community club and its not all just about what's happening on the pitch.

Are the club still looking for volunteers?

John; Absolutely. If they contact Kay Lathey or come up to people on match day. If people can give a couple of hours every match day it would be appreciated. This morning Lionel was out there early in the freezing cold brushing the pitch to get it ready.

Where do you see the club in the next few years?

John: On the pitch, settled in the Conference South, with regular home gates of 700-1000 fans and engagement with the Slough community.
It is important that we grow and develop in a positive and sustainable manner. We need to make sure that we get the next period of 12-24 months right to ensure that Slough Town has the foundations in place to have stable growth and support the club to succeed both on and off the pitch.
It will be great to be in a home with the ability and facilities to be operating in a professional way and putting on a great experience for fans new and old!

And finally, has our chairman ever been in the directors room? Last time I was here he was filling up the drinks cabinet and i've seen him directing traffic and moving litter bins.

John: Yeah he does occasionally! He likes to get involved. He's a very agitated spectator, he cant stand still. I think what has impressed the council is seeing all these volunteers, who don't get paid anything, giving up their own time and putting in the effort to get the games on.

Thanks John, and I think it's always worth remembering, especially after a defeat, how much work volunteers put in to make sure we watch a game of football. And that now they are back in the town they represent, Slough Town are becoming much more than just a football club.

Friday, January 20, 2017

THE BOTTOM CORNER

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division match v Chippenham Town on Saturday 21st January 2017. We lost 1-0 in front of 753 people.

The Bottom Corner is one of these feel good books about lower league football that manages to get under the skin of what is a very broad church. From Tranmere Rovers first season in non league to Bishop Sutton who notch up sixteen months and 48 matches without a win and are rewarded with their first victory with some squash and a chocolate Swiss roll! From United Glasgow, a team made up of refugees to the chairman of the Hackney and Leyton League, glancing over the windswept expanse of pitches on Hackney Marshes, despairing of the FA’s attitude to the lower level game: ‘They don’t know what it is! Grassroots football is park football. They think it’s the Conference!’.

He interviews players who should or have been playing at a higher level including a certain Barry Hayles, who as Slough unfortunately found out in the New Year has still got it at 44. There's a great chapter on football scouts trying to unearth another non league nugget. Infact Nige Tassell gets to grips with what its all about without the clichés - and even tries to understand groundhoppers and their eccentricities.

There's vegan only, eco-club Forest Green Rovers whose chairman made his millions from wind power and is now investing millions in a new state of the art ground telling the author 'there's no point preaching to the converted.' He finds out about FC United's incredible rise up the pyramid from protest group to owning their own community stadium in just ten years. Sticking two fingers up at the top level of football, their supporters chant to the tune of the Inspiral Carpets hit, ‘This is how it feels to be FC/ This is how it feels to be home/ This is how it feels when you don’t sell your arse to a gnome’.

The future is looking bright for some clubs and he gets beyond the hipster perception of Dulwich Hamlet incredible spike in support. Duncan Hart chair of the supporters trust explains 'We've put a lot of work in to make this club a better place where everyone feels welcome...We have a ground that can hold three thousand so all the time you haven't got three thousand, you might as well give out free tickets. People will come and they'll spend money on food, on drink, on merchandise. Maybe a third will come again occasionally. Maybe ten per cent will come back regularly. And maybe five per cent will become season ticket-holders. There's proof in the pudding. We've gone from crowds of three hundred a few years so to averaging just over a thousand last season'' (this season it's 1,208)

Of course, as Slough Town fans know only too painfully, lower league football isn't always a bed of roses – there are plenty of  plonkers who take over the clubs, promise the earth but can't deliver. When it all comes crashing down its the supporters who pick up the pieces and there's a chapter on Hereford fans rallying round to start their club again, ending with promotion in their first season with crowds averaging crowds of 2,836 in the ninth tier of the football pyramid – higher than six Football League two sides! They also reached Wembley, packing it out before eventually losing in the FA Vase final.

He finishes with the story of Worthing United and how they dealt with two of their players being killed at the Shoreham air disaster on their way to a home game. The whole football family rallies – including Brighton and Hove throwing a professional shoulder round a club trying to comes to terms with their loss while having to deal with the worlds media. And there's a great piece about the record breaking five day continuous Heart United football match to raise funds.

The Bottom Corner  by Nige Tassell (published by Yellow Jersey Press)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

THE FA : NOT IN THE WIDER INTERESTS OF FOOTBALL

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division match v Chesham United on Monday 2nd January 2017. We lost 2-1 in front of 918.
I couldn't think of anything nice to say about the football-franchise abomination that is MK Dons so thought it was best to write nothing for the last programme.
When the FA allowed Wimbledon to relocate, they also famously claimed that if their supporters were to reject the Milton Keynes move and form their own club, it would not be “in the wider interests of football”. Thankfully they ignored that advise and AFC Wimbledon were born in 2002 starting life in the Combined Counties. 14 years later and BOOM – despite all the millions thrown at MK Dons for jumping the football pyramid queue they are now in a lower league position than AFC Wimbledon.
The FA are now such a spineless, befuddled joke that three of its former heads have even admitted its out of touch and unable to stand up to the Premier League.
The FA's three most recent chairman, Greg Dyke, David Bernstein and David Triesman, along with former FA directors David Davies and Alex Horne, wrote a stinging letter to Damian Collins, the Conservative chair of Culture, Media and Sports committee backing legislation to reform the FA. It said the FA as currently constituted, with a board dominated by Premier and Football League representatives, and a council of “well-meaning”, mostly elderly white men, cannot “counter the English Premier League juggernaut”.
In the letter they are highly critical of the dominance the Premier League’s 20 clubs have over the rest of football, arguing that even money that is now redistributed is conditional on compliance with the Premier League’s strategic aims.

“The reality is that the professional game stakeholders from the English Football League to the players, managers and referees are dominated by the English Premier League (EPL) due to their financial might and the way financial contributions are wielded at every turn to assert beneficial positions for the EPL,” the letter states. “The EFL’s strategy unduly influences the Championship clubs eager to access EPL financial advantages. This affects the League 1 and 2 clubs adversely, which in turn knocks on to the National League and right through the football pyramid.”

Summing up the financial imbalance they pointed to the “bizarre” fact that the FA is required to distribute 50% of the money available for football investment back into the professional game. “Under the bizarre funding formula of the FA not only does the FA not receive any of the EPL billions, it is compelled to contribute tens of millions to the EPL, money which could go to the grassroots of the game.”
“We can testify first-hand that the FA’s decision-making structures are arcane and convoluted leading to a lack of clarity about the role and purpose of these structures. The FA has neither the modernity of approach nor independence required to counter the EPL juggernaut or to modernise its own governance.”
Ouch.
MP Damian Collins has promised legislation to reform the FA but we've been hearing that threat for 20 years, so don't hold your breath. Meanwhile the Premier League has agreed a paltry £100m for grassroots football - just 3.6% from its £8.2 billion TV deals and you do wonder just what could be achieved in this country with proper re-distribution.
Infact all you have to do is look at what Slough Town have achieved in just a few months of being back in town in fantastic sporting facilities for all. We are not just flying in the Southern League, we are also flying in the community, offering a wide range of opportunities for everyone and bringing people together, ever more important in such a diverse town. With endless news stories of people being killed and maimed because of their colour or religion, I will hold onto that good news story as we enter 2017.
Happy New Year and see you on the other side (that is, if Slough games don't clash with work, train strikes, children's parties or Brighton home games).




Sunday, December 18, 2016

TV AND TRAINS V A FORCE FOR GOOD

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Kettering Town on Saturday 17th December 2016. We won 3-2 in front of 588 to stay second in the league. 

The empty seats in the 'sell out' crowd and the flat atmosphere with people rushing in late said all you need to know about Friday night football. Aston Villa to be fair had turned up in their thousands, no doubt enjoying watching their team winning after season after season of treading water in the Premier League. A team that despite that failure are guaranteed millions in parachute payments giving them a seriously unfair financial advantage.

They came with a game plan, were proper strong and Brighton were lucky to get a draw. Not so lucky were those trying to get home on the train. At the last minute Southern Railway had told the club that because of a lack of staff they couldn't put on trains. So people waited for hours in the cold, some Villa fans missed connections and slept at Brighton station.

Southern often provide a worse service when there isn't a strike, because they don't have enough staff and rely on everyone doing overtime. When you continually threatening those very same staff its not surprising that they don't bend over backwards to help out. Clearly they should lose their franchise and the service should be taken back into public ownership; but despite a terrible track record, Govia were given the government contract to push thru 'reforms' and get into a punch-up with the unions.

Next up on the Friday was Leeds United. Then its Reading. Saturday football seems to be a distant memory for Albion fans, but when your £25 million in debt and £100,000 is on offer for each televised game, its too tempting. But its a funny old business that can piss off your most loyal customers for people who want to watch it on the tele.

The Villa train fiasco left the Albion hierarchy furious, but its not like it hasn't happened before and maybe some of the blame should go to the TV companies. On top of this Brighton get named as one of the most expensive clubs to watch and once again their chief executive said it was unfair as tickets include free travel but also this mythical match-day experience. Even my safe standing questionnaire came with the cravat - ok if you want it, who pays for it? But with such a flat atmosphere at the Villa game, can Brighton afford not to introduce it? That doesn't mean the club aren't well run they just have two feet tied behind their backs because of the Premier parachute payments.

What they can be really proud of it is their Albion in the Community (AITC) programme, which rightly wins awards for its work with the added bonus of hooking youngsters in for life.

AITC have 3 key objectives: to inspire and motivate young people and their families to be physically active and to lead healthy lifestyles; to provide opportunities for young people to play football whatever their ability or background; and to work with our local community, particularly those that are disadvantaged, to help raise aspirations and improve life chances.

My son and his mates has benefited from free coaching over the last few years and is now in one of their sponsored teams. The nominal fee of just £60 a season includes kit, lifts to training and games, trips out and the chance to meet the players. Listening to three 11 year olds talk about tactics or watching how they have sussed the offside rule you know this coaching is paying off.

You can use football to teach kids about everything from maths, English to healthy eating and they are always in my sons school. So its not surprising they have won a string of awards for their pioneering work such as encouraging more women and girls to play football. Their Premier League Kicks programme is now the second-largest in the country, providing free weekly football to more than 2,500 young people including my son and his friends. They working with 100 schools across Sussex, support people with disabilities and cancer, and have helped 550 young people to earn qualifications by working with their education and skills team. If that all sounds a bit po-faced it isn't and they really make a massive difference delivering 61 projects to more than 36,000 people over the last 12 months alone.

For this community work alone, Brighton deserve to reach the Premier League Promised Land – and maybe they should get their community arm to help run the trains as well.



Saturday, December 03, 2016

CUT TO THE BONE

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Frome Town on Saturday 3rd December 2016. We lost 2-1 in front of 460.

As the manager of a small charity I spend a ridiculous amount of time looking for money to keep our services going. Services that provide an education for pupils struggling in the classroom and for people with disabilities who want to do some volunteering along with anyone else who wants to learn about gardening and be involved in their community. It's very rewarding but as the years have gone on very depressing as I stare at a computer screen trying to work out what an 'outcome' is on another poxy grant application form.

The age of austerity has a direct impact on what we do. Thanks to massive cuts to government grants, councils are stopping funding anything that isn't statutory – which means they have stopped funding nearly everything they don't have to do by law. So if you are disabled and need some help, tough. Find a non-existent job, fill in that confusing form yourself. The day centres are closed and support workers have gone - but people don't want to rot at home they want to contribute and we try and welcome everyone to come and get stuck in to some gardening, have a meal, feel part of society. The alternative, is rotting at home with deteriorating mental health.

School budgets are meant to be ring-fenced but they are not. We charge schools for our services and its not cheap and it will be increasingly difficult to fund our work even tho schools acknowledge that it really benefits individual pupils. Yes maths and English are important, but try telling that to a teenager whose just been taken into care. Schools have just become an exam factory - measured against other schools in some squered league table. No matter that at one end of town is a fee paying school that ditches pupils that aren't up to scratch and gets a 100% pass rate and lauded, whereas the primary school where I'm a governor has to deal with a myriad of problems and tries to accommodate all children believing that they all have a right to good education, even if that means they need very expensive one to one support at times. They run breakfast clubs and afterschool clubs that lose money but they feel are essential so pupils can have a chance to be coached by Albion in the community, do gymnastics, computer club – or just have the chance to talk to staff about what's bothering them. The school could charge more for these extras but then the pupils that need it the most wont be able to afford to come. They try and do as many enrichment activities as possible- you know, stuff like trips along with extra tution for reading, maths and writing. Their SATS results aren't great even if the teaching is, but that's not really the point and exam results are no way to measure what sort of education is on offer.

And so i go begging for the school from businesses and look for grants so children are able to enjoy many of the activities that wealthier ones take for granted. On top of this, Brighton Council has just announced it is stopping funding nearly all youth services and preventative work which might save pennies now, but will store up problems for the future.

I help run a community pub and if I could have bottled the community spirit last Friday at the seniors club first birthday party I could sell it for a fortune. 30 older people come every week - many picked up from the houses because of mobility problems - to the pub to enjoy lunch and bingo and escaping their four walls. We pride ourselves on being much more than just a pub and know how essential places like the Bevy are especially as older people face an epidemic of loneliness. But guess what, these places up and down the country including struggling pubs are closing.

It's no way to run a country, a country which is one of the richest in the world. There's no money for the essentials although the government can find £7.6 million to pay for repairs at one of Europe's largest stately private homes, Wentworth Woodhouse or let the fee paying school with the 100% pass-rate record keep its charitable status. Maybe they should have to crowdfund and get people to support them direct rather than from the taxpayer.

So if you've started thinking of a New Years resolution then why not volunteer or make a monthly standing order to a small charity. It will make a massive difference and maybe you will save someone from banging their head against a computer screen wondering how they are going to pay the ever rising bills.

Your support might not change the world, but it will change somebodies world.


A PROPER SLOUGH TOWN SHIFT

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Banbury United on Tuesday 29th November 2016. We won 2-0 in front of 463 to go second.

You've no doubt seen him rattling a bucket or trying to flog you a golden goal ticket. Always fundraising for the club and local charities,  Dan Brench has Slough Town in his blood - it was a Rebels match where his mum and dad had their first date. A 6-1 victory against Windsor in the Berks and Bucks Cup February 1972 – and what could be more romantic than that?

A former teacher Dan now works at the Royal Marsden Hospital in the Radiotherapy Physics Department and has been a Beaver Scout Leader for 13 years. Supporting Slough since the 2004-5 season, he started volunteering a few years later

Dan "I have been a matchday volunteer at the Club since 2008 when i started selling 50-50/Golden Goal tickets at Beaconsfield.  Since then I started getting involved in other activities on and away from matchdays.  In 2014 I joined the board of the Supporters Trust and since then have run the Trust's website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. I have also helped to organised many promotion events in the town centre, schools and other locations around Slough in the run up to the homecoming.  I am also on the Club Twitter team doing updates on some matches."

“On home matchdays I turn up early to help set up the ground ahead of the match.  This means moving the small goals off the pitch, setting up the bar by moving the tables, chairs and fencing around, putting up signs and so on.  Then I assist generally around the turnstiles or doing any other jobs that need to be done.  After the matches I help to put all the stuff away.  It generally means being at Arbour Park for around 8 hours on Saturdays and 4 hours on Tuesdays but it's well worth it to see the bigger crowds at the new ground.

“I believe that the Trust now has a new role to play alongside the Club after all the work that went into promoting the homecoming.  After 5 straight years of growth, we're looking to expand the Trust to allow it to benefit the community as the Club grows into its new home."

8 hours on Saturdays! Without volunteers like Dan our club, just like thousands of others up and down the country wouldn't tick. All the unseen background work that takes place to make sure the game goes ahead. It's a serious operation and one that is done on the whole by unpaid volunteers, who would get it in the neck if something went wrong and get little thanks if it all goes right!

So I would say to all supporters – join the Trust, sign up to the 500 club, sponsor a game, encourage your kids to become mascots, hassle your company to take out some advertising, put up posters and get behind the team even when things aren't going well on the pitch.

We can all tell the club to do this and do that, but in the end it's up to all of us to do what we can to help out. It's what football at this level is all about.

* If you think there's someone you think should be given a bit of limelight for the work they do for the club then drop us a line.



Monday, November 21, 2016

NO STOMACH FOR THE WHOLE GAME SOLUTION

Printed in the FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying round game v Wingate and Finchley on Saturday 26th November 2006. We lost 4-2 in front of 353.
It hasn't been a good week for the English Football League (EFL) chief executive Shaun Harvey. Sounding like a Nazi diktat his 'Whole Game Solution' which promised to 'seize the initiative' finally bit the dust after months of controversy.
The 'Solution' would tackle fixture congestion by cutting the number of clubs in each league, create another league by taking eight clubs from the National League (Conference in old money), move the later rounds of the FA Cup to mid-week and – hey presto, we could have a winter break and the England team would become invincible.
Mixed up in all this was the emergence of the Checkatrade Trophy so that the Premier League academy teams youngsters could pit their wits against lower league opposition. Many saw this as the thin edge of the wedge for getting Premier League B teams in the lower divisions. However, its been an unmitigated disaster with mass boycotts and some clubs recording their lowest ever competitive crowds – while most of the top teams decided not to enter their academy sides! Last week 12 league teams were handed financial penalties for fielding weakened teams. Hang on, so top teams playing youngsters good – lower league teams giving their youngsters match experience bad. A tournament that was revamped to help develop youth, fines its owns clubs £62k for playing youth. Way to go Harvey!
After being given a £3,000 fine, Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke fumed: "I've just been trying to get hold of the EFL on the phone to try and find out if they want to pick my team for Saturday. When somebody sat behind a desk with a nice warn cup of coffee can start telling me which first-team players I can and can't play then the game is gone. I wonder if the people who have thought up a ridiculous format that supporters up and down the country have boycotted will think about giving themselves a fine. That's a good question isn't it?”
However it was the plans to move the FA Cup to mid-week that scuppered the Whole Game Solution, with the EFL complaining that the FA’s unwillingness to consider moving FA Cup matches to midweek in rounds four and five to free up more weekends had made the plan unworkable. The fact that the FA recently announced a new six year overseas deal for the FA Cup that guarantees £800 million over that period and which the chief executive, Martin Glenn, said would be “transformative” to the organisation’s finances. As a condition of the deal it promised to keep FA Cup matches on weekends, but remains open to further negotiation over replays.

Tom Reed from Stand Fanzine put it so well why many lower league supporters cant stomach the 'Solution' They can’t stand your seemingly incessant brown-nosing of the Premier League. They don’t want Premier League B-teams in a Football League competition, given the problems that a dominant Premier League appears to be causing throughout football and are horrified you suggested it. They think your new EFL Trophy is bloody stupid with those B-teams, crackpot regionalisation, average opponents and baffling rules. They can’t accept a ‘Whole Game Solution’ which doesn’t involve large scale reform of the Premier League in line with what is expected of the Football League. They don’t want to hear any more about developing the England side when Premier League clubs can take the best Football League youth talent from poorer clubs for a capped fee under the Elite Player Performance Plan, hoard them and not play them.”
The Football League considering everything, is phenomenally successful. It’s top division, despite being a second tier division, is one of the top five or six watched in the whole of Europe. Of course the EFL need to do something about some of the Muppets who run these clubs head on– just ask Charlton, Blackpool, Leeds and Coventry supporters for some advice. But if the desire is to help out the England national team, then that will need root and branch reform of our coaching systems and tackling the staggering power the Premier League welds including stockpiling the best youngsters without them having a cat in hells chance of playing – but that's never going to happen. Instead they try and mess with the lower leagues. A decision that has come crashing down spectacularly around their heads.

Friday, November 18, 2016

THE REFEREES A REFEREE

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Kings Langley Town on Saturday 19th November. We drew 2-2 in front of 513.

It was a wonder goal that would have been shown for many moons to come. Whitehawk's Javier Favarel struck the ball thirty yards out on the volley with it flying inside the near post to spark wild celebrations amongst the home support and putting his team in the hat for the Second Round of the FA Cup. However, as Favarel was making contact with the ball the ref blew his whistle for full time. The goal didn't count, leaving the Hawks players understandably angry, and their goalkeeper sent off for his part in the protests.
With a train strike and a worse service that usual on the cards I couldn't face the long trip to watch Slough and instead jumped on a 20 minute bus to Brighton's poorest estate to catch some FA Cup 1st round (proper) action.
Southern Rail take Orwell’s double speak to another level as they try to get rid of guards and spending money on silly things like safety training for staff. 'We will make trains safer by implementing driver only trains. If our drivers cant see any problems then none exist. And if you happen to in a wheelchair or elderly and need help, then please bugger off.' 'We will get rid of our poor services record but cancelling most of our timetable. Less trains, means we can't be late so often.' A recent report on driver only trains  said they 'may increase the likelihood of an event occurring or increase the severity of its consequences.' Meanwhile tests on drivers showed they didn't spot 9 in every 100 safety related incidents and that passenger behaviour might also change if they know there are no guards.
One bloke held up a sign supporting the RMT train union for the whole game – its concessionary if you are a GMB union member – which perfectly sums up the kind of support Whitehawk now attract. And that's what makes the club a proper paradox. Stuck out on a limb their ramshackle ground has been pieced together as they climbed up the leagues from the Sussex County to the Conference South. We're once you'd be lucky to get 50 through the gate, its now home of the Whitehawk Ultra's – many of whom are refuges from 'modern football.' Like a collection from 80's football culture, the Ultras create a right old racket throughout the game, don't swear and can be a bit right on but they do have a sense of humour and manage to turn every traditional football song on its head. 'The referee is a referee', 'Win when we're singing' with drums, squeaky toys and of course a bubble machine! But the club they have adopted is ironically on a modern football warpath. The owners want Conference football, are quick to sack any manager that doesn't deliver, want to change the name (Brighton City anyone?) and move the club out of Whitehawk. However, the fans are what make the club and with Brighton hoovering up so many supporters, and crowds rarely reaching 300 for league games you don't want to commit financial suicide by alienating the few that you have. But as the 700 strong crowd snaked around a country lane you can see the limitations of the Enclosed ground. Actually, forget the Enclosed Ground. This is the pain in the neck to get into ground
Stourbridge fans also played their part and had more flags than an England game. The Ultra's reaction to the goal being disallowed was remarkably restrained. I know Slough fans would have blown a gasket (let's face it blowing gaskets seem to be part of most football fans DNA). Former Premier League and FIFA referee Keith Hackett reckons the ref should have waited to blow the full time whistle and in the end, that decision proved pivotal as Whitehawk lost the replay 3-0 and the chance of a home tie with Northampton. The referee was certainly a referee on this occasion. 

If you want to read a more indepth report about the game 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

Printed in the Southern Premier League game v Hitchin Town on Saturday 5th November 2016. We lost 1-0 in front of 646.

Some might think I need my head read after giving away my tickets to last Saturdays Brighton game so I could watch Slough play Bognor Regis Town in the FA Trophy 1st Qualifying round. Especially as Brighton played out of their skin demolishing promotion rivals Norwich City 5-0. But Slough were also playing out of their skin seeing off Ryman Premier League high-flyers and last years Trophy semi-finalists 4-1. Some of the football Slough played was the best I’ve seen in years and with most of our strikers out injured, the icing on the cake was 18 year old Fulham loane Elijah Adebayo. His second volleyed goal was sensational and he became the first Slough player to score a hat-trick on his debut in 30 years – not bad for his senior football debut.

It says a lot about our new status and our managers that we me managed to get Elijah from Fulham if only for a month. If you follow Neil Baker on twitter, it seems no game is too far flung or obscure for him to watch. So I asked Neil if we would have got Elijah if we were still homeless?

Neil “
Not 100% sure we would have got him if we were still at Beaconsfield, obviously helpful that we are playing in a nice stadium on a perfect pitch. In terms of how we got him, I rang my friend there last week who is quite influential in getting the loan lads out to see what they might have as a forward option, and said he would need to speak to Peter Grant the Under23s manager and ex Norwich manager. They then came back that Monday night after beating Newcastle to say that he was available and they had spoken to Elijah who was really keen to come (which is one of the driving factors) after that between our secretary Kay Lathey, myself and their secretary we got it tied up.

“In terms of games, I tend to get out as much as I can, there will be certain weeks where I am out most nights, and others not so much. It works quite nicely as with Jon having a young family it is a lot harder for him to get out as much as me, but it still enables us to both keep an eye on people, and after each game we will talk in length about the teams that have seen. Sometimes we will get out to separate games so that we can watch more football between us.”

While Slough have a spanking new home, last season the good folk of Hitchin got behind their football club to save Top Field; one of those magical non league grounds that make ground-hoppers go all weak at the knees – especially after you've visited a few local boozers on the way from the train station.

However, the Canaries problem is that they rent the land from the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust who decided a supermarket would be more preferable than a football club. What Hitchin then cleverly set about doing was showing that this was more than just about a football ground but about the wider community and the economic effects of shoving another supermarket on a greenfield site.

This culminated in a packed public meeting where the chair of the Commoners Trust received so much grief she resigned. Then a march through town was attended by nearly 1,500 which long treasurer Roy Izzard told me was 'one of the proudest days of my life.' With free entry after the march, Hitchin had their highest attendance for over 20 years with 1,606 people and of course a Roy of the Rovers last minute winner against league leaders Poole Town. The protests boosted the standing of the club along with a new 25 year lease but they are also looking at a possible move to a site less than a mile away. A feasibility study is being done on that and Top Field but as Roy pointed out 'Whatever happens, the fans will decide what we do.'
 
As for Slough I was one of the last to leave with the lights still on, I couldn't help marvel at what's happening to our club after struggling for so many seasons and thank our lucky stars that we now have the stability from which to build again.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

TROPHY TRIBULATIONS

Printed in the FA Trophy 1st Qualifying round game v Bognor Regis Town on Saturday 29th October 2016. We won 4-1 in front of 543.

It's fair to say that the FA Trophy doesn't get the pulses racing like the FA Cup although it is more glamorous than the Berks and Bucks or League Cup. Not that that is anything to blow your trumpet about. Having a cup of cold sick thrown over you would be preferable than the Berks and Bucks, where Reading enter their under nines and whose early rounds should be played as part of pre-season. A couple of years back in the Trophy Luton played their youth team and still beat Staines while the Cambridge United boss complained that the competition should be midweek with no replays and that really he couldn't be arsed. Then, like the annoying kid in the class who does no work but still comes first, they go and win the bloody thing. I agree with the suggestion to give the winners of the Vase and Trophy a bye to the 3rd round of the FA Cup, although i'd happily compromise with a bye to the First Round Proper (unlike the improper 6 rounds that have happened before). Much more money in the pot for each round would also help.
Yet ask today's opponents about what they think of the Trophy and you might get a different answer as they got to the semi finals last season before losing to Grimsby. I spoke to their programme editor and former kit man Rob Garforth whose been supporting Bognor since 1981.
Q: The Trophy is often seen as a very poor relation to the FA Cup and FA Vase, but reaching last years semi final, did Bognor supporters warm to it a bit more? 
Rob: “They certainly warmed to it more as the tournament progressed. Other than a last 32 appearance 20 years earlier, it had been one early Trophy exit after another for the Rocks, prior to last season, so there had been general apathy towards the tournament. When asking a work colleague if they were going to last season's First Qualifying Round tie, the response was: 'No, I don't do the FA Trophy.' Fair to say that the fan in question will have changed their tune in the later rounds.”
Q: Did the trophy run ultimately cost you promotion or did it help with that winning mentality and attracting new supporters?
Rob: “It played a large part in missing out on promotion, it has to be said. After the semi-final defeat, we then played eight matches in 15 days. Most were won, apart from Thursday, Saturday and Monday trips to Enfield Town, Dulwich Hamlet and Kingstonian respectively. One thing that I think gets overlooked is that the run in the Sussex Senior Cup - reaching the semi-finals - was also a factor. The Kingstonian match was moved a number of times throughout the season as a result. These days, again there is a degree of apathy towards that competition from supporters, but since 2011, the final has been played at the Amex Stadium, Brighton. This is a great occasion for players and management when they reach the final so one can fully understand why the club wants to do well in that cup, even if a lot of fans don't tend to see it that way as much. The Trophy run did of course however, attract some new supporters - two of which live right by the ground and had never set foot in the place, having lived there for a number of years!”

Q: How many Trophy games did you play last season and how much did you make?
Rob: “Including a replay and the two legged semi-final, it was ten games in all. I'm not sure of the total prize money won but I believe it was somewhere around £40-50k. The run produced many memorable moments, which is something you can't put a price on.”

Q: What can be done to improve the Trophy?
Rob: “A good question, but not an easy one to answer in my opinion. Particularly with the former Football League club's now plying their trade in the Conference, whose fans are not bothered with it in general. Such was the case with last season's semi-final opponents Grimsby. There were more supporters at Nyewood Lane than at Blundell Park, over the two legs. Torquay fans didn't appear too upset after we knocked them out in the quarter final. Even the lure of a Wembley appearance doesn't seem to appeal to some larger club's supporters, whilst the teams in the lower leagues feel that success in the tournament is highly unlikely.”

Q: What are Bognor's goals for this season?
Rob: “Simply to go one better than last year and get promoted. Things did not look to promising during the summer, with a number of last season's key players moving on and it looked as if it could be a re-building job. But after a slow start, things have picked up and we find ourselves in third place, with one point separating the top four at present. With a bit of luck we'll be returning to Arbour Park next season in the National League South.”

Cheers Rob, at least after today at least one of us wont have to worry about the Trophy getting in the way of a promotion challenge!