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, December 06, 2017

ITS BEGINNING TO FEEL A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Bishop Stortford Saturday 9th December 2017 

As its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas let me tell you a story of an act of kindness that happened to British writer Bernard Hare that changed his life forever.

He was by his own accounts a bit of a low-life when he heard his mum was in hospital and not expected to survive the night. Living in London, he got to the railway station to find he'd missed the last train and could only get as far as Peterborough. He would have to nick a car, steal some money, anything to get home. "Tickets, please," he heard, but after he stamped it, the guard stood there looking at him. He'd been crying and looked terrible. "You okay? Is there anything I can do? Hare felt like thumping him 'What's it got to do with you, get lost and mind your own business." The guard ignored the fact that there was a good chance that he was going to get walloped and instead sat down opposite "If there's a problem, I'm here to help. That's what I'm paid for." So Hare told him his story "Look, my mum's in hospital, dying, she won't survive the night, I'm going to get home. It's tonight or never, I won't get another chance, I'm a bit upset, I'd be grateful if you'd leave me alone. " The guard finally left but 10 minutes later he was back and Hare was ready to punch him. "Listen, when we get to Peterborough, shoot straight over to Platform One as quick as you like. The Leeds train will be there." Hare looked at him dumbfounded. What do you mean? Is it late, or something?" "No, it isn't late. I've just radioed Peterborough. They're going to hold the train up for you. As soon as you get on, it goes. Everyone will be complaining about how late it is, but let's not worry about that on this occasion. You'll get home and that's the main thing. Good luck and God bless."

Hare suddenly realised what a total git he'd been and chased the guard down the train. He caught him up and grabbed his arm. "I wish I had some way to thank you, I appreciate what you've done." The guard replied "Not a problem. If you feel the need to thank me, the next time you see someone in trouble, you help them out. That will pay me back amply. Tell them to pay you back the same way and soon the world will be a better place."

Hare was at his mother's side when she died in the early hours of the morning. Even now, he can't think of her without remembering the Good Conductor on that late-night train to Peterborough – more than that the Good Conductor changed him from a selfish, potentially violent hedonist into a decent human being, but it took time. "I've paid him back a thousand times since then," he tells the young people he works with, "and I'll keep on doing so till the day I die. You don't owe me nothing. Nothing at all. And if you think you do, I'd give you the same advice the Good Conductor gave me. Pass it down the line."

It's a lovely story worthy of 'Its A Wonderful Life' but what the hell has this got to do with football? Well, two things. First, if you're not sure how non league football clubs tick then I suggest you volunteer one day for a couple of hours before the game. It must have taken a monumental effort to put the Rochdale match on. The majority of work done by volunteers, some of whom had taken the day off work to be at the ground from 9am to help and wouldn't have left till midnight (and some who came back the following night after work to move the segregation fencing) They are proper Slough fans, many who would have missed one of the biggest games in our history to help. Good Samaritans who make this club tick.

Secondly, i think the above story should be required reading by all stewards. Look I run a charity working with kids and adults with learning disabilities, I help run a community pub, I'm a governor at two schools – these organisations could hide all day behind rules and regulations so they never have to give a helping hand to anyone who needs it but we don't cos otherwise what's the point in us being there. So don't make someone with a walking stick climb a massive flight of stairs when you could easily escort them a few yards to meet their sister who incidentally had spent the whole game flogging merchandise to raise money for the club. Don't threaten supporters that its time to go for simply chatting to people after the game. Or as happened recently let someone in a wheelchair get soaked cos you couldn't use a bit of common sense and let them in a fenced off covered area. People aren't criminals for coming to football and maybe if we are all treated with a bit of decency it might stop some situations getting out of hand.

That train guard didn't hide behind its-more-than-my-jobs-worth mentality, he did the right thing. And the more of us that do, well maybe the world wouldn't seem such a hostile place.

Yes i'm being idealistic, but my pub and charity wouldn't exist without idealism (and a lot of bloody hard work) and this football club which was on its knees not so very long ago, wouldn't either. 

It really is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

PAVED WITH GOLD

Printed in the FA Cup 2nd Round game v Rochdale Monday 4th December 2017. We lost 4-0 in front of a sell out 1,950 crowd.

Just when I thought this season couldn't get more surreal up pops up double hat-trick boy Matt Lench and joint manager John Underwood on the box at Arbour Park. Even my kids are transfixed. Slough. Town. On. The. Tele. I was half expecting Kieran and clubshop Sue to be rummaging around in the ball-bag.

To think back to the first 15 minutes of our cup-run - away to more-trees-than-fans Berkhamsted; when our former managers club really should have been two goals up which might have put a spanner in the works to this cup run (and Berkhamsted still haven't lost a league game this season). Since then we've beaten Dulwich, Poole, Folkestone and Gainsborough and it was the manner of that last victory that really was something special. Our joint managers said the Gainsborough game was their best day ever in seven years of management and who are we to disagree. Chatting to older supporters, we have got one of the best squads ever. We are flying in the league and scoring more goals than anyone else in the football pyramid apart from Manchester City - whose reserve keepers boots probably cost more than all our squad combined.

And so to Rochdale. I've always had a soft spot for Dale when between them Workington and Southport they fought over who could finish bottom of Division Four safe in the knowledge that it was a pretty closed shop and you wouldn't get voted out of the league. It's fair to say that anyone who supports Rochdale is not a glory-hunter. In fact A Fans Suffering Index had them top as the most long suffering fans!

They have only been promoted three times – in 1969, 2010 and 2014 - playing 36 consecutive seasons in the Football Leagues bottom division from 1974 to 2010, the longest time any team has been in the bottom division of the League.

Of course we all know the longest suffering fans are Arsenal ones, or maybe that's the most insufferable.

My missus Uncle Steve happens to be a Dale fan and i've twice sat in the Spotland home end when we visited Manchester to cure my football withdrawl symptons. I even went to see them in the play off finals at Wembley where they lost to Stockport County, who were splashing the cash at the time - a plan that went spectacular wrong with Stockport now playing in the Conference North.

Surrounded by wealthy neighbours Rochdale are impressively punching above their weight establishing themselves as a League One side. As Steve told me “We are local family club which does a lot for the community and where you are valued as a spectator. Our chairman and directors are supporters who have stood on the terraces and our manager is a genius. He mends broken players and then we sell them on. We nearly got to the play offs last season with the smallest budget in the league but have struggled a bit this season after selling our best three. We recently bought the ground and have plans to develop it and put on events to help with finances but getting in the third round will be massive for us.”

I'm not sure i will really be able to enjoy the game, there's too much riding on it. If getting a ground back in Slough has transformed the club from Basket-case to Brazil of the Southern League, imagine what the finances and exposure of the FA Cup 3rd Round would do? Yes i know there's no magic of the cup for Premier League teams, but for both teams the 3rd Round would be paved with gold. However, defeat to Rochdale would mean the Rebels would hold the unenviable record of the most 2nd round exits without ever making the 3rd round. So no pressure then boys. 
Let's go and make history. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

ON THE BRINK

Printed in the FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying round replay v Hendon Tuesday 28th November 2017. We drew 1-1 then lost 3-0 on penalties in front of 626 people.
 
There isn't a week when the Non League Paper doesn't report on another football club in crisis. Before the Southern Premier League season even began we knew Gosport would be relying on youngsters to try and avoid this seasons one relegation spot, while Dunstable Town became a supporters run club after their main backer left the building.
Now it's the turn of Merthyr Town who last week announced an 80% budget cut with the majority of their players leaving. Their youth players stepped up and were duly battered 13-1 by Chesham United. Merthyr were resurrected not so long ago as a fan owned club, but as one of the committee members said “Being fan-owned means that finances can sometimes be tight and mistakes can be made. Two and a half years ago we tried to increase spending on and off the pitch after our successful promotion. At the end of last season we increased that again. Again there was the hope that income would increase significantly. Unfortunately that just hasn’t happened hand we’ve lost thousands of pounds since.” The club now have a £25,000 tax bill they are hoping to pay off with a crowdfunding page, collections and increased attendances at their Pack the Park promotions.
Dulwich Hamlet are one of the best supported teams at our level but have found themselves caught between property developers Meadow Partners (who set the playing budget) and Southwark Council over plans to build houses on their ground. The developers promised to build a new ground and hand the club over to the supporters if they got permission for new houses. Southwark quite rightly said that not enough of these houses were affordable and so the Hamlet are on the brink being used by property developers as football pawns to get their own way.
Meanwhile they are up against Billericay who have been allowed to get away with spending a totally unsustainable wage bill by a chairman with an ego that would swallow a lion. And we all know what happens to clubs when big-ego chairman lose patience and walk away.
We also have 135 year old Skelmersdale United locked out of their ground, Clapton Ultras boycotting home games because of the actions of the clubs chairman and Waltham Forest plunged into uncertainty after the death of their chairman. Waltham Forest is run by volunteers with players paying their own travel expenses. They have set up a crowdfunding page in the hope that they can raise enough money to celebrate next seasons 150th anniversary.
While football clubs should be run properly, running a football club isn't like running a business. Liam Hickey is Dulwich's club chairman and a supporter for nearly 50 years. He has found Meadow increasingly difficult to deal with. “At nearly every level of football, people invest money for the love of the game...What is very clear in discussions with certain people at Meadow is that they don’t get this concept at all. They can’t understand why anyone wants to put money into football. It is completely alien for a property company to try to run a football club.”
Even when you are doing well fans still like to have a pop. After years in the doldrums, Slough Town are flying but some people are moaning that season ticket holders and those that actually go to a game are rewarded with the first chance to buy tickets for the Rochdale cup match! Imagine that, rewarding people who support the team.
It takes an enormous amount of work to build a football club, but a couple of poor seasons, the wrong manager, a chairman blinded by their own pig-headness, and fans impatience and you can see all your hard work come crashing down.
So what is the answer if even supporters run clubs can find themselves in a financial mess? Or will it ever be that some football clubs will find themselves flying too close to the financial wind? And how is it with the Premier League awash with cash that grassroots football is in such a mess?
Thankfully non league re-organisation will cut the travel bill for many clubs but I would like to see the FA level the playing field with financial fairplay and a wage cap on teams. Our planning laws need to be strengthened to protect football grounds from property vultures. But probably the most important thing you as a supporter could do, would be offering to volunteer for your local non league club.
* If you want to make a donation to Waltham Forest campaign https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-london-s-second-oldest-football-club-london

Monday, November 06, 2017

I REMEMBER

Printed in the Southern Premier League game v Weymouth Saturday 18th November 2017. We won 3-0 in front of 923 wet fans hunting for FA Cup tickets.

After our stunning 6-0 victory away to Gainsborough Trinity in the 1st round of the FA Cup I wanted to say this...

I remember when we lost Wexham Park and became homeless.

I remember being told by local councillors we should merge with Windsor

I remember getting thrashed every week one season 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 just left and half-joking with Nigel that he might have to pull on his boots. I remember another one of our favourite players telling us at Oxford City after another defeat that he'd had enough. It was ok for him – he could change clubs; we were stuck with supporting Slough!

I remember clubs enjoying taking us down a peg or two, with the AFC Hayes tannoy man and their manager asking sarcastically how our search for a new ground was going as they once again beat us.

I remember sitting in the pub having a laugh with all the Slough fans, knowing the next 90 minutes of football were going to sour that mood.

I remember cheering the team off at Fleet despite defeat meaning relegation to the Dog and Duck League (lucky for us we were reprieved)

I remember losing another play off game as we were stuck in a Southern League feeder division loop. Worse was losing to Beaconsfield whose rise up the tables was helped with our rent and beer money (a bit like your best mate nicking your girlfriend just after you've treated her to the holiday of a lifetime).

I remember being knocked out of the FA Cup by Erith Town, Hanworth Villa and Wroxham

I remember feeling sick to the stomach when I heard Mr.Slough Town Chris Sliski had died.

I remember being impressed as our chairman Steve Easterbrook was introduced after a game. 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 remember that incredible play-off final fight-back against Kettering Town to see us finally win promotion to the Southern Premier. I don't remember too much of the celebrations in the Herschel afterwards!

Of course the last 20 years haven't been all doom and gloom; in fact it was amazing what was achieved with little income and playing away from Slough for over 13 of those years. Just think what we could do with a community sports ground that would massively benefit everyone in Slough we used to ponder.

I remember because it makes what's now happening to our club so much sweeter.

The fact that we still have a club to support is thanks to people who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Too people who sadly are no longer with us. To joint managers who have built the team up steadily. To a chairman who is passionate, patient and doesn't panic and who finally got us back in the town we represent.

I remember because now when I raise a glass its usually one of celebration rather than to dull the pain of supporting Slough Town. And I bloody love it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

THE REFEREE'S A

Published in the Southern League Premier Division game v Gosport Borough Tuesday 24th October 2017 We won 5-1 in front 678 and are top of the league.
 

I never thought I'd be reading a book by a ref nodding my head in sympathy. Football is a passionate sport and it's the done thing to criticise the man in black often to cover the shortfallings of your team; but as I’ve got older I’ve got less and less tolerant of the 'ref had a shocker' brigade.

For the most part I found Howard Webb’s 'The Man in the Middle' book pretty absorbing. I must admit I didn't realise the hours ref’s have to put in to climb the ladder and Webb’s tale is one of totally dedication, lots of sacrifices and bloody hard work – and he admits to making mistakes! He's also a football fan through and through; OK he only played Sunday League football but he supports his home town team, Rotherham United (not Man United as many often accused him off).

Mind games from managers, slattings in the press, pulled apart by pundits, judged every game by referees assessors, tricked by players and grief and death threats from supporters – who'd put up with their family having to get police protection after a split second decision you've made? You need to be pretty thick skin to put up with all that.

There's some great insights into certain managers and players – you wouldn't be surprised by the tricks of Alex Ferguson, but maybe surprised by a haunted Jose Mourinho telling him after a game we all make mistakes but that 'the Man' will now fire me (which Abramovich did a week later).

Watching Match of the Day through your hands after Gary Neville had bollocked you for the lack of a red card, only to find you had in fact got it right 'Never believe anything you hear from players or managers at half-time until you've seen it with your own eyes' I'd warn my rookie refs who worked alongside me. 'They'll try every trick in the book to get into your head and alter your mindset. Be strong. Don't be swayed. Believe in yourself.'

Webb’s performances led him to officiating for 11 years and nearly 300 Premier League games, an FA Cup and Champions League final, nine major international tournaments and finally a World Cup Final 'By the summer of 2008, FIFA had short-listed sixty referee's teams for the 2010 World Cup and, for the next couple of years, they watched us like hawks. The governing body needed to reduce this elite group by half in time for the finals and, in order to whittle it down, instigated a rigorous programme of continuous assessment and aptitude testing....along with seminars all over the world and intensive training camps.' He passed the tests and ended up being in charge of the World Cup Final in South Africa 'What I’m doing tomorrow is just huge. Footballs the biggest sport in the entire world. Millions of people will be watching this one game. And I'm the man in the middle. Bloody hell fire...'

Eventually the intensity became too much 'To be honest. I was becoming increasingly weary of the flak that kept coming my way.... but if there was one insult I hated being hurled at me, it was 'disgrace.' It really got my back up. I was just a referee who tried to do an honest job and who occasionally made genuine mistakes. I may have been far from perfect, but I didn't think I was a disgrace....'Life as an elite referee had been like the proverbial roller coaster, with exhilarating highs and plummeting lows. After nearly a quarter-of-a-century in the middle, however those dips had started to take their toll.'

As football takes on even greater intensity and financial stakes become even higher, the pressure on the ref will only get harder, so hats off to anyone who wants to step into the middle.

I recommend you read this book before the next time you shout cheat.


* Howard Webb 'The Man in the Middle' published by Simon & Schuster 2016 (Buy from an independent bookshop rather than the tax-dodging Amazon)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

CAN'T HELP BUT DREAM

Printed in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying round game v Folkestone Invicta on Saturday 14th October 2017 (coming after our remarkable comeback in Wales where trailing Merthyr 4-0 at half time, we won 5-4!) We won 1-0 in front of 926 and are now in the first round (proper) of the FA Cup


It's FA Cup 4th Qualifying round with the First Round Proper - as if the previous six rounds have somehow been dirty and improper – within touching distance. I can almost hear the commentators harping on about the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers up against the big boys. Just like Folkestone fans and every other club in this round, you can't help getting ahead of yourself and dreaming of glamour ties that would raise not just funds but also let people know that there is actually a club in Slough.

After the West Brom friendly it was my pleasure to go for a pint or two with former Rebels manager Eddie Denton and Slough captain Steve Daley where I got the inside story of our famous victory over Walsall in the FA Cup 1st round. It was 2004, we were in the Ryman Premier, homeless and our budget had been cut again. As the Match of the Day cameras were there we organised a red card protest against Slough Council – which to be fair to Walsall fans they joined in when they heard our miserable lack of support for our plans to get a ground in Slough. One councillor helpfully pointed out we should merge with Windsor.

Before the Walsall game we had a goalkeeper who had done well for us, but Eddie was worried he was a bit too young and inexperienced for a game like this. Leeds reserve keeper Shaun Allaway, who had once been tipped to play for England, became available and the young lad was dropped from the team and Shaun brought in for his debut against the Division One side. At the time we felt this was pretty harsh but as a manager you live or die by these decisions. Walsall had Slough watched previously and their player-manager former Arsenal and England International Paul Merson apparently told his family and friends they could bet their house on a Walsall victory. I'm not sure I slept much the night before and I arrived early in Windsor where we were groundsharing as the pub opposite the ground filled up. In the end over 2,000 packed into Stag Meadow to witness an historic 2-1 victory to the Rebels. Considering the constraints Eddie was under, it has to be one of Slough's greatest cup victories and was the shock of the round. As for Merson, well he said "Losing to Slough was the worst day of my football life. The sound of Slough players celebrating still haunts me."

However being Slough we drew another non league club in the second round – Yeading who were flying in our league with a certain young striker called DJ Campbell firing on all cylinders. Despite scoring a 3rd minute penalty we lost 3-1 and once again lost out in appearing in the Third round of the FA Cup. Worse was to come the following day when Yeading drew Newcastle United at home while Campbell ended up playing in the football league.

* While our managers are no doubt happy with a third home cup tie on the bounce, spare a thought for programme editors. In between full time work our editor Steve Chapman spends between 5-10 hours putting each programme together. On average we sell about 175 a game and give away around 50. All senior league football clubs are required to produce programmes but the lower you go the more sparse these are and I do wonder in an age where info is at our mobile phone finger tips how long they will survive. I would never think of buying a Brighton programme for my eldest (especially as they are £3.50 a pop). So will the football programme eventually be a thing of the past?

** While we are dishing out sympathy spare a thought for the long distance football fan. I was ready to board the Slough Town express to watch us play Biggleswade on Non League Day when the horror of rail replacement flashed up on my screen. Nearly 4 hours to get to Slough seemed a bit much and so my season ticket stayed a virgin. Is this some sort of record? It's looking like its going to be mid-November before I get the chance to finally flash it at Phil and Aiden. Talking of Biggleswade, for a town with a population of just 6,500 they have 3 senior clubs! Eastbourne also have 3 (they used to have 4) while Worthing have three. Anyone know which town holds the record for the most clubs in a town that can compete in the FA Cup/Trophy/Vase.








Wednesday, October 04, 2017

MY NAN

Published in the Southern League Premier Division game v Biggleswade Town on Saturday 7th October 2017 Non League Day. We won 2-1 in front of 760

When I first asked my nan that I was thinking of writing about her life, she asked who would be interested. But everyone has a story to tell, especially someone who survived the Blitz. So at the age of 88 with an incredible memory for detail I started to spend a couple of hours before home games recording our conversations.

Listening to her stories made me realise that despite its size, London was like a village “When we came home from school we just played in the street, you knew all the neighbours. You had the London way of talking. I can’t remember a lot of it now ‘cos I haven’t spoken it for years. Plates of meat are your feet; apples and pears - stairs, it was all cockney. If your gran moved out another relative would move in, but we all get separated during the War.”

I think it was her stories of the Second World War that really brought home to me how lucky I was to be alive. She had three near misses, but if one of those bombs had struck not only would my nan have died but my mum, me and my children would never have been born. She said that seeing the whole of the East End on fire during the Blitz felt like the end of the world.

One time Nan was at her Dad’s allotment with her future husband Ernest. They heard a Doodlebug overhead and quickly ran to a shelter. They just managed to shut the door and were blown down the stairs but unhurt. The nearby shelter was hit and the occupants not so lucky. Another time one of Nan’s friend, popped round and asked if she wanted to go to the library. Daisy said she couldn’t as she was cutting lamb’s tongues for dinner. The next minute the windows in the house were shattered as the library was hit by a rocket. The only part of her friend ever found was her jaw. The third time she was working in a factory when another doddle-bug hit. She managed to get into the shelter with workmates, but her clothes were ripped and her legs cut and they had to be dug out of the rubble. She walked dazed down the street where her grateful mum took her home, but she should have reported to the medical staff or to the ARP. The Air Raid Patrol wardens were the ones that went round the streets during black-outs telling people to turn out their lights so the bombers couldn’t target them. They also reported bomb damage and re-united families. In the morning after the attack there was a knock at their door from the ARP saying they had searched all night for my Nan but she couldn’t be found. That was because she was asleep in bed upstairs!

At the age of 18 she had to sign on for war work “They put me at an aircraft factory in Feltham and I lodged with young girls. We had the weekend off and we came home to our families. We did night work from 8 o’clock till 6 in the morning. I was on the rear part of the Spitfire planes riveting the tail end of it. Wasn’t hard work it was fun really. I was pushing the rivet in once and one of the girls said, ‘that’s gone through, it’s gone through my hand as well’. She married Ernest Hunt at 20 and they spent their honeymoon in an Anderson Shelter!

Being a pub person I loved the stories of The Scottish Stores in Kings Cross, a pub my Aunt Bet ran from 1941 to 1950. Nan told me that Aunt Bet always said the pub was a finishing school and that it finished her off! With a clientèle of prostitutes, gangs and soldiers; well it wasn't the sort of place where you could sit and relax with soldiers coming in to meet the prostitutes and gangs coming in to beat up the soldiers. One time my grandad ran to a passing copper to ask him to help stop a fight; when the copper found out it was the Scottish Stores he told him rather impolitely to f-off! My nan nearly adopted one of the prostitutes daughters after her mother had been sent to prison, but she fell pregnant with my mum and it never happened.

A couple of years back The Scottish Stores got its original name back and a make-over. There's a quote from nan on the front of the relaunched pubs website and I went in after a Slough game half expecting a picture of my Aunt Bet hanging on the wall warning everyone to behave themselves or else. A London magazine ran a two page spread on the pub mainly with her quotes and a picture of her on the front.

I loved the stories of moving to Langley estate because their home in London was overcrowded. “There were only four families on this road when we moved here. Not all the estate was built, no street lights, no paving. A lot of them moved back to London because they didn’t like it, it was too quiet. The first 100 people down here got an invitation to go to the Lord Mayor’s town hall to have tea there with him but I didn’t go ‘cos I had the kids. In the summer evenings you sat on your front wall. Someone would make a pot of tea, another one would bring out a bottle of beer, and someone would make sandwiches. There were only two cars on this street.”

My nan had a remarkable life that has shaped mine and all those around her. With three children, four grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and one great great grandchild her memories will live on. 

Her book 'It's just the way things were' can be read here  


                     DAISY LOUISA HUNT 1924-2017 

 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

THE SEVENTH WONDER OF THE SEASIDE

Printed in the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round game v Poole Town Saturday 20thSeptember 2017   We won 2-1 in front of 680.

If you like watching non league football while checking out some stunning modernist architecture and swimming in a community owned lido, then Saltdean is the place for you.

With a population of 12,000 this suburb of Brighton has a lido regarded by English Heritage as one of the Seven Wonders of The English Seaside! “Along with its sister modernist building, the Ocean Hotel, the lido was designed to be the centrepiece of Saltdean’s seafront to promote it as a fashionable resort in the competitive 1930s British holiday industry. Just as the Victorians, 60 years previously, had considered a pier to be an essential element of a seaside resort, by the 1930s, lidos had become an important status symbol for successful resorts.”

Re-opened this summer thanks to a relentless campaign by the local community who fought off developers and raised millions to resurrect the Grade II listed building. It now has a 40 metre heated swimming pool, a paddling pool and a "splash area" with further plans to restore the main building. Meanwhile the Grand Ocean Hotel once a Butlins holiday camp is now luxury apartments.

At the back end of the estate surrounded by the South Downs you enter Saltdean United's Hill Park ground through a dirt track. It's pretty basic with just one stand cut into the hill, where the large grass banks are ripe for roly-polys and the pitch slopes to the side.

As someone once said the FA Vase is the only cup competition where everyone who enters wants to win and after years in the doldrums the Saltdean Tigers are roaring back to life. Flying high in the Southern Combination Premier Division after promotion from Division One last year, gone are the days of managers programme notes having a go at players for not turning up for training! During the 2015/16 season the club were in a pretty sorry state. Having been through 3 managers in as many months the club were lying bottom of the league and its future was in grave doubt. However despite finishing bottom there was a massive resurgence of interest, led by a celebrated ex-player with the support of local businessmen the club were transformed on and off the pitch. Within a single season they went from bottom to top of the league gaining promotion back to the top flight of Sussex football last season.

Their opponents Stansfeld play a level below in the Southern Counties East Football League Division One. Stansfeld isn't a place but is named after the Anglican priest and doctor John Stansfeld. Ater visiting Bermondsey and seeing the poverty he decided to form the Club in 1897 to keep the waifs and strays off the streets! The Club's headquarters are now to be found in Webb Street, Bermondsey, where over 200 members enjoy various sections, i.e. football, golf, snooker, athletics, circuit training and drinking. Currently the club fields two football teams on a Saturday, both in the Kent County League. They currently groundshare with Glebe, whatever a Glebe is.

I hate to have a pop at refs, but I could see why the blokes from Bermondsey were blowing a gasket. Two dubious penalties, two sendings off and was the first goal off-side? The crowd were treated to hat-trick from a lad on his debut after a year out of football and a cracking goal from Stansfeld. Another débutante ended up with a broken collar bone after just 30 seconds on the pitch.

It finished 3-1 to Saltdean - an action packed afternoon of football for just a fiver. They now host the Oystermen of Whitstable Town in the first round proper. Only eight more rounds left before the final at Wembley.
 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

NO MORE CHAMPION HILL STREET BLUES

Printed in the FA Cup 2nd Qualifying round game v Dulwich Hamlet Saturday 16th September 2017 We won 3-2 in front of 712 people.

I once asked, 'What’s not to like about Dulwich Hamlet?' But it seems these days plenty if you listen to some who've got their noses out of joint about the hundreds of hipsters who have descended on the club, twiddling their moustaches, singing songs and generally making a right old Rabble.

I love their name. Is there any other senior football team called Hamlet? And what about the kit. Does anyone else dare to play in pink and blue? As a Slough Town youngster I remember going to their massive crumbling old Champion Hill ground where crowds of 200 rattled round in a stadium built for thousands. Opened in 1931 it staged numerous Amateur Internationals and matches like the Amateur Cup Final between Kingstonian and Stockton in 1932-33 that attracted a record crowd of 20,744. Eventually, in 1991, it was totally demolished as part of Sainsbury‘s redevelopment and the club moved opposite to a new home.

The new ground lacks the charm of the old one and the last time Slough played them in the league, there was more Slough than Dulwich. Since then both clubs have seen a real spike in support, although Slough fans are more hip-replacement than hipster.

A few years back the future looked bleak for so many London clubs as wall to wall Premier League coverage hoovered up supporters while property vultures hoovered up grounds; but there's been a real renaissance with Wealdstone, Enfield, Clapton and Dulwich attracting supporters who enjoy the more personal experience you get from non league.

Duncan Hart chair of the Dulwich Supporters Trust explained how its not just about hipsters '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'' (so far this season it's 1,327). In 2016 they became the Football Foundations Community Club of the Year.

The last time I visited on New Years Day the massive crowd was so multicultural I was half-expecting the English Defence League to be outside complaining about all those bloody foreigners watching our football teams.

The club were also the team of my old mate Mad Pride Pete Shaughnessy who committed suicide 15 years ago. Pete was attacked with an iron bar when working as a bus conductor that left him with bouts of severe depression. But when Pete was feeling well he was a force to be reckoned with setting up Mad Pride. Like he said 'If people were proud to be black or gay, then why not be proud to be mad?' They held their first demo outside Bedlam, which was celebrating 750 years. Pete felt that the history of Bedlam didn't have much to celebrate and threw himself into campaigning. “Initially, I entered the non-league scene because I needed to pursue a hobby away from campaigning and find a way of chilling out. I was seeing a ‘shrink’ one day when she turned round and said to me, ‘You do realise before there were drugs, people used to be depressed for up to two years.’ “That’s funny”, I replied. “I’ve taken all the drugs that can be thrown at me with all the side effects and I’m still depressed over two years later, but then again, I do support Crystal Palace!!” ‘Change your team,’ cracked the shrink.

He bumped into old friend and life long Hamlet fan Mishi who persuaded Pete to follow the Hamlet. After one game he was hooked “Non-league football is ethical: you’re supporting a local community and you can have fun while you’re at it. When I’d just started going out with my present partner, I talked her into going to a totally, meaningless friendly, Moseley versus Dulwich. After a night with the “Rabble”, we ended up stranded in Hampton Court, no train or night bus. After a bit of bartering, I managed to get us the honeymoon suite at Hampton Court Palace. She was totally in awe. “This is what you get when you follow Dulwich Hamlet.”




Tuesday, September 12, 2017

MORE THAN MY JOBS WORTH

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Hitchin Town Tuesday 12th September 2017.

Football fans have long been treated like criminals, so it didn't shock me as much as it should that female Grimsby fans had to lift their tops to show their bras before they could go and watch their team away to Stevenage. One lucky steward was stationed in the bogs no doubt looking for stink bombs. Mind you, one Grimbsy fan was recently found guilty of assaulting a steward with an inflatable shark, so they were obviously up to something fishy.
I remember one steward searching my bag at Lewes, during their ill fated one season in the Conference. The fact that I was with an 18 month old toddler didn't seem to matter, unless they liked poking around in dirty nappies.

At the Slough-West Brom friendly, a steward wouldn't let one of our wheelchair supporters sit in a fenced off area despite their being no other respite from the torrential rain. He left at half time soaked to the skin. Too their credit Slough Council apologised and said they were working on sorting out the situation as a matter of urgency, but a bit of decency and common sense from the steward really wouldn't have gone a miss.

A last minute winner is always going to get football fans passions racing, but instead of savouring the moment Manchester City Rahim Sterling was sent off for over celebrating while one City fan was bundled to the ground by stewards. City's Sergio Agüero tried to intervene and was falsely accused of punching the steward. So is football a game full of excitement or is it just something to watch out the corner of your eye while taking selfies and playing with your phone?

Nick Glynn was a senior police football commander and adviser for nearly two decades – as a well as being a Birmingham City fan. He said “It is always interesting to watch the reaction of stewards and police officers when a goal is scored. I see fear, anger, aggression, sometimes panic. For many, it seems the overriding desire is to stop a perfectly normal and natural human reaction to a rare event, rather than taking a few steps back, a few deep breaths, remaining calm, and observing and giving half a minute for things to calm down. The reaction of stewards and police officers to goal celebrations is symptomatic of a wider problem with the rules and regulations that govern football fans, and the way that authorities treat them as a group. Many regulations apply only to football fans, and please, don’t try to claim we all deserve it. We don’t.”

I felt the full wrath of this petty bureaucrat mentality at Sloughs recent trip to Hereford. I'd been really looking forward to visiting the ground for the first time, leaving Brighton at stupid o' clock to meet up with fellow Rebels and a mate just back from Brazil. In the ground we had a laugh with their bar staff and mingled with their supporters. One of them told us he had been at THAT GAME. As a ten year old he was at the back of the terraces and said that as Ronnie Radford hit the ball the whole crowd know it was heading for the back of the Newcastle net. His feet didn't touch the ground as the crowd celebrated. Over 40 years later as Hereford were reborn as a supporters run club, he was back on those terraces repainting them for free ready for the new season; bonded to the club forever by those celebrations.

The 101 Slough supporters were in fine voice as we snatched what was to be the only goal of the game just before half time. Me and my mate then left for a half time drink. To be honest I didn't really pay attention to signs saying no half time readmission. The two coppers had left bored, the bar staff told us to pop in and away fans were allowed in the bars before and after the game. In any case this was non league. What happened however was a perfect example of how to blow a situation out of all proportion. NO READMITTANCE bellowed Chief Steward. These are the rules. When we went back to the bar and started watching with the home supporters a couple of stewards couldn't have cared less but Chief Steward was angry. Rules are rules as he would no doubt be saying in another life loading up the trucks to the gas chambers.

On the way back on the train we chatted to Hereford fans who were none too complimentary about their stewards while my Brazilian mate said he had forgotten about their petty mindedness. In Brazil people wouldn't dare treat people like that in case someone had a gun and blew their brains out!

Meanwhile back at a small non league ground on Bank Holiday Monday West Didsbury & Chorlton were beating Runcorn Linnets in the North West County League in front of 484 supporters. One Man City fan who'd been at the Bournemouth game commented 'A beer in the sun watching football and not being treated like a criminal. Bliss.'


Monday, September 11, 2017

BATTLE OF THE BERKS

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Dunstable Town on Saturday, September 9th 2017. Slough won 8-1 in front of 786 people. 
 
Forty years supporting Slough and games start to merge into one. I'm sure i'd been to Berkhamsted before. I remembered a wayward shot knocking a Slough supporter clean off a concrete wall, but I can't remember the score or when it was. Lucky Slough is blessed with more than a few stattos to put the record straight.
It was 1991 and the 3rd qualifying round of the FA Cup with Slough in the Conference and Berkhampsted Town in the Isthmian Division 2. A crowd of over 400 saw Slough win 4-1 and go on to play Reading in 1st round where somehow, despite being 3-1 down on 90 minutes we came back to draw 3-3 deep into injury time at a rammed Wexham Park resulting in a very late night celebrating in the old Wheatsheaf Pub! Talking of concrete walls, part of ours collapsed that day as Reading fans celebrated a goal. We lost the replay at the old Reading Elm Park ground 2-1 in front over 6,000 fans.
Turns out i'd also been to Berkhampsted for the final game of the 2002-3 Ryman League Division one season. A certain Steve Bateman was managing Berko who won 3-1 – with Michael Gilkes netting the only goal for Slough. Steve Bateman then went on to manage Slough and is now back at a reformed Berkhampsted while Michael Gilkes was last week named as Readings new first team coach. It's a small footballing world.
Since then Berkhampsted Town reached the finals of the FA Vase before eventually going bust in 2009 under a mountain of debt. Supporters quickly set up a new club winning Division Two of the Spartan South Midlands League in their first season and Division One the following one with a record 107 points – the highest in the National League system that season. Now in the Spartan Premier they are once again managed by Steve Bateman who tweeted that only a fine old competition like the FA Cup could get him a home tie against the club he managed and played for.
The club are nicknamed The Comrades, after Berkhamsted Comrades which was the name of the football club formed in the town by servicemen returning from the First World War. So Comrades v Rebels - a battle of teams by the canal (Better than Battle of the Berks). Let's just say that the canal outside Berkhampsted's ground is a bit more picturesque than the Slough arm of the Grand Union. To be fair, Slough canal is a lot cleaner nowadays compared to a time when my nan said she stopped accompanying my grandad fishing when a headless dead dog floated past! In fact I see a future when Slough supporter and entrepreneur Kieron Wall invests in the old derelict site at the canel basin building waterside flats and a pub to welcome home and away fans arriving leisurely on canal boats to the Slough Town Canal Arms!
I love an away day in the early rounds in the cup. In fact I think it should be the rule that smaller clubs always get the home advantage. A record crowd for the reformed club, their decent little ground is smack bang in the centre of town where football clubs should be with ladders by stands to collect wayward balls and the train station end where there used to be that infamous concrete wall slowly becoming a nature reserve and looking like it would swallow up Slough fans.
The old adage of taking your chances was never so apt as Berko squandered three great chances to take the lead before Slough pounced on the 15th minute to score against the run of play. A second and the result was never really in doubt from then on. But Steve Bateman has built a good team who should be challenging for another promotion this season.
As for Slough, well FA Cup games come thick and fast in the first few rounds and on Saturday we welcome old Isthmian League rivals Dulwich Hamlet and 'the Rabble' to Arbour Park which should be a corker of a game.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

WE'RE GONNA WIN THE LEAGUE

Printed in Southern League Premier Division game v Kettering Town Saturday 12th August 2017. First game of the season. We lost 2-1 in front of 760.
 
And so it begins. My 40th season supporting Slough Town and what a season I reckon its going to be. As I sat high up in our new airport lounge-cum-bar trying desperately to get an alcoholic beverage, I surveyed the scene with that pre-season feeling of every supporter: Hope. So no pressure on the managers and players but I will nail my amber and blue pants to the mast and say we will win the league. Not in the Billericay financial car-crash way where mind-boggling resources are thrown very quickly at a club; a model which nearly always ends in tears. No, our club has been transformed slowly and steadily. From homeless basket case, to a club that our chairman and active supporters trust have built up a footballing head of steam. Some class additions to the squad, a squeaky new ground fully operational, the place to be on a Saturday for Slough residents and hey presto. Wouldn't it be nice to be league champions the first time since the Boer War?
The irony is that today I will be leaving some muddy camping field heading for the AMEX to watch Brighton play their first ever game in the Premier League against a team whose turnover is greater than some continents GDP. Thanks to my eldest I've got a season ticket for two Premier sides. The one I support is seven levels below apparently the best league in the world, but I know where I would rather be today.
I don't do friendlies but it would have been rude not to turn up at Super Kevs well deserved testimonial against West Brom to thank him for an incredible 32 years as physio at our club. OK it was never going to be their full squad, but our second half display against full time professionals was pretty bloody impressive. Of course the hard work is slogging it out on pitches that look like they've had minefields detonated on them in the slanting rain while being booted around the park (come to think of it, haven't all our home friendlies been in the slanting summer rain?)
As a ball thundered above the goal to the back of the stadium and the rain poured, the biggest cheer of the game came when Kev got out his well-worn magic sponge, I heard one guy say this is why he loves non league. There's an intimacy that no clubs in the top flight can match. I spoke to one West Brom fan about their previous season – they were disappointed they had finished 10th rather than 8th and yearned for a cup run, a bit of excitement, as challenging the Premier League oligarchy is out of the question. A football glass ceiling that Leicester incredibly smashed but most clubs in West Broms position will be grateful at not getting relegated. Where clubs like them lose their promising youngsters too clubs like Chelsea who stockpile players like old people hoard baked beans in case of nuclear war. The Chelsea manager had a pop at Spurs for lacking ambition because they didn't spend millions on new players this season. Millions on players who are often pants while their youngsters never get a look in. Brighton have just picked up one of these youngsters Izzy Brown on loan. Chelsea signed him for West Brom where he had became the second youngest player in the Premier League at just 16 years and 117 days. West Brom initially rejected Chelsea's approaches but they got him anyway, making West Brom consider scrapping the clubs academy as they continue to lose their best prospects for nominal fees that fail to cover the cost of running the academy. Since then he has only played for Chelsea under 21s and been loaned to Vitesse, Rotherham, Huddesfield and now Brighton. With so little Premier League game time, former Chelsea manager Mourinho even admitted that he would be to blame if Brown were not to become a senior England team player!
So Slough Town reach for the stars, we've been in the gutter (and some of us the pub) for far too long. It's Conference South or bust (ok if we don't get promoted I will make do with an appearance in the 3rd round of the FA Cup and i'm not talking 3rd Qualifying round). Up the Rebels


Sunday, August 06, 2017

BATTLE OF THE HAVENS

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v St.Ives Town Saturday, August 26th 2017. We won 3-0 in front of 618.

It's getting to the point where the FA Cup is starting so early the extra preliminary round will soon be played before the FA Cup final! It can't be a good thing that for many clubs their first competitive match of the season is one with so much to play for - including £1,500 for the winners. 
Of course none of the 370 clubs who start in the extra preliminary have much of a chance of reaching the first round proper (making the previous six rounds improper?) yet everyone at this level wants a good cup run. It's not just good for the bank balance but also exposure. Remember Westfields from the ninth tier of the pyramid who last season reached the First Round getting international exposure and £30,925 in prize money.
So while Brighton reveled in Pride, a few of us ventured over to sunny Newhaven, a town of not much more than 10,000 that is less than 10 miles from Brighton.
Unlike Brighton it has a sandy beach, but this has been fenced off by the French company that runs the ferry for 10 years cos they say it isn't safe! I spent many a sunny afternoon relaxing on the secret coves when the tide is out. On one romantic outing, the hand glider one of my exs had been chatting too half an hour earlier landed right next to us as we were enjoying each others companies. I’m not sure who was the more embarrassed!
Newhaven's ground is surrounded by woods, parks the impressive Newhaven Fort and the harbour – they're can't be many grounds that have a ruddy great ferry appearing on the half way line during a game.


It also has a bit of a carbuncle of a stand. Built 30 odd years ago it will only be fully functional this season and mirrors the town and clubs fortune. With eye-watering property prices in Brighton, people are moving to Newhaven. Yes they might have had a bloody great incinerator burning Brighton's rubbish imposed on them and a high street encircled by a busy road on its last legs like so many shopping centres, but they have some great seaside pubs, a ferry service to Dieppe, stunning coastline and I reckon the future is bright. This is the same with the club who not so long ago nearly got relegated from the Sussex County League Division 3. With 14 clubs under their banner including a women's team for the first time, many of whom were at the game in their Newhaven kits. They are one of the Southern Combination Clubs who I reckon could hold their own in the Ryman League.
They've got some of Brighton's old Withdean stadium seats behind both goals, but they could do with some cover. When the heavens opened in the second half, everyone legged it to the main stand, and I can't imagine it being much of a laugh watching games on a Tuesday night in February.
New neighbours Peacehaven got to the dizzy heights of the Ryman Premier before the money ran out. To me the Ryman League always felt a step too far. Crowd grading regulations insisted they built a 200 seater stand when they are lucky to ever attract that many supporters. However they are now a supporters run club and it seems to have put a spring in their step with apparently 3 ultras groups, all well represented in the bumper crowd of 504. They've also got a song that will be hard to beat 'Oh Telescombe Cliffs are wonderful, we've got two pubs, a garage and a Wimpy, Oh Telscombe Cliffs are wonderful.' Lyrics Peacehavens Peter and the Test Tube Babies would be proud of.
Wonderful is not something that could be said of today's match. In a game of few chances Peacehaven edged it and looked the more skillful, but it ended 0-0 and a replay on Tuesday.
The bigger picture for me is that the FA need to stop treating all clubs equally when they are blatantly not. They need to look again at punishing ground grading rules and drop the rules for the early rounds that you can't drink on the terraces. They need to increase the payments for winning in the early rounds (do the FA Cup winners really need £1.8 million?) and come up with a plan to make sure the FA Cup extra preliminary round isn't the first competitive game of the season. I won't hold my breath.