These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. After only 24 years we finally won promotion to the Southern Premier - only seven leagues below the Premiership. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time, and despite living in Brighton just can't shake them off. Oh and we will be playing in Slough next season!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

MORE PHONE MASTS THAN FANS

Two games of football in two days; both promotion challenges, but the contrast couldn't have been more stark.
On Friday night I watched Brighton demolish Fulham in their swanky stadium in front of over 28,500. Taking my sons ten year old mate set me back £22.50.
On Saturday I was entertained by Southwick who might have blown their chance of back to back promotions after a 2-2 draw against Midhurst and Easebourne in front of just 16 people.
Just a few miles and nine levels seperate Southwick and Brighton and while the Albion are chasing the Premiership Promised Land, Southwick are hoping they can reclaim a place in the top division of the Southern Combination Premier Division (Sussex County in old money) after a long absence.
To say Southwick have fallen on some hard times is an understatement. At one point they also fell on hard drugs, with a former chairman sent down for a long stretch. Changing their trading name, meant liquidation and then relegation under FA rules. So this proper old school club that once spent time in the Isthmian Premier League were in Division 3 of the Sussex County.
They play at Old Barn Way and the ground unfortunately apes its name and is need of a good spring clean. They were the first club in the Sussex County to get floodlights back in 1968 and it used to have a stand but this was burnt down. A £100,000 grant from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund a few years back got the club new changing rooms, a directors lounge and rather bizarrely a press box (which is now in a right sorry state).
Funded by the Premier League the Football Stadia Trust dishes out capital grants to clubs from the Football League down to the lower levels of the National League System to improve safety and to enable them to satisfy FA’s over the top ground grading requirements. Last season that budget was just £6 million.
At Southwick if you are so inclined, you can combine your ground hopping with a bit of train-spotting, spoilt by a carbuncle of a bridge. The architects of such monstrosities should have to live opposite so it spoils their view every time they look out the window.
Last season they won promotion back to Division Two. A few of us set off to the promotion party game only to find out they did it without kicking a ball because the other team couldn't field a team! This season a late charge has seen them get close to the a very different Premier Division than the one Brighton are hoping to join.
Kick off was delayed while a sub run across the pitch with a coffee, kids played on a bog of a pitch before the game and there was no programme cos the printer had broken.
Just 16 punters paying £4 to get in wont even cover the refs and linos expenses so they've got nearly as many phone masts on their floodlights as fans and luckily they have a clubhouse open every day where many ignored the game for a beer, putting valuable coppers into the coffers.
As for Midhurst, they had a complete new team from the week before so despite being third from bottom put in a proper shift, making for an entertaining game. I thought it was to avoid relegation but one of their officials said that this was unlikely as teams in Division 3 grounds weren't up to scratch – well apart from AFC Varndeanians who play at Withdean stadium.
The gulf might be immense but the Southwicks of this world are the bedrock of the game and I don’t want to bang on about Jamie Vardy but it was only six seasons ago he was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels. And it wasn’t so long ago that Brighton nearly fell through the Football League door.
While the Premiership sloshing around in so much cash they could let everyone in free next season, grassroots football is suffering a thousand council cuts. Would it be too much to ask to hand out a bit more to the Football Stadia Trust so clubs can improve their grounds and youngsters don't have to play on mud baths with no proper facilities.
And now that there seems to be a TV rule that Brighton aren't allowed to play games on a Saturday at 3pm its worth checking out some lower league football with a pint in hand and see how the other half live.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED – BORING OLD CONSOLIDATION

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Kings Lynn on Saturday 16th April 2016. We won our last home game of the season 2-0 in front of 338 and hopefully our last game at Beaconsfield, as we will be moving into our new ground next season

My Slough Town report for the season has arrived and it makes for grim reading.
There was a time when I wouldn't miss a friendly, would travel up for trust meetings, fun days, infact if someone was blowing up an amber and blue balloon, I would be there with my puff.
But this season, I'm not sure i've even reached double figures watching the Rebels. I made it to the trips to Kings Lynn, Dorking Wanderers and Basingstoke. I've got my six-hours-on-train ticket to Merthyr and am looking forward to see how their 3G pitch plays out cos i'm sad like that.
It was the first time in years that I didn't get a season ticket and didn't buy a new top. A combination of work, community pub and children have conspired against me. Even more sacrilegious is that I now have an overpriced Brighton and Hove Albion season ticket thanks to my son.
But it really isn't the same. Yes, there was nearly 30,000 at Brighton v Burnley (despite it being second v first, two opposing supporters were still managing to moan to each other about their clubs). It was a lovely spring day, great atmosphere and Brighton were denied 3 points by a last gasp Burnley goal, that would have put them top of the league. But it didn't gut churn me as much as a last minute goal would have done against Slough. I didn't really care when the pantomime figure Joey Barton trod on players and wound up the crowd. I just thought everyone would like a Barton type player in their team and that people take football far too seriously.
I can still remember that Yeovil cheer nearly 40 years ago when they scored with a few minutes to go to knock us out of the FA Cup and deny us a place in the third round for the first time ever and i'm still slightly peeved about losing to Basingstoke in the FA Cup earlier in the season.
To be honest, I can feel my life force being sucked out of me every time I walk into the Beaconsfield clubhouse and being in our new ground actually in Slough will make things a lot easier for me – as well as bring in new supporters from the town. (it might also liven up the forum which reminds me of a few old blokes in a pub arguing over the price of a stamp). It would also be good if a few more saved all that hot air and wrote an article or two for the programme instead.
I've watched from afar as the Supporters Trust have really stepped up, increased membership and had a good presence in the town. Photos of the ground taking shape have put a spring in my step. Forgot the fact that for the past couple of seasons, the squeaky bum play-off/relegation battles have been replaced with boring old consolidation. Just what the doctor ordered!
As new Brighton fans need reminding that their club lost their ground thanks to a dodgy owner and were moments away from being relegated from the football league and that they mounted an impressive direct action campaign to get their new ground. As time goes by, new Rebels will not know the basket-case that was Slough Town FC. No ground, no money, no players losing 9-0, 8-0, bucket collections from other fans to keep us going. We were teetering on the brink.
So there's much to be proud of, and the fans that have stuck with the club, should give themselves a big pat on the back. A new ground will breathe new life and new supporters into the club and will at least give us a realistic shot at being in the Conference South in the next few seasons. Oh and as we are still waiting for that first ever appearance in the FA Cup 3rd round can I put in a request for that to happen before I go senile and forget that I was ever a Slough Town fan.
See you next season (hopefully, sometimes). 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

MINISTER OF THE FUTURE


MINISTER OF THE FUTURE



Printed in the Southern League Premier Division programme v Chippenham Town on Saturday 2nd April 2016. We won 1-0 in front of 255 people.

Lets be honest. Most of us cant see beyond next weekends football match, forget big occasions and are more concerned that we cant find our car-keys than climate change. We complain about games being postponed but don’t like the idea of artificial pitches. We don't like pubs closing but buy cheap beer from supermarkets. Politicians are even worse. They know they have a very limited time to change their world – and they will only really try and change it if looks like its a vote winner. We have an education system that is obsessed with measuring everything and heading the same way of the housing free-for-all. In short not many of us really do much future planning and many football clubs don't seem to do any planning at all.

So take a bow Sweden, for their
Minister of the Future. Not some Dr.Who Time Lord Sketch but headed by Kristina Persson. But the idea is a simple one: for Sweden to remain competitive tomorrow, it might, unfortunately, have to take unpopular steps today—and since politics and politicians, given elections and interests, tend to focus on the short-term, a watchdog for the long-term was needed. It's easier said than done. Can you think of a politician willing to risk re-election for a better future they cannot benefit from? Thought not.

Ms Persson explains: “'The ministry is organized in three strategic groups. The first is concerned with the future of work, the second with the green transition and competitiveness, while the third one is what we call "global cooperation." Each strategic group brings together people with different backgrounds. Some come from the business community, others from civil society, trade unions, and academia. This variety is of the uttermost importance as the questions we are trying to address are complex, and finding solutions needs the cooperation of all of society’s stakeholders.
Let’s take into consideration the "future of work". There is no point trying to resist technological change and the expected automation of a great number of jobs in the coming years. Such an attitude would be short sighted. So the real question is not how we can try to delay the process but how can we best prepare? And again, how can we guarantee that Sweden’s unemployment rate remains low and the level of social welfare the same as today? You see, these are not easy questions and if we want to find answers, we better start working now.
We live in a world that is transforming at an unprecedented speed, a world that is constantly challenging and disrupting the old ways we are used to do things. Given the context, I believe that if politics wants to remain relevant and be useful to citizens, it needs to change its approach. It needs to experiment with new ways and new solutions. This is what we are doing at the ministry and it's quite ground breaking. A lot of colleagues from other countries have expressed interest in my work and I hope a similar institution will soon be developed in other parts of the world.”

So what the hell as this got to do with football - an immediate win-at-all costs results business. Mr.Big comes along and waves his wad and we don't care if its all built on sand. What can possibly go wrong. Brentford might be working out victory from a mathematical viewpoint but what about those clubs that are working hard behind the scenes for the long-term benefit of their team. That might be investing in infrastructure, 3G pitches, marketing strategies, scouting systems, academies, renovating the clubhouse, It might be adopting a model that has loads of different income streams so you are not just reliant on football.

The Minister of Future certainly has bigger fish to fry but we can learn from them because it is those clubs that plan properly for the future that will flourish while others will be footnotes in the football history books. So look beyond another defeat and see victory in the future!

HYPERBOLE, HAYWARDS HEATH AND THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Hungerford Town on Monday 28th March 2016. We lost 2-0 in front of 319 people. 

Last weekend Haywards Heath Football Club won promotion to the Southern Combination League Premier Division after winning an incredible 24 league games in a row. After a 24 years absence from Sussex footballs top flight an official from the Sussex FA tweeted that they were sleeping giants. While there's no doubt that Haywards Heath have been underachieving for many seasons, could they really be described as a sleeping giant? A small commuter town in mid Sussex town with a population of 23,000? Surely one to file under football hyperbole.

I've often heard of Slough being referred to as sleeping giants. Our many seasons in the south west and central Southern divisions playing village teams (and often losing to them) where we would outnumber the home support – yes, we were definitely a big fish in quite a small teacup. But when you look at clubs in our league like Kettering and Weymouth, who I think would both fit in the football league, are we really a sleeping giant or more a drunk bloke that's sobered up after years of being on the lash and is finally turning his life around.

Are Leicester City a sleeping giant? Not according to Charlie Stillitano, a US sports Executive who recently held talks with 'top' Premier League clubs about the pre-season International Champions Cup. Stillitano met with the chiefs from Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool to discuss this closed tournament, where he admitted a 'restructuring of the Champions League' was also discussed.
He recently told US satellite radio station SiriusXM : “What would Manchester United argue: did we create soccer or did Leicester create [it]? Let’s call it the money pot created by soccer and the fandom around the world. Who has had more of an integral role, Manchester United or Leicester? It’s a wonderful, wonderful story – but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view, too...I guess they don’t have a birthright to be in it every year but it’s the age-old argument: US sports franchises versus what they have in Europe.
"There are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful elements to relegation and promotion and there are good arguments for a closed system. This is going to sound arrogant and it’s the furthest thing from it … but suddenly when you see the teams we have this summer in the International Champions Cup you are going to shake your head and say, ‘Isn’t that the Champions League?’ 
 
Of course the European Super League idea has been around for as long as 'When Saturday Comes' which just celebrated its 30th birthday and is really worth a read if you like your football coverage a bit more down to earth than the usual over-hyped nonsense. In its editorial it said 'The one thing uniting the various oligarchs, potentates and venture capitalists who have bought into English club football over the past decade is that none is remotely interested in sporting principles. If the shake up we've seen at the top level of the Premier League this season was to become a regular occurrence, with former Champions League habitués continuing to fall well short of the top four, then some owners might come to see the appeal of a self-selecting new league free of the upstart over-achievers who don't even have merchandising outlets in Tokyo and New York.'

Forget that Leicester (who aren't exactly short of a bob or two) have brought some much needed unpredictability to the Premier League. To the money-men these upstarts have upset the apple-cart and threaten their long-term investments. Ignore the back pages of the tabloids, this is Football for the Financial Times. Where the best-branded teams in the world shouldn't have to sully themselves with those who haven't worked out that flogging more tops in China is a much better way of deciding who gets to play in the Champions League

* Since i wrote this Leicester have been invited to play in the International Champions Cup


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

MONEY CANT BUY YOU LOVE

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division match v Weymouth on Saturday 19th March 2016 We drew 0-0 in front of 320.

Me and my big mouth. 'You should support your local team' I droned on and on to my eldest as he flirted with Arsenal and Barcelona. 'You've got no chance of me taking you' as I made him a Slough Town mascot or took him to the Dripping Pan and Eastbourne Town. For once he actually listened and now I've got a £900 bill for two Brighton and Hove Albion season tickets – the price increasing because my eldest is now 10! With my last Slough season ticket costing me £120 that price has not only made my eyes water but means we will now be eating porridge for breakfast, lunch and tea for the next couple of months.

Football clubs know they can get away with charging so much because football fans stick up for their clubs more than they do their spouses. And then ten thousand Liverpool fans walked out of a game on the 77 minute in protest about increased ticket prices and their team imploded and the owners changed their tune. A few weeks later, after a long-running Football Supporters Federation Twenty's Plenty campaign, the Premiership kindly agreed to put a £30 cap on away fans ticket prices. This was of course helped by a TV deal that is so lucrative they could let away fans in for free. They also acknowledged that without away fans the atmosphere that helps them sell the TV rights is diminished (until they find a way of canned cheering).

Last Sunday Charlton fans held a death march for their club and halted the game with a bouncy ball protest – ironically being on TV helped publicise what is being done to the club by its owners. Forget the fact that Sky had broken league rules by giving Middlesbrough and Charlton fans just 17 days notice that the game was being moved to a Sunday. Writing in Teesside’s Evening Gazette journalist Anthony Vickers described Sky as rolling “a hand-grenade” into the carefully prepared plans of thousands and outlined how fixtures changes leave fans feeling powerless. “That needs addressing urgently. By government intervention if necessary. No other product or service is delivered in such an arbitrary fashion and with no redress. It is a scandal,” writes Vickers.

Leeds have been so incensed with their fixture run around that they threatened to lock the cameras out while FC United of Manchester, set up by Man United fans fed up amongst other things of being dicked around by TV companies, where threatened by the FA when they initially refused to have their FA Cup game moved to a Monday.

Brighton's chief executive argues that the TV money comes in handy and reaches a new TV audience – which is fine, if you disregard all the thousands of fans who turn up week in, week out.
It's like Tescos punishing their regular customers while pandering to the ones that cant be arsed to come to their stores. Eventually the regulars are going to tell you to stuff it up your turnstiles.

So far this season Brighton have had 10 games moved because of TV. Imagine if you had bought tickets for a gig, you'd organise work and travel and then the promoters change the date and time. You would rightly be banging on the ticket office door demanding a refund. Not if you are a football fan. Richard Robinson is a Leeds United fan based in Luton while his son studies at university in Newcastle. Both are season ticket holders at Elland Road. “I am increasingly appalled by the way paying football fans are treated by TV companies. My son, aged 20, is at university in Newcastle and had already booked his train ticket for the Saturday. When the match was changed the ticket was obviously invalid,” says Richard. He contacted the Football League for a refund – “patronising beyond belief” – and Sky. The broadcaster offered merchandise in lieu of a train ticket refund. And it wasn’t even Leeds United gear. “Why would my adult son want a teddy bear of Paul Merson or Matt Le Tissier?” asks Richard. A question to which there is literally no answer.

My answer has always been for fans to tell their clubs to stick it and go and support a local non league team. Then my eldest becomes a Brighton fan and i'm caught with Monday night tickets on a school night that I cant give away, egg on my face, a Slough Town top gathering dust and porridge for tea. 


Wednesday, March 02, 2016

NIL POINTS

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Dunstable Town on Saturday 5th March 2016. We won 1-0 in front of 226

As the ever hopeful Uckfield Town twitter account so rightly pointed out, 'Forget the Old Firm, Manchester and North London derbies. This is the one that matters. The A272 derby away at St Francis Rangers FC.'
And what a derby we had lined up. St. Francis Rangers rock bottom of not only the Southern Combination but probably the worst team in the footballing pyramid. Played 26, lost 26 scored 3 whilst conceding 179!
Just before the season started, their manager and the whole team walked. Since then they've nearly had as many players as goals shipped, with over 100 registered. And they are still getting hammered every week. Ironically as their bad results have continued, their plight has resulted in greater publicity. So when they sacked their third manager of the season, an article by top Sussex non league football journalist Ian Townsend was picked up by Joe Monks, Head of Academy Recruitment at Barnet Football Club. He contacted the club offering to bring his players down to play for Rangers, supported by his coaching staff with Barnet paying wages and expenses.

Now I have never had to drive through a hospital car-park before to get to a game of football but St. Francis Rangers ground is behind Princes Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. The ground is overlooked by the former Sussex County Lunatic Asylum, now converted into flats – handing one of the former tenants St. Francis Hospital the nickname ‘The Mental Hospital.’

St. Francis Rangers FC themselves was formed in 2002, following the amalgamation of St Francis Hospital and Ansty Rangers. The latter had earlier been formed as a result of a merger between Lindfield Rangers and Ansty FC in 1996. The merger was very much a marriage of convenience: St. Francis were about to be relegated; whilst Ansty Rangers were struggling to achieve the required ground grading because their changing rooms were too far from the pitch. It's a fabulous setting, but playing at the back of the hospital isn't great for crowds unless you could convince doctors to prescribe a bit of non league football medicine to patients. Despite being the highest the club had ever played they average just 36 people – the worst in the league.

There used to be two teams in Uckfield but another marriage of convenience means it is just AFC Uckfield Town that represents the towns senior football – that's when they get to ever play a game. Building a football pitch on a former spring that apparently an old farmer used to bottle, perhaps wasn’t the wisest of moves. Having a ground miles out of Uckfield town centre doesn’t help matters either. Despite promotion last season they average just 53 paying punters.

So the battle lines were drawn and with talk of improving performances could this be the day St Francis picked up a point? Er, no. We had only just got out the car and they were 1-0 down and thanks to some poor goal-keeping it was 4-0 by half time.
 
Its a big step up from Academy football but for Barnet it makes perfect sense. As the game went on, they started playing some football. They get a penalty to make it 4-1 and that's how it finished. Bobbly pitch on a freezing February, some of them must wonder what they've done to deserve this! 
 
Its easy to throw in the towel in seasons like this but their chairman, secretary, match secretary, kitman and part time groundsman John Goss and his small team of volunteers deserves credit for carrying on. Being so bad has meant crowds have improved as people like me wonder just what is going on. But just like lower league clubs up and down the country they need more people to get involved. Maybe that person could be you?

For a more indepth article on St.Francis head to the fantastic David Bauckham blog 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

WHITEHAWK OR BUST

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Leamington Saturday 20th February 2016. We lost 3-1 in front of 286 soaked supporters on a mud-bath of a pitch. Roll on 3

The first time I went to see Whitehawk Football Club play was in 2006 when I was served coffee in a proper mug and just 50 people watched the game, while the bar was bustling with locals more keen on the beer than the football. Not that it mattered and at the time I wrote 'currently top of the Sussex County League, players only get expenses so they are never going to attract players from too far away. One supporter told me, that not so long ago you had to live in the Whitehawk area to play for them. And on an estate with a bad reputation that has received millions in regeneration money, it’s more than just a football club but a proper community resource with plenty of football teams for all ages, young and old mixing, something community development workers can only dream of. The chairman was running the gate and his grandson selling raffle tickets. They’ve got plans to improve facilities, but I like the place, nestled next to the South Downs with the chalk hawk overlooking the ground. Former players still come to watch games with their sons in the squad, while the manager Ian Chapman made more than 300 appearances in ten years as a player with Brighton.'

Fast forward 10 years and Whitehawk are making headlines for all the right and wrong reasons. Fueled by large amounts of investment they have steamed up the leagues and are knocking on the Conference National League door; have a growing band of Ultras and a chairman who wants to change their name to Brighton City. This has put me off going, but with Sussex football once again falling to the foul weather, it was Whitehawk or sitting in the pub. And i've got to say I was pleasantly surprised. The Ultras might be a bit to right-on but at least they do it with a large dollop of humour. They have however not seen the funny side of the plans to ditch Whitehawk. Now has their former vice-chairman and son of co-founder Ron Powell recently wrote a great letter to the local paper.

Like many other clubs, it is the influx of inappropriate levels of money in the search for short-term glory that leads to situations such as those that now prevail with the Hawks. This leads to desperate measures such as a name change in an attempt to prop up an unsustainable business plan. The Hawks should keep their name just as it is and be as proud as I am of being associated with this community. It is an asset not a liability.
Johns (Summers the current chairman) approach has alienated fans past and present and also built unnecessary tensions with Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. He may well be a very successful local businessman but leading a football club, needs the ability to manage fans' hearts as well as their heads. Changing names is disrespectful by erasing its history and tradition as well as appearing to want to disassociate itself from the community in which it was born.
I would also like to pay tribute to the “real” heroes of Whitehawk, the small team of key officials led by John Rosenblatt who has served for the club for over 40 years and only its second secretary since 1945. These guys voluntarily dedicate so much time to the club and without them we would be not be having this debate today.
Finally, perhaps John Summers should in an attempt to regain some much needed trust now reassure all the fans he really is in this for the long term. That if his plan for a name change is not successful, he will not walk away, condemning the club to a completely unsustainable situation. If he chose to do so it would leave the real fans to pick up the pieces just as has happening at so many other clubs. Or would he graciously accept defeat but then carefully manage the club back to a totally self-sufficient level, no doubt some way below the National League but to a point where me and many other fans can look forward to following the fate of our team for many years to come.”

I don’t begrudge Whitehawk their success its just not the way I think small community football clubs should be run. We've all heard so much trumpet blowing from money men so many times before and it almost always ends in tears. The irony is that the success that the Chairman's money has brought has attracted a new generation of fans; fans that you feel would be more than capable of turning the Hawks into a supporters run club should the need arise. Fans who you know would respect the name Whitehawk Football Club.

Further reading - David Bauckham has done another of his top-notch in-depth articles, this time on Whitehawk 



Monday, January 25, 2016

HALF A SEASON TICKET

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Bedworth United on Saturday 6th February 2016. We lost 2-1 in front of 247 people.

It definitely wasn't on my fiftieth birthday wish list, but I had been badgering my eldest to support his local team from the year dot and made him a Slough Town mascot for the first eight years of his life. So I really only had myself to blame when he said he no longer supported Arsenal but Brighton and Hove Albion. But was it my wise words or the fantastic work Albion in the Community do that they rightfully win so many awards for and who coach him twice a week?
Who knows, but every dad wants their offspring to share in their love of football, and not the frothing at the TV I-support-a-club-i-will-never-visit kind of 'support.' So what to do but bite the bullet and buy one of those frowned upon by real fans half-season tickets. Thankfully you don't have to wear a half-a-season wrist band so regulars can point you out and I hope I wont become a Slough Town outcast made to stand under the Shed guttering when its raining.
So on New Years Day I found myself in the Seagulls clubshop. It's four times bigger than the Beaconsfield clubhouse with ten staff manning the tills; no tin roof here to bang on, no old heater to keep Sue warm and I doubt there are any spiders or the need for sandbags for when the terraces flood. Two small pies, coffee, water, a bag of sweets and a Brighton scarf and I was waving goodbye to another £25 but at least I could walk home for free.
I don't like the fanzone, the twirling soggy scarves that hit me in the face as they are whirled in the air after they have been dragged in the rain and I WANT TO FUCKING STAND UP AND MOVE AROUND! Football league supporters also seem to have lost their ability to come up with original, witty songs and instead now sing from a very limited repertoire. Saying that, it can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention when you hear thousands singing Sussex-by-the-Sea but I do change the lyrics to Slough-by-the-Canal. Of course someone with a big head always manages to sit in front of my son – this time the big-heads arrived late for kick off and late after half time, talked about loft conversions for the whole game and of course left early. Really, at £25 a pop, why bother?
What is interesting is that when I think the game has been great, others are complaining about the football being served but maybe that isn't surprising when I often watch games that are nine levels below.
As for the forum, North Stand Chat is very lively but no different from others across the country, in that it is populated by too many people with unreasonable expectations and angry too-soon-after-the-final-whistle comments. Brighton went from being the only league club unbeaten to a club record for not scoring a goal (not helped by nearly a full team of injuries). And a few people called for the managers head! Obviously saw-dust is only thing in there's. I’m all for supporters having a voice, but why do so many have to be clueless morons?
In a crowd of 300 at Slough, I will know at least half the people. In 26,000 I bumped into just 3 familiar faces. I can guarantee if I wear my Slough scarf on the train, someone will approach me and ask me about the Rebels and when we are getting our new ground. That's not going to happen when thousands support the same team.
Ironically, one of the things I hate about modern football is fixtures being moved around by TV, is actually playing to my advantage. With Brighton doing well, their games are being dicked about giving me the wiggle room to go and support non league football and even, heaven forbid, the odd Slough Town game.
That's not to say, i'm not off my seat and cheering when Brighton score a goal, or muttering under my breath about a refs decision or a misplaced pass. And it wont be long before my eldest will be asking to leave his old dad and join his mates in the North Stand leaving me to crawl back under my Slough Town saddo non league rock. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

BARING AN APOCALYPSE

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Hitchin Town on Saturday 23rd 2016. We won 1-0 in front of 314 people. 

While the January monsoons were once again wiping out non league fixtures, Lancing FC from the Southern Combination Football League (or Sussex County in old money) tweeted that baring an apocalypse their top of the table clash with Arundel would go ahead. Lancing share their ground with Sussex FA and have bitten the bullet and installed a 3G pitch.
So sure of getting the game ahead they had offered free tickets to a local youth side who they hope will merge with them. So while other clubs were forking in vain, the Lancing groundsmen were hoovering and sweeping! By kick-off there were 118 paying punters and over 300 packed into the impressive facilities along one side of the ground. The game was fast and furious in the first half and by the time of the deluge in the second half came, the pitch didn't turn into a mud-bath. In the end they won 4-1 and went top of the league.
The only hiccup of the day was my complaint to the caterers that the coffee they had served me was salty. No, you idiot, you had just put milk in someones bovril.
Another Sussex club Worthing seem to waking from a long sleep since a young chairman took over and appointed an even younger manager. They installed 3G in the summer and are second in the Ryman South attracting gates between 500 to a 1,000 - so big infact that they have to work with the local council on a travel plan.
Of course Maidstone are leading the artificial way and are knocking on the Conference doors with crowds averaging over two thousand. Its worth Slough fans remembering that its just a couple of seasons back when a homeless Maidstone were averaging 300 a game.
Now Bracknell Town want to get on the 3G wagon, selling part of the decrepited Largess Lane ground for £1 million for housing so they can pay for it and carry out ground improvements. The all weather pitch will enable them to share with Ranleigh school in the week along with classrooms for sports studies courses for teenagers, a creche for students at nearby Bracknell and Wokingham college and a sports hall for the disabled. All that stands in the way is planning permission, but things certaintly look a bit brighter for the Hellenic League club with nearly 300 attending the Christmas holiday day derby with Ascot Town. So hats off to Bracknell for trying to diversify with as many income streams as possible – and you never know it might even bring in a few extra fans.
Of course I will miss the mud-baths that even up the teams in the early rounds of the FA Cup but it really is a lower league no brainer, I've heard complaints from other teams about an unfair advantage but as technology gets better, pitches get cheaper and the football authorities really get behind it, a trip to watch a game on the grass will become a novelty. And of course when we move to our Slough Town Theatre of Dreams we will be playing on the artificial stuff because as our chairman says “it is not only the way forward for clubs it is the way forward for communities as the pitch can be better utilised as opposed to just the couple of times a week you can play on a grass pitch. Also with an artificial pitch there is less chance that a game will be called off. It has taken the FA a long time, however artificial pitches are now accepted in the FA Cup, in the Conference League and it won’t be long before the professional leagues accept them.”
Barring of course, an apocalypse.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

THE POWER OF TWITTER

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Kettering Town on Saturday 9th January 2016. This game was postponed and eventually played on Tuesday 1st March 2016. We lost 3-1 in front of 294

This is a story about social media, never ending rain and a football chairman with his finger on the pulse – or at least the keyboard of his phone.
While the incessant rain in the north had led to homes and football grounds going under water, the South had escaped the worse of the deluges. So when the call came through that the Hungerford game was off, it was time to start searching for local games using the world of twitter as my friend. Now twitter can be time-consuming, self indulgent, distracting nonsense and I often find myself about to post something before deleting it knowing that no-one apart from my immediate family really care about the funny face they had pulled when I waved an organic carrot at them (there's an UglyFruitandVeg twitter account that covers that). But for political protests and football clubs it is a godsend and something that I put in my Non League Manifesto as something leagues should demand as essential. Forget penalising clubs for that extra turnstile that no one will ever squeeze through or that 250 seater stand that will remain empty for most of season, what the FA should be doing is finding ways to improve pitches so more games can be played on them and a crash course on twitter. In Slough, you have Robert Stevens who keeps you up to date with Berkshire sport while in Sussex we have some great non league feeds like Sussex Football and top football blogger Ian Townsend who champions Sussex teams.

Lewes proudly announced there wasn't a problem with their pitch, but just as I was heading for the bus to the Dripping Pan, the game was called off. Thousands in lost revenue and unsold food and beer for a community owned club bottom of the league is hard to swallow; and while angry tweets complained it was called off too late I think we should cut the club some slack. Lewes cant even win at home let alone predict future weather patterns.

Throughout the morning, the Shoreham chairman, Stuart Slaney had kept up incessant chat – as games were called off, he tweeted to the clubs encouraging them to come to Middle Road. It was like that voice at the back of your head telling you to ignore the Dry January nonsense and buy that pint at the bar.

Non League is a small family and Stuart knew that there are no massive rivalries at this level and fans wanting to fill the long festive period with another game, they could be tempted if he just kept chipping away. So when I made my way across the quagmire of the park that surrounds the ground half hour into the game, I became the 149th person through the gate. The best crowd of the season for a club that averages around 60, with supporters from Eastbourne Town, Whitehawk and Lewes in the crowd and no doubt others. 13 hours spent on the pitch by the groundsman last week had really paid off. By the end of the game the pitch looked like my allotment, but with no home game meaning no income for two weeks, it was financially important to get the game on.

It was also a game where you could also guarantee goals, although Shoreham hadn’t gloated about just how bad their opponents were on twitter. St.Francis Rangers are rooted to the bottom of the Southern Combination League premier division with no points from 22 games, just two goals scored and 151 conceded - officially the worst team in England. At the beginning of the season their manager had left taking all their players. With relegation a dead cert, it would be too easy to throw in the towel but with a thriving youth set-up St.Francis, just like Shoreham, is more than just about the first team. In the end it finished 8-0 and with every goal, Mr.Chairman asking everyone if he had the score right before tweeting. It would have been worse if it hadn’t been for the Rangers keeper who looked like an abominable mud monster at the end

Shoreham is now managed and populated by the team that played for East Grinstead who won promotion to the Ryman League a few seasons back, something that Shoreham aspire too. But rather than just throw money at promotion, the trick is to find the formula that lures Albion fans occasionally to populate the terraces and get more locals going to games. Which as any non league official will tell you is bloody hard work. Building your club through youth teams means at least there are youngsters at Shoreham who have to fetch lost balls and get into the habit of live Saturday football. And as they spend most of their teenage years glued to their phones, they will no doubt be getting a gentle electronic reminder from the Shoreham chairman to get along and support their team.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

FIFTY YEARS A REBEL

Published in the Southern League Premier Division game v Chesham United on Boxing Day 2015 - my 50th birthday. We lost 1-0 in front of 438, best home gate of the season, and one terrible game!

Today I celebrate 50 years on this planet and it is fair to say that apart from my family the one constant in much of those years is Slough Town Football Club. 
 
Since my dad first took me to Wexham Park when somehow eight thousand people crammed in to watch Slough U15's lose to Liverpool in a 1975 final; to buying my first season ticket for just £12, my first away game to Carshalton in the FA Cup where I remember my dad telling Chris Sliski he'd better look after me! Too late, I was bitten by the football bug and it soon became a ritual to go to every home and away game jumping on the coach opposite The George on Farnham Road. I went to school with Terry Reardons relatives and remember wearing my Slough Town scarf all day at school after we had beaten Sutton United and won the Isthmian League (but no promotion to the Conference in those pre-football pryamid days). We all piled into the players tunnel and I nearly passed out in the crush. I played (well was mainly a crap unused sub) for Crusaders who were coached by a certain long-haired Brain McDermott. The whole team used to go to home games and join in the massive half time football matches behind the far goal. I even 'helped' build some of the terraces on the Sunday morning sessions.

As I got older and became a rather too frequent visitor of the Wheatsheaf Pub, we organised coaches to many of the bigger games – arriving so late at the Wycombe game most had to watch from the hill while a few of us jumped over the fences to watch the biggest Conference league attendance at the time. The late night lock in after we drew 3-3 with Reading in the FA Cup scoring twice in injury time to equalise. That crazy journey home after we beat Bromley in the League. Our first Conference promotion season, when we were full of excitement, only to see us get beaten 6-1 away to Barnet in our first away game. Seeing our worst ever league defeat, getting battered 9-0 by AFC Wimbledon but our non stop singing lifting us to legendary status in a season of horrors. But the following season was even worse when we should have been relegated to the Dog and Duck.

Moving to Brighton nearly 25 years ago, you'd have thought I would have shaken the Slough Town bug' but after falling out of love with football I started watching local teams until I started going once again home and away. After endless play-off heartache we finally got the promotion we craved, with that fantastic second half fight back against Kettering. The celebrations in the Herschel afterwards will live long in the memory (well, what I can remember will). Recently i've been attending and speaking at far too many Rebel funerals – including Mr. Slough Town Chris Sliski, who I still expect to see at games and who I hope will be remebered when we move to our new ground.

This is the first season in ages that I haven't got a season ticket and what with work, our community pub and two growing children have found it hard to cheer on the Rebels as much as I'd like. But they remain my team, my family of football friends. Not the sort of family you'd invite round for Christmas dinner, but one that i'd be happy to spend the next 50 years cheering on the Rebels in sickness and in health.


SUPER KEV MCGOLDRICK

Published in the Southern League Premier Division match v Merthyr Town on Tuesday 15th December 2015. We won 3-1 in front of 225

There can’t be many physios that have their own football chants. But then there can’t be many physios like Super Kev McGoldrick. Kev has been with Slough Town for incredible 30 years and has seen it all from Conference football to the club staring down the barrel of the dog and duck league to losing our ground and nearly going bust. Words like legend are branded around in football and life far too easily but I think there's one person at this fine club of ours that really deserves the title.
His very first match was something special. I was a fresh faced teenager at a packed Wexham Park in a FA Cup replay against Orient on 10th Dec 1985. We had been leading 2-0 at half time in the first game but eventually took us to our replay where they beat us 3-2 and once again a Third Round FA Cup tie alluded us.
Tonight will be his 1,619 competitive game, but if you count friendlies it's over 1,800!
Kev has been a constant for the club, an approachable, top bloke always with a smile on his face ready to help people out. Not just players now, but former players are always singing his praises on twitter – and quite a few fans have gone along with aches and pains (mainly from watching Slough, but im not sure he's come up with a cure for that yet).
I interviewed him a couple of years back when he'd just done 27 years on the sick bed, but I think its worth repeating.

Why did you become a football physio?
At 24 I had suffered a few injuries as a local footballer and I was receiving treatment with Owen Harris at Wimbledon and he encouraged me to get involved in the treatment of injuries and I became a sports therapist. After attending courses at Spurs and Lilleshall I was approached to join Hillingdon Borough to look after their 2nd X1

Who do you support?
I only support Slough Town

How long have you been associated with Slough Town and who introduced you to the club?
My first game was against Orient at home in the FA cup replay in 1985.
I was at Hillingdon Boro Youth with Alan Davies (who became Slough manager) and a young Fred Cummings and Alan recommended me to then manager Howard Kennedy.

From your perspective, who is the best Slough player you have seen
As I’m on my third decade with the club I have picked from each.
Keith White was a marvelous footballer
Les Briley such an important player for that time
Wilko and Daly 
What they all had in common was great integrity

What's your most memorable match, good or bad?
Best matches Reading at home FA Cup (Slough were 3-1 down in injury time and managed to draw 3-3). Stevenage away in the Trophy. Walsall at Windsor in the FA Cup
The worst - hanging on to a 9-0 defeat at Wimbledon - the shame!

What single thing would make your job easier?
A football ground in slough
A club doctor
All players to have private medical insurance

Who has been the best manager you have worked with and are there any that have made you not be part of the team?
Managers I’ve had the honour of serving under are Alan Davies, David Kemp, Brian McDermott, Eddie Denton, Steve Bateman, Wilko. No manager made me not want to be at the club

Are former players, especially those that come back as managers surprised your still here?
Some people may be surprised, but I am surprised that other clubs do not have longevity in their ranks

Have players attitudes changed much towards fitness and health?
Players are much more aware of preparation and conditioning

Do you ever feel threatened by the host of attractive young female physios most clubs in our division seem to employ?
I might feel threatened if I was not maturely gorgeous with blue eyes.

Did you add a Mecano set to your physio bag to keep on repairing Wilko's legs?
Wilko had his fair share of injuries but had total commitment on and off the pitch

Are you optimistic about Slough Towns Future?
I remain optimistic because of the people associated with the club and the ambitions they have to carry this club forward, but we do need to recruit some younger blood.

What do you do outside football?
I have a wife Sue who hates football so I don’t have to have a conversation when I get home! and two daughters Aimee and Laura.

Do you think you will ever hang up your physio bag?
I have never thought of quitting. I may be replaced one day for a newer model but that's fine. I have been proud and privileged to serve this great club. I have loved every minute and have made many lifelong friends.

Thank you Kev for everything you have done for Slough Town. Let's make sure he gets a song or two when he runs out at our new ground next season. 

More tributes to Kev are here