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

Friday, September 13, 2019

FREE-STYLE

To be published in the National League South game V Hampton and Richmond Borough Saturday 14th September 2019 
 
There's nothing like scanning the fixtures at the beginning of the season and rubbing your hands with glee at a seaside trip in September; especially when it's less than half an hour away from my house on the train. The Slough hoards descended for the weekend, swapping the fumes of Slough for some bracing sea air. But while Eastbourne is my nearest game by about an hour, my mate decides to hold his stag do in Windsor. Oh how we laughed at the irony as the Eastbourne hotels put up FULL OF REBELS signs on their front doors and I jumped on the Slough coach back to my home town.

When it comes to non league football clubs, Eastbourne is just plain greedy. They have four senior teams – five if you count Little Common who currently groundshare at Eastbourne United Association while they try and get their ground up to scratch. Langley Wanderers share at Borough while Eastbourne Town are currently top tips for promotion from the Southern Combination Premier League. It's Town who used to be our old rivals when the Langley estate was just a swamp. With crowds of 200 plus, the Eastbourne Town Ultras have swelled attendances and atmosphere and work with the club on producing programmes and promotions. They even crowdfunded and built their own stand at the Saffrons so they can make a racket and leave other supporters in peace! With a ground smack bang in the middle of town I really don't think it will be too long until they are once again rivalling Borough.

After a shaky start, this Slough Town team just doesn't know when to give up or stop running, and deservedly came away with all the kiss-me-quick spoils. We danced, drank and sang while the Borough fans kept stum. Maybe they were trying to emulate the St.Albans supporters who traveled to Arbour Park in numbers but looked shell shocked at their club charging £18 a game and could only muster some polite applause when they scored a goal. Contrast that to the Hemel fans who are the best i've heard at Arbour Park and who didn't stop singing despite being outclassed on the pitch. I know our managers are ambitious but if Slough really want to start knocking on the National League door then we need to start touching a thousand on match days and we also need to start mimicking the make up of the town. It can be done. Just look at Maidenhead who used to get the same crowds as us when we were homeless at Beaconsfield and they were in the National South. 

I would take the Dulwich approach, handing out free tickets like confetti with the attitude that it was better to have hundreds of people coming in for free than empty space on the terraces. And bingo, it worked. People enjoyed what they saw and came again and now it always party time when we visit Champion Hill, although maybe that has a lot to do with a bar on every corner of the ground and 3 points every visit. 

Slough supporters have a big part to play with this and not just the match day atmosphere. With Non League Day fast approaching (Saturday October 12th since you asked) now's our chance. I would repeat one of our former Non League Day marketing tricks and let season ticket holders bring in a couple of mates for free. Let in public sector workers for free. Give tickets to schools (I would pick a school for every home game and hand them free tickets). Give free tickets to pubs that put up Slough posters. Hunt out the taxi driver who I chatted to, who used to play for Slough reserves at Farnham Common under one of our old managers Mark Betts but has never been to the ground and give him a bundle of free tickets for him and his customers. Even if a dozen turn up, that's a dozen who wouldn't usually have come along.

I had all this to ponder as I made my way back on the Slough coach. As I met my friends we discussed why we were drinking in a pub called Henry VI (he founded Eton College) and why no ones heard of Henry VII despite him being the last king to win his throne on the battlefield. I then ended up at a Turkish restaurant watching the groom-to-be bellydancing in his DM boots and army jacket. It certainty had been a day of contrast. And of course I won't be around on Non League Day because its his wedding. 


 


Thursday, August 29, 2019

HAWKING THE COMMUNITY

Published in the National League South game v St Albans City Saturday 31st August 2019 We drew 1-1 in front of 744


My walk to Whitehawk Football Club has got to be one of the most picturesque. As I stood at the top of Brighton Racecourse I could see the sea and the South Downs, and as i ambled through fields I could spot the flootlights nestled just below the chalk hawk that keeps a watchful eye on the club.
Not so long ago Whitehawks owners wanted to change the name, move the club and get ready for an assualt on the Football League. This didn't go quite to plan and whereas just two seasons ago they were in the National South they are now rubbing shoulders with Sevenoaks, Haywards Heath and East Grinstead Town in the Isthmian League South East.
But this wasn't a league game, but the magic of the FA Cup, switched to a Friday night against their very near neighbours Saltdean United who play a level below. Saltdean is so near you could take another picturesque 4 mile walk and be at their place; the only ground where I have nearly been run over by a tractor. For many years they played each other in the Sussex County League and many of their players and managers have represented both sides.
Whitehawk is one of the poorest estates in the country. It's had more money and health inititatives thrown at it than I care to list, but have they made a difference? With a change in attitude and the appointment of commercial manager Kevin Miller, the club are embracing their local community once again with a groundbreaking partnership with sports, social action and community organisations within Brighton. Hawks In The Community is a unique partnership that includes The Crew Club, Whitehawk’s award winning Youth and Community Centre, businesses and Brighton University, with the aim of creating fun football training sessions for young people, fitness programmes for adults, focussing on diet, healthy lifestyles on budgets, education through sport and much more.
Kevin told me : “I’ve been here just over a year and we’ve done so much to change the perceptions of the club; new badge, new website, new on-line ticketing, attracting a new, younger audience… This club should be getting far more people than it does, and I’ve introduced live bands, vegan options and the boys at Loudshirt Brewery have put together a bespoke ale, ‘Loudshirt ‘Ultra’, which will be on sale in the next couple of week
“The ‘Hawks Heroes’ programme took 20 lads from the Whitehawk community, and put them into a training regime for 10 weeks, playing a couple of games against Montpelier Villa, and culminating in a match here at Whitehawk against their vets team. Over 200 people from the Community turned up, and despite losing 3-2 it was a brilliant project. They lost a collective 8 stone during the course, and one particular dad, who hadn’t exercised for a number of years, was, after the first session feeling tired… His new teammates encouraged him to go to the doctors, and after tests he was diagnosed with Bowel cancer. He would not have known had he not joined the programme, and now is on chemo and hopefully on the road to recovery. He actually played in the final game!”
In the previous extra preliminary round, Saltdean recorded their biggest ever FA Cup result, disposing of Eastbourne United who are in the same league as them 6-1. Some resolute defending was undone with a soft penalty in the second half, a sending off and a wonder goal. 2-0 to the Hawks who go marching on to the 1st qualifying round. 
An article on Whitehawk can't ever be complete without a mention of the Ultra's. Their non stop singing and fun attitude managed to incorporate songs about Bognor, Eastbourne, Saltdean Lido while playing the Last Post for any injured players and jangling keys at, er key moments along with banging drums, sqeaky toys and bits of scaffolding. Never the best supported in the National South there probably one of the best and definetly the loudest at the level they now find themselves in. It's their unique selling point and rather than trying to compete with Brighton they can offer decent football, with a beer on the terraces and great atmosphere for a tenner.
They must be doing something right with 350 turning up for tonights game and it was the amount of youngsters here that impressed me (free for under 10's is spot on, £5 for under 16's is a bit steep especially when you bring 3 hungry 13 years old along). And I know its not going to stop the Amazon burning but we really need to do an about turn on all these throwaway plastic cups, and chips in polystrene that end up being burnt in Newhaven Incinerator.
As Kevin said “ It’s all about connecting the club back to the City… Generating a new philosophy and celebrating grassroots football.” Whitehawk FC might have taken a bit of a tumble down the pyramid, but they've rediscovered their roots just in time for their 75th anniversary next year.

 





Wednesday, August 28, 2019

BURIED

Printed in the National League South game v Hemel Hempstead Town 3rd September 2019. We won 2-0 in front of 713

The harsh reality of our wild west football finances has come home to roost in heart breaking fashion for the fans and employees of Bury FC who've been kicked out of The Football League after 125 years membership.
The expulsion of Bury should come as another warning sign but will anyone from the English Football League (EFL) listen? Bought by Steven Dale for £1 last December, 11 days later he set up two new companies, Bury Heritage and Bury Leisure and started transferring assets to them, including the club’s trophies. Dale said he didn't even realise Bury had a football club, but then this is a man who has had 43 businesses liquidated. He makes his money from buying ailing companies, taking what he can, then closing them down. Bury is just another asset stripping project for him. How the hell was this man allowed to take over a football club? He never even satisfied the league that he had the necessary money to sustain the club, a supposed requirement of EFL rules for new owners before a takeover.
The former owner Steve Day mortaged the club to its eyeballs before fleeing; fleecing people with car parking scams and jerry built student homes, that have made Bury such a financial mess no one wants to touch it.
Meanwhile Bolton are back from the brink after an eleventh hour take-over. In 2005, Ken Anderson was banned from being a UK company director for eight years after 8 of his companies went bust. That still wasn’t enough to fail the EFL's fit and proper test, because anything goes in the gangster capitalism football jungle.
In the past decade, a quarter of EFL clubs have faced liquidation so none of this should really come as a surprise. The EFL do not insist on their member clubs having accounts audited, do not insist on member clubs publishing full accounts for fan scrutiny, do not punish clubs for late publication of accounts. We could deduce from all this that the EFL do not have a clue and are not fit and proper to run a piss up in a brewery let alone 72 member clubs (now 71).
Football clubs aren't just any sort of business. You wouldn't go and clean Tescos for free if they put out a plea on social media. Yet 400 people turned up at Bury to clean the place in the forlorn hope that they might have a future.
The problem is that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
I helped breathe new life into The Bevy, a housing estate pub which was closed for five years and which on any spreadsheet is financially unviable. But what if that isn't the only way to measure life? What about measuring social impact? Once a pub has gone its gone. With a loneliness epidemic we need more places for people to meet not less and I have seen the community grow, friendships form and the Bevy be a lifeline for many people to get the support they need when everything else has been cut to the bone.
Slough struck gold with our former chairman Steve Easterbrook, but that's more good luck than anything. We were homeless and on our knees, not even the council wanted to know. But now look. However to be certain for the future I reckon its time for the club to be run by supporters. To be a club that publishes its matchday takings, its expediture and has regular meetings with fans. There are now over 200 supporters trusts in the UK and 50 of those have full ownership under the Community Benefit Society model that sees clubs run democratically and not for profit.
Just like Aldershot, Maidstone, Dartford, Accrington Stanley, Newport and others, Bury will rise again. After the heartache, a new club will no doubt start life back in the lower leagues having a lot of fun on the way while ironically their supporters will help clubs lower down the pyramid pecking order with increased gates and exposure.
But it should never have come to this. Football clubs just like schools, youth clubs, libraries and pubs are community assets; part of the glue that binds those communities together. But as Bury have shown they need proper protection to stop them from being stripped by vultures and they need those that value them in charge. It's time we started to measure things for what they really mean to people.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

UP THE SWANNY

Printed in the National League South game v Bath City Saturday 24th August 2019  We won our first game of the season 3-2 in front of 735.

It's fair to say that Swanage Town and Herston Football Club Day's Park ground has seen better days. The terraces are overgrown, the paint peeling, the old toilet block smashed up, while most of the wooden stand is taped off. At half time I took my life into my hands drinking a coffee in the last bit open while eyeing the creaking floorboards nervously.
It’s also fair to say that their opening league game of the season v Shaftesbury Town Reserves in the Dorset Premier League hadn’t set the town alight as I sat alone in the bar half an hour before the game. There was no programme, understandable really when they were no more than 20 people watching the game.
It hasn’t always been so. In 1986 a local scrap metal dealer upgraded the ground, installed floodlights and they were promoted to the new Wessex League but when he left the clubs fortunes nosedived. What they need now is the shot in the arm and in the bar was just that laying out exciting plans to demolish and totally revamp the ground. A new 3G artificial pitch, new spectator stands, a new community sports and social centre with not just football, but a gym, badminton courts, fitness suites, performance space, soft play, cafe and meeting rooms. Facilities for the whole community, with all youth teams and other clubs based at the ground funded by a multitude of agencies starting with Sports England.
I was half hoping to catch one of the extra preliminary round games of the FA Cup but Swanage are too low down the pyramid pecking order to enter. Watching Bournemouth Poppies would have been too much of a trek with the Sandbanks chainlink ferry being out of order. If you wanted to sum up the crumbling overpriced transport infrastructure in this country then this was it. Out of action until October throughout the whole summer season, a delay that would make even Southern Railway blush. This old chainlink ferry isn’t just a quirky tourist ride but saves driving time for locals wanting to cross, but the owners seem to be using it as a cash cow to prop up their other businesses. The most expensive crossing in the country they have promised a new ferry but keep postponing the date while demanding an increase in fares. It’s time to take it off them.
So while the Shaftesbury Town first team FA Cup dreams were being ended with a 4-1 defeat at home to Knaphill, I was being entertained with a seven goal thriller. Shaftesbury were quick out the blocks and their forwards were running the Swanage defence ragged. 3-0 down in 13 minutes. This was going to be a thumping until the hosts got a fortuitous goal. In the second half the tables turned a bit and it ended 4-3 and Swanage should have had an unlikely equaliser if it wasn’t for some great goalkeeping. Sin Bins have also been introduced to this level but the ref didn’t resort to them, letting the game flow and using words rather than cards for some of the meatier challenges and language.
I think Swanage is a big enough place to be playing a least a league higher, certainty Shaftesbury first team rather than their reserves.
Volunteers have breathed life back into Swanage Pier and Swanage Railway so why not the football club. Let's hope so. 


 



Thursday, August 08, 2019

HUNGER GAMES

Printed in the National League South game v Weymouth Tuesday 13th August 2019  We drew 1-1 in front of 776
 
As the season unfolds and you look back on games that stand out, a one nil loss to Hungerford Town in the pouring rain on a Tuesday night would not usually be one of them. But when I eventually crawled into bed at 2am I knew i'd been at a game to remember.
I'd never been to Bulpit Lane but with a population of just 6,000 Hungerford are seriously punching above their weight, this being their fourth season in the National League South. As I left the train station and the rain came down, I took a wrong turn and ended up in a small pub on the edge of a common. One man at the bar gave me a taxi number, while another reeled off the list of shut pubs across the local villages and said he'd given up his Chelsea season ticket after 21 years thanks to TV mucking around with the fixtures. Another rang up to find out when the bar was open for me and it seemed fitting that my taxi driver was also the Hungerford kitman! This is a football club that has woven themselves into the fabric of the town.
As Slough fans poured into the clubhouse, I paid my £1 deposit on the reinforced plastic glasses which can be used again and again rather than the single use plastic crap that's suffocating our planet. I was also looking forward to the usherettes who promised to deliver drinks around the ground, but they must have got washed away in the downpours. Their splendid new seated stand behind the goal was put up by volunteers who first moved the old one to behind the dugouts. I'm all for recycling but I reckon they should change the name of the dugouts that have come from Basingstoke, a club who are currently homeless and broke, but whose website is still emblazoned across them!
As the rain lashed down an uncharacteristic mistake from Super Jack Turner and Hungerford were 1-0 up. Worst was to follow, with injuries meaning Slough had to make three defensive changes before half time. As Slough fans congregated en-masse in the new stand behind the far goal, Jon Underwood came over and said the team really needed our support. Slough peppered the Hungerford goal including 16 corners but couldn't find a way through. It would have been easy to show our frustration and get on our players backs but instead Slough fans unleashed a cacophony of songs throughout the second half. You make noise like that it not only encourages our players but also more away fans. I reckon next step is bringing along mini sound systems to bang out the tunes.
I don't like to criticise Arbour Park but the stands behind the goals aren't conducive to noise, as fans are strung out, and with the shallow terracing and being vertically challenged my view is often obscured.
So after two games, thats nil points and no goals but i'm not panicking. Yet! Unlike so many football clubs, Slough have a sustainable model where our income covers the costs. Unfortunately too many football fans want the earth, with one Brentford supporter saying he wanted a new chairman. A chairman who has established the club as a Championship one with a new ground around the corner. 'I don't care about a business model, I care about on pitch success' he bleated, as if the two don't go hand in hand. He wants Brentford to be the new Manchester City, just like a whole host of other clubs drowning themselves in debt trying to do so.
Football authorities are quick to punish clubs financial mismanagement but its always after the horse has bolted. They allowed Gateshead to be taken over by charlatans then punish them with forced relegation when it inevitably goes wrong. They put AFC Wimbledon on the naughty step for being disrespectful to MK Franchise, while letting clubs flog off their grounds to get round financial fair play rules. Unfortunately, the football authorities have shown time and again they ain't fit for purpose.
And when it goes wrong, who picks up the pieces? As Bury teeter on oblivion, one fan went down to Gigg Lane on what should have been the opening game of the season. Bury have fielded a team through every Football League campaign since 1894 but have been suspended because the league don't think they have enough cash to pay wages. A measure nobody can recall happening before. “To be honest it was pretty upsetting as I walked across the car park, deathly quiet in the sunshine. Just had to go and stand at the gates for a bit, touch the badge you know. Then some old bloke shuffled up to me, 'son don't worry, it will be ok, we are Bury me and you.' We just stood, exchanged memories; where we sit, who we go with, where we live, first game, that sort of stuff. After that I dropped him at his local social club. As he got out the car he thanked me for the lift and said 'you are the future of this club, don't you ever give up on her whatever happens. I'm nearly 80 now and won't be here long so they will need you.' That was it. That broke me. I had five minutes parked then came home. With all the crap that's happened since March after that hour I will never give up thinking/hoping/willing that something better for Bury FC is just around the corner. I have an 80 year old mate called Eric, to thank for that. Cheers Eric, I needed that.'
As teams like Hungerford show, football clubs are not some business to be shut at whim but part of what binds communities and people together. In a world in turmoil that is something that should be celebrated from the rooftops. 

Love Island hopefuls


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

THE CAMPAIGN STARTS HERE

Printed in the National League South v Dorking Wanderers Saturday 3rd August 2019. First game of the season. We lost 1-0 in the last few seconds of the game in front of 874.
 

It was a fitting end to the Steve Easterbrook regime, with the last home game of the season against Eastbourne feeling like a mini festival. The BobStock music extravaganza that happens annually at the Wheatsheaf Pub and the May Bank Holiday always signals a home coming of Slough ex-pats who now make Arbour Park part of their pilgrimage. Many of these ageing rockers must have mobility problems as they seem unable to leave the comfort of the tables near the bar overlooking the pitch. Add in the sunny weather and the fact that Slough still had a slim mathematical-headache of a chance of reaching the play-offs and it was a corker of a day.

Is there anything more important than football? Of course, but nothing can stir the emotions, get the heart pumping, and bring people together like watching a kick about at Arbour Park.

When our new stadium opened I spent the first few months standing in disbelief pinching myself that it had finally happened. Watching Slough in the wilderness years was hard work. Homeless, hopeless, it at least bred a black humored camaraderie of those that stuck with it. I was ready to write a book about one of our seasons of horror until my first born came along. Then we turned a corner; four play-off defeats until finally that day and night after beating Kettering, celebrating till the early hours in one of Sloughs backstreet pubs. The intimacy, the sheer pleasure that we had actually finally fucking done it.

Masterminding all this was Steve Easterbrook. Slowly rebuilding the club with a dedicated dads army of volunteers. Like the mild mannered janitor Steve preferred a broom to the board room but underneath he's as sharp a businessman as they come. With Steve stepping down as chairman, he can be proud that he leaves the Rebels playing back in the town, with rising crowds, playing attractive football with two smart managers and a whole host of community activities. We even won the Berks and Bucks Cup for the first time since the Boer War.

I've weaned myself off football forums and never listen to football radio shows. They mimic the black and white political bluster in this country, when it's usually a bit more complicated than that. Because what binds the fans can also blind them. They stick up for their club more than they would their spouses.

One Crewe fan walked away after the child abuse allegations surfaced at the club he loved because too many fans rounded on the accusers rather than the accused. This football brand blindness is something the owners of Manchester City were banking on, with many of their supporters the new cheerleaders for the Abu Dhabi regime. A regime that doesn’t think twice about disappearing and torturing anyone who expresses either a favourable view of democracy or an unfavourable view of their family’s rule. Sportswashing is as good a term as any, using Manchester City to cover up their bloody autocratic regime.

If they think nothing of ignoring human rights then they are hardly going to care about any financial rules. In November 2018 German magazine Der Spiegel, based on a treasure trove of emails obtained and released by whistle-blowing organisation Football Leaks, revealed evidence that Manchester City had cooked the books and funnelled millions of pounds into the club by stealth, in violation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. Der Spiegel also detailed how City worked behind the scenes to avoid any meaningful sanction. According to an email written by City’s lawyer, “(They) would rather spend 30 million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them [UEFA] for the next 10 years” and raised the spectre of “the destruction of their rules and organization.”

One person who fully understands the destructive (and constructive) potential of the bonds between supporters and clubs is Dr.Martha Newson a researcher on cognitive anthropology whose studied football fans. 'Identity fusion' is the catchy description of “family-like bonds” which make people stick up for each other come what may.

Which brings me neatly on to why I should be Prime Minister of England. OK unlike twenty of our former and now current (God help us) Prime Ministers, I never went to Eton but my connection and aristocratic veins run deep. I used to skip across the Eton playing fields on my way from Slough to drink in Windsor and would often fall asleep in their gardens, intoxicated by their hollyhocks. I played a game of football against them when I was at school and my mum now lives in Eton. Well, Eton Wick. I can make grandiose statements although unlike the PM or the majority of the cabinet I have never been sacked from a job. Mainly cos I work for myself.

When elected I will wear my Slough Town top with pride in the dispatches box and one of my first acts, apart from making people support the club where they were born, would be to establish financial fair play rules which mean something, and doesn't reward clubs for the over spending that currently sees so many on the verge of collapse. Blustering Boris Johnson type football chairman promising the earth will be relegated to the Not Fit and Proper East Berkshire Dog Food Division Eight, and made to clean the toilets with discarded Man United scarves.

The campaign starts here.


* Highly recommend Trollerball article by Nicholas McGeehan about the pleasant people behind Man City

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A SEASON TO TREASURE

Printed in the National League South game v Eastbourne Borough Monday 22nd April 2019 We drew 1-1 in front of 905 people.
 

Luckily the football season ends just as my work goes into overdrive. Tomatoes need watering, weeds need pulling, fruit needs picking....the summer is a blur of vegetableness until it all calms down in time for the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round to get under way.

But what a mighty fine football season it's been. My eldests team won the Under 14 Sussex County League Division Three although I did spend far too many Sunday mornings in Crawley. After a previous season where he picked up two red cards and a seven match ban, he has now learnt to tackle boys twice his size with just enough aggression not to be shown a red. Must have been all that chocolate Clubshop Sue force-fed him when he was a baby.

I went to Wembley to see Brighton but who are now hanging onto their Premier League status by their fingertips.

As for Slough's Towns first season in the National South; well its been pretty sensational. A bit of a flirt with the play-offs we have never had to look nervously over our shoulders, had another brilliant cup run, turned over league leaders Woking at their place and I got a romantic weekend away with Kieran in Torquay. 
 
 

As this season comes to an end, I’ve started looking at potential opposition and places to visit for next season – unless of course we are transferred to the National League North.

Dorking Wanderers rise up the pyramid has been phenomenal. Only formed in 1999 they began life in the Crawley and District Football League. We had a fortunate FA Cup victory a few years back at their old ground and now they are bang in the middle of town in the totally revamped Dorking FC stadium which had been derelict but is now the home of the Surrey FA. Their chairman reckons they can reach the football league while the council are pretty pleased with the new place “Meadowbank Park will be a destination venue for decades to come. There’s nothing like it in the local area and to have a football ground in the centre of town these days is truly unique.”

I'm totally confused who will get promoted from the feeder league play-offs as there doesn't seem to enough spaces for everyone, but I hope one of them is Weymouth. That sunny weekend opening game of the Southern Premier League season when we'd just been promoted really felt like Slough were back in the big time.

Coming the other way we've been some tasty trips to savour. After going bankrupt, Maidstone had to begin again so far down the pyramid is was pear-shaped. Starting afresh in the Kent County League Division Four, they also powered up the leagues, eventually moved to a splendid new stadium and spent a few years in the National League before being relegated. The interview with their former manager about just what a tough league the National is highlighted what Slough has to do not just on the pitch but behind the scenes, if it ever wants a piece of that action. Accuse me of a lack of ambition all you like, but we will have to grow our crowds and our volunteer base for a few more years if we are to go up and compete.

I love a trip along the south coast line and Havent and Waterlooville will do nicely and somewhere i've never been, apart from waiting 15 minutes at Havent station for a connection to Bournemouth. I'm not sure that counts. I've also never seen Slough play at Aldershot, who after a couple of seasons around the National League Play-offs are once again struggling financially.

I was hoping Maidenhead would be relegated for some top derby ding-dongs. Our league paths just never seem to cross but their manager Alan Devonshire is a force of nature and works wonders at smaller part time clubs.

You might think that i'm some ground-hopping obsessive Slough Town junky who would travel to a Manor Farm in Bristol and schlep to Sholing on a school night, but the fact is that being cultured I like to see the sights and sounds this fair Isle has to offer. Well at least some of the taverns. See you next season you lovely Rebels boys and girls. 
 
 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

FROM WITHDEAN TO WEMBLEY

Printed in the National League South game v Welling United on Saturday 13th April 2019 We won 1-0 in front of 801

It started in front of 106 people at Haywards Heath and nearly nine months later, who'd have thought I would still be going to FA Cup games; swapping Wembley over Hungerford Town's Bulpit Lane. Brighton were in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, a competition I'd been watching since August. As soon as the final ends, it feels like the extra preliminary round begins again. The Albion had drawn the short straw playing Man City – although they got so much luck beating Millwall in the previous round, perhaps that was fair.
If I’m honest I didn't think I’d enjoy it as much as I did, or be as disappointed with the defeat at the end. 'From Withdean to Wembley' sang the Brighton fans but the bigger picture was that just over 20 years ago they were homeless and close to tumbling out the football league. 

As thousands piled onto trains, there was a real sense of occasion. I've also changed my mind about it being wrong to have semi-finals at Wembley. For clubs like Brighton, Watford and Wolves the chance to play at the national stadium is one the supporters relish. Does it diminish the competition or the final? Not as much as the top six having so much financial clout that they are there so often it becomes stale.
It was fantastic walking up Wembley Way although in other counties it would be a boulevard to be proud of. This being England, it's becoming high rise hell, hemmed in on all sides with cranes jostling for position and people trying to flog half and half scarves. 
 
Man City are the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, but its what's happening in the lower leagues, highlighted by Kieran Maquire's excellent Price of Football detective work that's so worrying. Tranmere Rovers lost £45,000 a week in The National League last season when they were promoted via the play-offs. Colchester United lost £65,000 a week in 2017/18 as total losses over the years increased to nearly £27 million. Fleetwood Town lost £90,000 a week while Stadium MK Group Ltd, lost over £100,000 a week – not that anyone would shed a tear if the Franchise went out of business. 
 
Infact the last time I was at Wembley, I saw Rochdale lose to Stockport County in the Division Two play-off finals. Stockport were being bank-rolled at the time which rankled Dale fans who felt their club was being penalised for being prudent. They weren't wrong and it wasn't long after, that Stockports financial bubble burst and they now find themselves playing in the National League North.

Supporters don't help, with impossible demands that help bankrupt the clubs they love, but the football authorities need to seriously get a grip and create a level playing field where sporting achievement not financial muscle is the winner. Alternatively, one journalist has come up with a cunning plan – a trophy for clubs finishing seventh in the Premier League! Johnny Nicholson writing for Football 365 said 'Seventh is the very best 14 clubs can hope to achieve at the start of every season, so the team who resides there at the end should be awarded some sort of trophy for that success. The top six are now protected, not by a glass ceiling, but by a reinforced steel door that would take many hundreds of millions of pounds per season for many seasons to blow open. Without some sort of best-of-the-rest award, the majority of the league now has nothing to play for, nothing to achieve apart from survival; not living, just existing, nothing but existing. ...We might come to the conclusion that the whole thing is a pointless charade, not worthy of our money and time. And we might realise that the Premier League isn’t even about football, it is just about the money. So shut up and give us a Seventh Trophy, yes it would symbolise the dysfunction at the heart of your whole business, but for a while it might take our minds off pulling the whole shameless edifice down and building something that works for the many, not the few.'   

I'm sure Wembley can find a slot to make this happen. But now my Wembley whistle has been truly whetted I want to see Slough play there. I missed out when we lost to a last minute Walton and Hersham goal in front of 41,000 in 1973. Seeing as we are unlikely to reach an FA Cup semi final anytime soon, how about having a real go of the FA Trophy? 'From Windsor to Wembley with Beaconsfield inbetween', is a catchy little number.




Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A SEASON TO SAVOUR

Printed in the National League South game v St.Albans City Saturday 30th March 2019  We drew 2-2 in front of 744 people.

It was my ever first trip to Canvey Island. Once a go-to holiday destination, now most of the mobile holiday homes have become peoples permanent homes. But this visit wasn't for some nostalgic kiss-me-quick day-trip but a mission to see Slough Town cross the waters for the first time ever to play Concord Rangers. It would be fair to say that Concord, named after the nearby windswept beach, are punching well above their weight. The fact that there are two teams in Canvey with a population of just under 40,000 seems just a little insane. A few years back Concord did approach Canvey about a possible merger, but they were spurned and have now overtaken them as the premier side of the island. But just what is the future for a small island with two senior non league teams competing for players, supporters and sponsorship? And with climate chaos around the corner, what is the future for an area that is below sea level in places and still suffers occasionally from flooding? It's marshes have some of the highest levels of biodiversity in Western Europe and i'm all for football bio-diversity but two senior league clubs seems as bonkers as having clueless public school boys in charge of the country.

I don't like to criticise lower league clubs as I know a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into keeping them going, but Concord has to be the worst ground in the league and for once Slough didn't travel in the numbers we have become accustomed too (still about 70 of us tho). Nice and safe and mid table, with the departure of some of our senior players, you would have thought our season would fizzle out. Not a chance - the last few results have shown that our managers and players want to finish as high up the table as possible in our first, very successful season at this level for years.

As the container ships passed by and the wind swirled, play off hopefuls Concord got dealt a good deal of fortune with the harsh sending off of Guy Hollis (later rescinded) then nicked a goal in the dying seconds of the first half. Another Concord goal in the second and a terrible half of football looked over and out until Lets-all-have-a-Party-Francis Amartey's top class goal – which as someone quipped was too good to grace such a game. You'd have thought I would have learnt my lesson after Sholing, but I needed to rush to get back home to a party of my whom and I missed Sloughs equaliser and, as it turns out the party, as all that sea air made me fall asleep at home in a chair. That will teach me for getting old. 

                                       Container Ship Ahoy!

Next up Woking. As the Brighton train heaved with people going to protest about Brexit, it took an hour just to get to Lewes. Our leaders tell us leaving Europe will be a breeze, but we can't even run a train service. I finally found Slough fans in pubs in a high street which makes Sloughs look thriving. Slough hadn't played at Woking since 1997 but for some reason I'd never been to the ground.

Woking's Kingfield looks like they've stolen a football league stand while no one was looking and plonked it behind one of the goals. Unlike Dulwich which is now more of a street food carnival and dog show, they are not maximising their revenue with just one bar – with average crowds of 1,600 that's a lot of queuing. Today 2543 packed in to see the league leaders take on the mighty Slough. With only the Thames to cross for this game, we were in fine voice and arrived in numbers, some even deciding it was quicker to walk than get the train. It wasn't always thus. In 1985, for an FA Cup qualifying round game Slough fans recalled arriving at the ground and no one being available to run the bar! With Wokings agreement, Jock who used to help behind the bar at Wexham Park stepped in, while the Rebels helped themselves to a 5-1 victory in front of 340 people.  

The National South is a tough old league with no team a push-over, but in terms of resources and facilities there's a chasm and its hats off to teams like Concord, East Thurrock and I would add Slough that they more than compete week in, week out. For the Rebels they put in a masterclass, closing down Woking, protecting a 1-0 lead and coming away with all 3 points. It's been a brilliant season, and you've got to say the future for the amber and blue is looking very bright indeed. 

                                    Anyone missing a stand?
 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

EARTH UNITED

Printed in the National League South game v Billericay on Saturday 16th March 2019. We won 2-1 in front of 759 people.

I love football. I love watching the game with a group of people who have little in common apart from the fact that we are from Slough, often like a beer and make some noise. I hate politics or the kind where we are at each others throats, where Brexit has become an all encompassing drone.
And yet we seem to be happy to ignore what's really coming round the corner.
We depend on so many of earth's life support systems, but it would only take one of them - the soil, aquifers, rainfall, ice sheets, pattern of winds, pollinators, biological diversity - to fail to trigger catastrophe. When the Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point this could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable.
So forget Brexit, the collapse of our insect populations would give any sane society pause for thought and yet we carry on like the bees and other insects that pollinate our food are just annoying buzzing things we can live without.
The world produces an estimated 10 tonnes of plastic a second and our oceans are being suffocated in the stuff. About 5 trillion pieces currently float in surface waters, mostly in the form of tiny, easy-to-swallow fragments that have ended up in the guts of albatrosses, sea turtles, plankton, fish and whales. We then eat some of these fish and so end up eating plastic (which is probably more nutritious than some of the grub served up at football grounds.)
Any sane society would cut plastic waste as soon as possible, and yet here we are sipping from a plastic water bottle that is tossed in the bin as soon as we've drunk it dry.
Thanks to intensive farming, the worlds topsoil could be gone in 60 years while we continue to build on the best farmland in our never ending quest for economic growth - hardly the smartest move if we want to grow the food we all need to eat. And when we do grow it, we throw an unbelievable one third of it away each year. 
We spend billions on the possible threat of a terrorist attack but don't seem to prepare for the climate chaos that's being unleashed. I've only just heard about ocean heatwaves which are killing swatches of sea-life similar to wildfires that burn huge areas of forest.
We criticise kids for school strikes which aim to remind politicians they need to do something now about our changing climate. Telling them they are ruining their education, while we are ruining the planet we all live on won't wash. It's the adults who need to be given the detentions for their head-in-the-sand attitudes.
We've got solutions to many of these problems, and we need to act fast, yet our politicians haven't got the brains or recycled bottle to change.
I'm not going all Forest Green Rovers and say Slough should change from playing in amber and blue to green, or that we should have a wildflower meadow in the goalmouth but we are called The Rebels and we could for example aim for zero waste on match days. Ditch the plastics, turn the food waste into energy and power the floodlights with all the hot air that's generated on the forum.
I don't blame people for wanting to switch off when the environmental problems seem so overwhelming but when I look at football crowds, and think if us lot can get on under a common purpose surely that's possible when it comes to looking after the planet?  Seeing as we all live and rely on it to survive. 

Saturday, March 02, 2019

SHEIKH IT UP

Printed in the National League South game v Hemel Hempstead Saturday 2nd March 2019  We won 1-0 in front of 669
 
I could just lie and say that I got all cultured in Bath last weekend, but the shameful reality is that I just went to the pub and then watched Slough lose a game of football. But I did use Bath City's toilets which judging by the state of them, must be a listed building. Bath's ground is a wonderful old stadium, but its not pulling its weight and in the bar before the game they were showing off plans for its redevelopment.
Bath moved into Twerton in 1932 when it was just a village, and it wasn't really until the 1960's that the area started being developed. But the club and Twerton need a boost and the football club need to increase income streams if they are to progress. If approved the multi-million pound investment will include new shops, a refurbished High Street and improved public space with a new community hub, a gym, 3G pitch student accommodation, affordable housing for local people and co-living apartments for key-workers – oh and a new grandstand.
Supporters took over the running of the club in May 2017 raising £300,000 to pay off debts and this development is a throw of the dice, life saver for the club.
A life raft is what Notts County currently need to stop them going into administration with debts of £7 million, taking the chairmans company with them. The oldest professional football club in the world, in the country in which the game was founded, where the top flight is the richest in the world and has revenues in excess of £5 billion, totally bust. Or to put the £7 million debt into prospective. £7m a year is less than West Ham are paying Javier Hernández this season. Five league goals to date.
There are more than 50 league clubs in England and Wales who'd had their hundredth birthday before the Premier League was even founded. Yet only six teams have ever won it and its wealth is becoming ever more concentrated in the hands of the Big Six. Man Utd's £19.6m pay-off to Mourinho and his staff, would pay the wages of all the players, managerial team, coaches, and all other staff, at an average League Two club. For eight years.
Football at any level is a game of chance. One slip, one misplaced pass, one wrong decision. Small margins between success and failure but as with life money can buy you success and football club owners now have two simple strategies: Plan A: Be lucky Plan B: Find an oil sheikh/oligarch. What could possibly go wrong?
Last season Cardiff City lost £654,000 a week to get promoted to the Premier League. Cardiff paid out £137 in wages for every £100 of income as their wage bill increased by 67% while directors pay increased by over 400% ! Their loses last season will probably come in at around £400 million.
Cardiff took a punt and won but how long can these joke shop economics of the madhouse go on?
Martin Calladine from The Ugly Game Blog pulled no punches “The entire Premier League is built on a pyramid of tens of thousands of clubs, and on the accumulated prestige and game-going culture of millions of fans over many generations. The Premier League's wealth was founded on a century of other people's work. And while lower league clubs slip into financial danger, the handful of clubs at the very top insist that they alone generate the massive wealth in the Premier League. It's gangsterism. They have their hands in the pocket of every league club in Britain. And while Notts County slip away, remember this whenever you hear of a football club in trouble. Premier League owners, who insist lower divisions clubs must survive on a pittance, had a whip round to give a departing employee a £5m goodbye present.”
As someone much more eloquent than me put it 'UK football is the Wild West. A billionaires poker table. A bonfire of money. A castle in a slum, a banquet while people starve.'
Of course clubs can be run better, and Bath City have come up with one way to generate extra income but when I hear Slough fans moaning about our recent run of results, I wonder what they want. With average crowds of 815 at our council owned ground, we only have income from the gate money, half the bar takings, Slough Town lottery tickets, golden goal matchday sponsorship and ClubShop Sue's bobble-hat fund. How much do you think we should risk on player wages to get promoted? I would love Slough, infact, all football clubs, to publish their gate receipts and expenditure after every game and ask supporters for their ideas of how they can increase income. Introducing a rich shriek to the club is not the answer or the solution, but bringing a new mate or three along would help. Especially if they drunk loads of beer in the bar and had to buy a new pair of lucky Slough Town underpants for every game.