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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

WE'RE GONNA WIN THE LEAGUE

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


Sunday, August 06, 2017

BATTLE OF THE HAVENS

NEWHAVEN V PEACEHAVEN & TELSCOMBE 
FA CUP EXTRA PRELIMINARY ROUND SATURDAY 5TH AUGUST 2017

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


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


Monday, April 17, 2017

SQUEAKY BUMS, GROUND GRADING & MOMENTS THAT CHANGE EVERYTHING

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Redditch Saturday 29th April 2017. Last game of the season. Or is it

It was one of those moments in football that change everything. Shoreham, top of the Southern Combination Premier League for the whole season, were drawing 1-1 in a dire game against Horsham YMCA. A rock hard bobbley pitch in a game littered with bookings and two sendings off – with one of those dismissed quickly getting himself a pint and a fag! A poor kick from the Shoreham keeper in injury time and Horsham's Schaaf pounces making it 2-1. The final whistle goes and the result means that Haywards Heath leapfrog the Musselmen to go top of the league with two games to go. Shoreham players slump to the ground and I spot the chairman looking despairingly out of the clubhouse window.
Shoreham Middle Road ground has been given a real blue and white spruce up over the past few seasons especially in the past few months with the Ground Grading Gestapo on their way. The chairman Stuart Slaney and the Shoreham committee have worked hard to turn the club around; not just with youth football teams meaning at least there are youngsters at games who have to fetch lost balls and get into the habit of live Saturday football but also hosting business networking events and its starting to pay off. A team that had grown more accustomed to the bottom half of the league had also been given a spring clean and this season have been flying. Crowds now average just over 100 – an impressive 30% increase on last season and today's bank holiday crowd was healthy enough for queues at the chip-bar and a real buzz about the place.
For ambitious clubs at Step Five of the football pyramid it's not just ground grading you're up against, its the fact that only one team gets promoted. So how about play-offs for a second promotion spot? This might be difficult because many teams don't want too or cant get promoted (unpainted fence panel, see below) but it would mean unless the pyramid was re-organised 4 teams rather than 3 being shown the trap door from the divisions above.
I'm always astonished that the ground graders complain about an unpainted fence post or some loose gravel but turn a blind eye to pitches. Yes the Football Foundation is fantastic at giving grants for clubs to do up their grounds, but shouldn't their be a similar pot for clubs to spend on their pitches?
Shoreham passed the ground grading but now might fail the promotion test in the last week of the season. Football can be an unforgiving bastard.
Last season Brighton didn't get automatic promotion by one goal and lost in the play-offs. This season they are heading to the Premier Promised Land. It didn't feel it at the time for Seagulls fans, but I reckon that extra season in the Championship has done them a massive favour. Is also worth remembering that just 20 years ago they lost their ground and nearly fell out of the football league altogether. 1-0 down to Hereford at half time, they equalised and stayed up on goal difference, consigning Hereford to the Conference.
Slough have been a bit hot and cold lately and could tumble out of the play-off places. I'll probably be hung, drawn and quartered for saying this but although I would love promotion to the Conference South (if nothing else there's a lot more teams near me including one a 10 minute bus ride away) it wouldn't be the end of the world to do another season in the Southern Premier. You would expect us to be challenging for promotion and winning lots of home games with our crowds continuing to rise as a result while the new stand is opened.
So the traditional Slough Town squeaky bum time of year, when I’ve got my eye on so many permutations my brain hurts. This might be the end of the season. Or it might not, but whatever happens today let's get behind the team, cos it's been a fantastic season.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

YOU MAKE ME HAPPY WHEN SKIES ARE GREY

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Cirencester Town on Good Friday 14th April 2017. We lost 2-0 in front of 780

It must have been the sunshine and beer, cos it certainly wasn't the quality of the football that had us all singing on the packed coach back from Kettering. One of those songs 'We love you Sliski we do' our tribute to Mr. Slough Town Chris who tragically passed away five years to the day.
I hadn't been back to Kettering since one of our greatest ever days supporting the Rebels or as our co-manager Neil Baker tweeted 'the place I had my best afternoon in football.' It was May 2014 and we were stuck in some endless play-off loop and looked like we were heading for yet another play-off defeat. 2-0 down at half time and you couldn't see where a goal was coming from. But boy did the team deliver. 3 second half goals and finally promotion. My favourite photo is our chairman Steve Easterbrook hugging Dave the Programme on the pitch. Dave Pearcy saw us get promoted but unfortunately never saw us back home. As for the scenes back at the Herschel Arms later with players, officials and supporters celebrating. Let's just say many of us didn't make it to work the next day.
You got to feel for Kettering's fall from grace. Rockingham Road was a proper old ground and I always thought they should have been in the Football League. In 1992 they sold it to help save the club from extinction and this lease arrangement was always a ticking time bomb for the club. So it proved as they eventually moved out, sunk by debts of £1.2 million. While the club haven't given up hope of returning home they have put in a planning application to upgrade their frankly sparse ground they share with Burton Park Wanderers of the United Counties Division One (level 10 and too low to enter the FA Cup).
Ground grading always confuses me with the FA worrying far too much about an extra turnstile or a new stand that will always be empty while turning a blind eye to terrible pitches – pitches that really don't suit Slough Town's style of play. 3-0 to Kettering and as Neil Baker tweeted 'If ever a game highlighted how much better 3G is as a spectacle for fans then today was it! Terrible pitches produce terrible games!'
Kieran was on good form and in the second half sat in one of the home sides temporary stands which looks like its been borrowed from a wedding hire company, singing about the Rebels amongst some Kettering kids who were giving him an ear-bashing.
At the end of the game we all scrabbled round on twitter to see where that left us for a place in the play-offs. It's still in our hands but we all know that a home tie at Arbour Park would be a massive advantage.
Back on the coach, one of the oldest supporting Rebels John Tebbit was being serenaded with his own song. John has been supporting the Rebels since 1954 and been writing for the programme since the 1970's. Singing 'Where we you in '43', seemed a little unfair.
It seemed rude not to finish off the day with a drink at the Alpha Arms. Transformed from the smallest pub in Slough in the days when my dad was alive and who seemed to spend more time in their than at home. The old Alpha landlady was having a drink and wasn't so sure my dad would have approved of the changes. BOOM he would have shouted and i'm sure I saw a glass move across the table as I raised one to him.
As I watch Brighton edge ever closer to the Premier League Promised Land, I know that I always enjoy my trips to watch Slough Town so much more. 'You are my Slough Town, my only Slough Town..'


Saturday, April 01, 2017

THE LARDY BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Kings Lynn on April 1st 2017. We won 3-0 in front of 607

It probably passed by many Rebels radars, but shout from the West Sussex rooftops, Horsham are finally coming home after 9 nomadic years. Their planning application was their third and final throw of the dice. The stakes were high as councillors had turned down two previous applications, and if they were rejected a third one, Horsham officials said it would be curtains for the club.
The first time I came across Horsham their fans were dressed up for Halloween in an FA Cup replay at Maidenhead United and sang songs about Lard. The Lardy Boys have had their moments of glory including an FA Cup 2nd round game against Swansea City where they drew 1-1 in front of their first ever televised game.
I always enjoyed visiting Horshams Queens Street. It was a bit crumbling but a proper non league – you know with that old fashioned terracing resplendent with the odd tuft of grass and wildflower popping out of the concrete cracks. The last time I went Slough were already homeless and having a torrid time in the Ryman Premier. Just before the match started there was a torrential downpour. Poor old Yeovil Steve arrived after finishing his Somerset bin round just as the game was called off. He helped push someone's car stuck in the flooded car-park and got covered in mud just to round off a rubbish afternoon. Queens Street was where football grounds belong – smack bang in the centre of town. But I knew from conversations with their chairman that they couldn't generate enough income to survive and the offer of cash to sell the ground for housing would help the club prosper in the future.
The problem with plans is that people and in this case councillors get in the way and as Slough fans know only to well, a nomadic existence isn't good for your wealth, health or attendances. At one point Horsham found themselves relegated to the Sussex County League for the first time in 64 years ground-sharing with Horsham YMCA as another application was rejected.
So you can imagine it was a pretty tense night, the sort of night that twitter was made for as people reported on the twists and turns of the committee. It was an impassioned speech by Albion season ticket holder and Tory councillor Billy Greening who set the tone telling the committee the application was the biggest issue from his constituents – and when the first application was submitted he was still at school completing his GCSE'S! Eventually councillors voted 19-1 in favour of a new 1,300 capacity football ground off the Worthing Road. As one fan put it 'Billy Greening perfectly sums up the opinion of so many people. We need to cherish our communities and the facilities that help them thrive.'
The ground will see the installation of two new all-weather 3G pitches, which will provide a much-needed sporting facility for everyone across the community every day of the week, a clubhouse and low impact floodlighting – and probably most importantly in an age when somehow the 5th richest country in the world can't afford anything – at no cost to the taxpayer.
Horsham president Frank King said “I am so glad that the council at long last have given us an 80 per cent support. There is no doubt about it, if this had failed, I am not quite sure where we would have gone.” Horshams manager Dominic Di Paola has made no secret of the struggles his side have faced by having no reserve, under-18 or under-21 teams this season. With two 3G pitches, the Hornets can start to start more teams to bolster player numbers and also generate funds of their own rather than spending money on ground sharing. Better facilities also attracts better players.
To cap a fantastic week, Horsham then beat league leaders Tooting and Mitcham, who were on a 14 match unbeaten run. The Lardy Boys once again have something to sing about.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

ALL THE REBELS, SO MANY REBELS...

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Cinderford Town on Saturday 18th March 2017 We won 4-1 in front of 626
 

It's hard not to ramble on like the pub bore at the moment, repeating myself endlessly that something amazing is happening at our club. Another top day out, this time at Top Field with Slough fans traveling in huge numbers swelling the Armed Forces day crowd to 838 and sweeping aside the team in second place with a well deserved 3-2 victory. About five of us used to sing 'All the Rebels, so many Rebels...' but now when we do, its true. It's fantastic that I didn't recognise all the Rebels at Hitchin and its worth remembering that not so very long ago Slough Town nearly ceased to exist but thanks to a few people, one or two who unfortunately never saw our day back in Slough, that we are here. Watching Slough getting hammered week in, week out was hard work, helped by alcohol and a backs-against-the-wall mentality football fans seem to discover when its not going your way.

That's why I think Arsenal fans could do with a reality check and a bit more humility. Leyton Orient are facing a winding up order and in danger of heading out the Football League, Coventry continue to battle with owners and are looking likely to return to the bottom division for the first time since 1959, Blackpool fans are boycotting games until their owners go – whereas Arsenal, in the semi finals of the FA Cup but might not finish in the top four for the first time since 1996. Stay strong, Gooners.

After Hitchin I ended up for a beer in my old Aunt Bets dodgy old boozer The Scottish Stores in Kings Cross, which she ran during the war. Draft dodgers, gangs, prostitutes, it sounded a lovely place and until recently was a strip pub. It's been given a fantastic make-over and I got chatting to York City fans who look like they are heading for back-to-back relegations into the National League North.

So I'm pitching for a new TV reality show called Life Swap where you literally get put in someone else's shoes. First up would be a moaning Arsenal fan who would have to manage the football club for a month. Then it would be a pushy parent who would have to become a teacher for a month to a group of excitable teenagers.

With the spread of social media its so easy to have a pop at other people while the media is quick to point the finger when things go wrong.

I think the Lincoln City manager summed it up perfectly 'Footballs crazy isn't it? I wouldn't dream of going to the dentist and telling him what to do or shouting abuse at my plumber. But people come into your profession and tell you what to do. Of course that makes football great. People love football and that brings passion – when you don't think clearly or act normally. I know the Arsenal fans are passionate but I don't like the way some of them treat Arsene Wenger.'

What you have got at our level is a connection and the way people have rallied round our goalkeeper Mark Scott after his horrific injury has been heart-warming. Quite a few Hitchin fans asked how he was and individuals and other clubs have raised nearly £7,000 in two weeks. It must have been hard for our managers too, who not only have to deal with the injury but on top of working full time have to try and find a new keeper with just 11 games left to go of the season.

Thankfully Mark Scott was in safe hands with Slough legend Kev McGoldrick and the Basingstoke physio doing a fantastic job. It seems only right that Kev is to be given a testimonial at the beginning of next season for over 30 years service to Slough. If ever there was a man who deserved to see Slough flying again its him and I wish him well as he battles against a serious illness.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

A PERFECT FOOTBALLING SATURDAY

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Basingstoke Town on Saturday 4th March 2017. We won 3-2 in front of 728 people.

It was the perfect football day. Pre match pints in a pub full of Slough fans, big crowd, noisy, friendly away fans, and most importantly a 1-0 win against play off rivals to help cement our place in those games you look forward too all season but can hardly watch when they come along.
Football, when matches aren't moved at random by TV, is all about routines. Those Slough pants I’d worn for two defeats after Christmas were now in the compost bin for the rats to nimble on. A quick cheap-as-chips curry at Pappadums Express in the Queensmere, a few beers in Weatherspoons to talk about politics and football and another new signing for Slough Town. I'd rather support a more traditional pub and I think one or two Slough boozers could clear up if they laid on free transport or very cheap bus to the home games. It's what we do at our community owned pub to Brighton games and it puts an extra £300 plus per game in the tills. Having a presence in pubs before hand also gets people talking with one guy saying he'd been in Slough 14 years and never seen anyone wearing a Slough top before and where could he get one in town.
Merthyr fans had billed the game as Welsh Exiles Day, with Slough once dubbed “The little Rhondda” due to the Welsh migration. Which is fair enough, apart from the fact that most people who moved from Wales came in the 1930's and you would hope had caught the Slough Town bug by now. As one of their blogs pointed out “Unlike our forefathers rather than seeking employment in the great depression we were aiming after three points. But in 2017 Slough away does not conjure up images of grandeur and for those of a certain generation the TV series “The Office” is still the image that springs to mind.”
It is amazing the crowds we are getting from a season ago when 300 at Beaconsfield was more the norm. I know its stating the bleedin obvious but having your own ground in the town you represent really is a no-brainer. Maybe it was the pull of Welsh cakes that swelled the crowd to 757.
Not that Merthyr fans were hugely impressed with our facilities 'The ground feels a bit like a cross between a university campus and football ground with construction still underway in the main grandstand.' Merthyr are lucky to be blessed with a lovely old fashioned ground with deep terracing. It could do with a bit of a spruce up and the walk up the hill is very; well steep and Welsh. The terracing behind Slough's goals needs to be deeper and clubshop Sue likes to moan in the second half that there is no where left for her to stand with all these new fans. But when the new stand opens I reckon the ground will be a picture especially after years at Windsor and Beaconsfield. And let's hope the builders don’t make the same mistake as Merthyrs new corporate boxes – one of them only has a view of half the pitch, which is certainty novel.
For once there wasn't more flags than fans including 'Neither Cardiff or Swansea' and they properly got behind the team, as did the Slough supporters. In a game of football chess, with two evenly matched sides it was a certain Mr.Flood landing the killer move on the 60th minute.
As their blog report said 'Slough have now remained unbeaten against Merthyr this season in both the league and cup and in managers Neil Baker / Jon Underwood have assembled a squad who look organised and hard to break down. We wish them well for the remainder of the season unless of course we clash again in the play offs.'
Which you have to say has got to be a distinct possibility. Let's make sure its at Arbour Park.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MARTYRS TO THE CAUSE


Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Merthyr Town Saturday 18th February 2017. We won 1-0 in front of 757.
  
I'll hold my hands up and say that I’ve got a soft spot for Merthyr Tydfil. Or maybe that should read a soft spot for Welsh cakes. One of my earliest memories is the smell of them wafting around my Welsh grannies house on the Wexham estate and I’ve loved them ever since.
My dads family arrived in Slough from the Valleys looking for work – and to escape disapproval with his mum pregnant and unmarried. My politics were fired up by the Miners Strike and I was part of a Slough delegation that spent a weekend in the Valleys listening to their stories. Two of my mates even moved back to the Valleys in the 1990's and we always seemed to be heading up the M4 to South Wales for a visit.
In 2006, a TV series ranked Merthyr Tydfil as the United Kingdom's third-worst place to live and after the miners strike South Wales definitely struggled with the closure of not just the pits but a way of life that had sewn the community together for generations.
So when I visited Merthyr on our last game of the 2015/16 season I must admit I was presently surprised. As we soaked up the towns history in the old Town Hall now the Redhouse arts centre I learnt of a town at the forefront of industrial revolution with iron then coal. About the 1831 Merthyr uprising where thousands of workers marching under a red flag which was later adopted internationally as the symbol of communists and socialists. For four days, magistrates and ironmasters were under siege in the Castle Hotel with the workers controlling the town. Described by one historian as “the most ferocious and bloody event in the history of industrialised Britain” the uprising was eventually crushed and led to the hanging of the first working class martyr Dic Penderyn. We of course had to have a pint in the pub named after him – and the football club are nicknamed the Martyrs.
The football club has also had a chequered past even appearing in the football league for 10 years. Now supporters owned, fans campaigned to get rid of their old chairman who at one point seemed to be offering to sell their Southern league place to another club! After they were liquidated, the fans began again as Merthyr Town in the Toolstation Western League Division One playing home games 20 miles away in Taffs Well. But it took them just three seasons to regain their Southern League status. A league they have won more than any other club in its history. Thanks to a £500,000 grant they installed a 3G pitch and are doing up their ground. Company secretary John Strand said: "The club sees this development as a springboard for the club to become a hub for football development in Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding areas." More matches on the pitch, more income, more people involved in the club. In 2015 they were named as the UEFA grassroots club of the year.
There's not much that keeps me out of the pub on an away day, but stumbling across a market stall packed to the rafters with Welsh cakes is definitely one of them.
Just seven years after being liquidated, the new Merthyr Town are fighting for promotion to the Conference South. And while we might be sick of the sight of each other in the FA Trophy, I will never get sick of the sight and smell of a good old Welsh cake.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

MY FA CUP RUNNETH OVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 02, 2017

MORE THAN JUST A FOOTBALL CLUB

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

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

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

Can you let us know more about your role now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the club still looking for volunteers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

THE BOTTOM CORNER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

THE FA : NOT IN THE WIDER INTERESTS OF FOOTBALL

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

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

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




Sunday, December 18, 2016

TV AND TRAINS V A FORCE FOR GOOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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