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.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

CUT TO THE BONE

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Frome Town on Saturday 3rd December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A PROPER SLOUGH TOWN SHIFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, November 21, 2016

NO STOMACH FOR THE WHOLE GAME SOLUTION

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

THE REFEREES A REFEREE

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

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

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

Saturday, November 05, 2016

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

To be printed in the Southern Premier League game v Hitchin Town on Saturday 5th November 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

TROPHY TRIBULATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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




RADIO HEAD

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Dorchester Town Tuesday 25th October 2016. We won 2-1 in front of 589 and stay second.

For those of us on Slough's outer limits and unable to get to every game Slough Towns very own Rebels Radio has become essential listening.
I spoke to the man behind the mic Adrian Gomm to find out a bit more.


Q How long have you been supporting Slough
“About 35 years catching games whenever work allowed, then in 2000 started to go to as many games home and away as possible. Don't think I've missed more than 3 games a season in 16 years.”

Q How long have you been actively involved
“About six years now, I started as a steward, then covered the turnstiles when needed. Done a couple of end of season walks and have been helping with the Supporters Trust for about 18 months. This summer I was even the keeper in a 'Beat the keeper' stall. With the radio I started in April 2014. A couple of weeks back I was invited to join the Operations Committee with the club as I've been heavily involved with the set up on matchdays, including setting up the bar, moving the goalposts and doing the opposite after each game.”

Q How did you get involved in Rebels Radio
“Although I don't have any media background I used to do a few minutes match reports for Time 106.6FM which was a local radio station for Windsor, Slough and Maidenhead.
I'd spoken to John Porter who started the radio, the first ever broadcast was on the 3rd Feb 2014 at home against Aylesbury My first commentary was against Barton Rovers in our promotion season.
Rebels Radio was the brainchild of MYFC Chairman Mick Newton, the aim was to provide a service as most of their members aren't local but still wanted a way of feeling in touch with Slough Town. MYFC funded the equipment - laptop, mixer desk and internet hub - and there is a monthly data allowance which is now covered by MYFC and the Supporters Trust and they cover the cost of any replacement accessories. I receive no fee!
As I said the service is for fans who can't make the game to get the action as best they can. Many fans no longer live in Slough but still have the club in their minds as this helps fulfil this need. Is it important? Not really but in this age of social media it is a good option, and I get told by many fans, including players relatives, who appreciate it. I will continue as long as work allows and people still listen and as long as the club wants it to no matter if MYFC are around or not.”

Q When you're not on the radio, you're quite a vocal supporter – how do you manage to keep a lid on it when your broadcasting?
“As you said I have been quite vocal before but after maybe being a bit biased at first, I realised that what people want is to hear the game, not to listen to me waffle on, this came more to fruit when I did my first solo commentary. Now I just describe what goes on but, like all fans, certain decisions/actions make my blood boil. Last season away to Hungerford the referee was allowing them to time waste at every opportunity, so I turned the mic off and shouted, rather loudly ' Get on with it you bloody twat' much to the amusement of Ryan Hope who saw me move the mic back and then carry on.
There was one occasion against Rugby at home, which led to a complaint. We had beaten them at their ground 4-0 and the centre back that day had a nightmare. I was behind the goal that game as the radio hadn’t started, and I kept calling him a 'donkey', so much so that I looked up the local donkey sanctuary on my phone and told him I'd booked him in for Monday. When we did the commentary of that return game at home I said that Slough fans had called him a 'donkey' and the player then proceeded to hit a free kick out of the ground from 25 yards out. Someone from Rugby complained so from then on I bite my tongue.”

Q How do you see the club progressing now we are back in town? After so many years in the doldrums its an exciting time to be a Rebel
“It's absolutely fantastic especially as it's happening both on and off the field, and I see it first hand seeing the amount of work that goes on each game, but as the club progresses it also needs to build both internally and externally. We need to keep the club in the focus of Slough residents, broaden our horizons so we can broaden their experience; but we also need volunteers to help out whenever they can rather than the same people doing all the jobs. I started by giving up half an hour, at the end of the first and second half and I'm now doing 7/8 hours on a Saturday, although I wouldn't change it at all as I enjoy doing it.”

Q Non League grounds aren't always set up for twitter let alone radio transmissions – how do you cope?
“There have been many teething problems. At North Greenford, there was no where to set up so we pushed two rubbish bins together to make a flat area to use, unfortunately the bins were pitch side and every time a team attacked down that side, every fan lent forward and we couldn't see a thing, the same happened at AFC Hayes but this time I'd brought a small table but was still the same situation.
Away to Merthyr in the FA Trophy, they had an old TV gantry that was 35 foot high. John decided this was a great place to broadcast from but I'm not good with heights, every time the ball went below us I couldn't see as I was rooted to the spot.
But the funniest story was actually before a commentary game. John and Mick were going to do the commentary at Truro, so I had a day off from chatting but went to see if needed anything. The commentary position was another gantry but only 15 feet high and had no seats, and Mick being slightly big needed one. John was already in the gantry so I left Mick to climb up while I fetched a chair from the press office. Twenty minutes later I returned with the chair only to find Mick stuck up a ladder, apparently he has a greater fear of heights than me, Mick was 2 steps from the top but wouldn't move up or down, he was frozen stuck. Another 20 minutes later he hadn't moved, much to my amusement as I was now sat on the chair watching and laughing. Finally John dragged Mick in and I passed up the chair, then watched us win 2-1, but forgot to try to help Mick back down. He could have been there for a week for all I knew. Gary House has a great picture of me sat in the chair, with Mick in the background stuck up the ladder.”

Cheers Ade, and if anyone fancies helping the club on match-days the Supporters Trust have helpfully drawn up a to do list which you can find on their website http://www.sloughtownsupporterstrust.co.uk/arbour-park/4593072075

* Thanks to Gary House for use of photographs. You can see more of his Slough Town match photos here 

Friday, October 07, 2016

A FITTING TRIBUTE

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Cambridge City on Saturday 8th October 2016. We won 1-0 in front of 656 and stay top of the league

I'm sure there wont be many opportunities in our Slough Town supporting lifetime that we will be able to sing (to the tune of Pilot's 'Magic') 'O ho ho, its magic, we're gonna win ten in a row....' - and with our voices maybe that's a good thing. Still, despite playing some great football and twice being in front, Slough's third best winning run ever had to come to and end sometime. It's just a shame it was in the FA Cup.
The Dartford fans were a great bunch and could see us in the Conference South soon, but as a cautionary tale they told of life in the Conference. Full time teams and supporter segregation – is this really non league? For Dartford a relegation reprieve from the Conference led to another dreadful season hitting crowds hard. This season Dagenham are even charging £21 for the privilege of seeing them play Braintree and Southport. I saw Lewes taking a battering in their only season in the Conference and gone were the joys of supping a pint on the terraces. I even got my bag full of nappies searched by an overzealous steward. I just wish one had been soiled. Not that I want to get ahead of ourselves, but you can see 'the only way is up' for our club – although thankfully we didn't sing that little Yazz tune. At least not yet. 
One man who sadly wont see our progress is Keith Smith who passed away last weekend. Thankfully Keith did make it to Arbour Park for the opening game. 
Keith had been supporting the Rebels since the 90's and at Beaconsfield him and John Tebbit were our chairmans unofficial 'bodyguards' at most games, standing alongside him near the halfway line. Me and Keith were at opposite ends of the political spectrum but what I like about football is that once you've stopped bashing each other over the head with your parties manifestos you have one thing in common: Slough Town 
Me and Keith also shared a passion for Herschel Park. 30 years ago I helped set up Slough Urban Wildlife Group which scrutinised planning applications and tried to encourage the council to make Slough parks a little less like green deserts with a few lollipop trees and mown grass and a bit more friendly for wildlife and more interesting for people.
I don't think people realise just how many acres of parkland Slough has. From my old house in Wiltshire Avenue I could walk a couple of miles through them to get close to the High Street. Being from the Farnham Road end of town I didn't stumble across Herschel Park until I moved into Alpha Street with my dad (well I think he lived there, more often than not he lived in the Alpha Arms).
Herschel Park is one of Slough's hidden gems. A Grade II Listed garden near the town centre it was originally built in 1842 by Sir Jospeh Paxton as a pleasure garden for the Victorian houses built in front of it. By the 1980's the park was in need of some serious love with its two ponds silted up. We organised some work parties, even held a mini festival then along came Graham McCall who begin putting plans together for the park and the piece of landfill that was fast becoming a nature reserve which would also act as a noise buffer against the M4.
With £2.7million funding from the Heritage Lottery and Big Lottery Fund and support from the friends and volunteers the park has been completely restored. There’s a Nature Reserve and all sorts of events throughout the year, along with self-guided trails, including a tree trail and a history trail.
It's a fitting tribute to Keith that thanks to his and others hard work, Slough have a new ground and Herschel Park is once again a jewel in the towns crown.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

FROM DESPAIR TO DELIGHT

Printed in the programme v Dartford FA Cup 3rd Qualifying round Saturday 1st October 2016. 
After nine wins on the bounce we lost 3-2 in front of 733.

Its autumn and you can almost smell the first round proper of the FA Cup. Just two more wins and well, who knows. But today there's just the small matter of Dartford, a club who are celebrating a decade of playing back in their home town.
Slough are not only on a fantastic run, but also recently seem to be pitted against teams that have either gone bust, lost their ground or both – Leamington, Cambridge City, Hayes and Yeading and Dartford who just like us, spent 14 years homeless before moving into the impressive Princes Park.
10 years ago they were playing in the Ryman North but since their homecoming have powered up the pyramid with their green roof and recycling systems, even spending three seasons in the Conference before being relegated to the Conference South in 2015.
I only visited their old Watling Street ground once as a 15 year old. I remember a fine old non league stadium packed to the rafters for a tasty FA Trophy game which we unfortunately lost 4-1.
10 years ago I also turned to them in my programme notes for some inspiration amongst the bleak situation our club found ourselves in. Our old ground Wexham Park was becoming a wildflower meadow and Slough Council had voted against even talking to us. Thankfully times and councillors change, some even went to visit Princes Park with our chairman to see how they did it. And here we are pinching ourselves that we are back in Slough and as of Monday night, adding a thick dollop of 'we are top of the league' icing to the cake.
In the wake of the Bradford City fire and Hillsborough disaster, Dartford, like so many clubs, needed to either relocate or upgrade their facilities. Their board went for the latter option. Large sums of money were spent on planning and design fees, crippling them with interest charges.
At the same time Maidstone United needed to move to realise their dreams of playing in the Football League. Unfortunately this dream bankrupted Maidstone and the ground improvements, which Maidstone had paid for, were sold to Dartford at a cost of around £500,000, which made their debts unmanageable. Watling Street was sold to pay off creditors and Dartford withdrew from the Southern League four games into the 1992–93 season.
As is so often the case, it was the supporters and their 400 strong association who came to the rescue and made sure they had a club to support.
10 years ago I asked Councillor Jeremy Kite, Conservative leader of Dartford Council why they had invested in the club and his words didn't disapoint. 10 years later and we are welcoming him to Arbour Park! He told meTen years ago, Slough Town supporters wrote rather wistfully about the difference between our two clubs. Dartford was about to move into a new multi-million pound stadium provided by the Council and in those heady days it wasn’t a case of wondering WHETHER we could play a part in the wider community, but sifting through the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ways we now could. I don’t remember how the views of the Slough Town faithful reached me but I do remember thinking it was sad that any town or club couldn’t experience the fun and excitement we were enjoying. I wrote a small word or two of encouragement suggesting that things wouldn’t always be bleak and hoping things would change for you. I said then, what I still believe now, that Councils can achieve a lot of their wider objectives - pride in place, healthy living, reliability, education, character - if they put trust in their delivery into the hands of sport. Councils don't need to build social and community infrastructure one pencil and paper clip at a time, it’s already there in people running sports clubs.
“Well, what did I tell you? Good things happen if you wait long enough and having been been pleased to offer a small bit of encouragement to keep alive your (then improbable) hopes for a new ground, here I am a decade later actually visiting it for the FA Cup!!! As Dartford supporters know, some things just take a little time, that’s all.”

Saturday, September 24, 2016

EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED

Printed in the Southern Premier League game v Biggleswade Town Saturday 25th September 2016. We won 3-0 in front of 575.
It was late in the second half. Slough had just scored FA Cup goal number five against Chipstead and the usual big mouths started another one of those catchy 'Rebels' chants. Except this time a few youngsters at the front joined in. I looked around and some Asian lads were also getting in on the act . Blimey, loads of people were having a Slough Town sing-song. And this is when it really hit me - the new ground means that everything changes.
We've long bemoaned our dwindling, ageing support, stuck out on an M4 outpost opposite a service station. It might only be a few miles up the road but it makes a massive difference. Our season ticket sales already tell a tale having sold 240 compared to 138 the season before. At the end of the game, the young Rebel converts wanted to know when the next home game was. Hopefully it wont be long before they are leading the singing and coming up with their own, leaving us old faithful to shuffle off into the corner and give our weary vocal chords a rest.
My parents weren't really into football and if my dad couldn't drop me off, I could at least jump on my bike. I wouldn't have ever taken my life into my hands and cycled up the Farnham Road but Arbour Park is just a short bike ride away from most of the towns estates - even Royal Chalvey.
You only have to glance over to Maidstone to see what can be achieved with a new ground. And if you want to find out how not to run a football club then the old Maidstone United is a good place to start! Overspending to get into the football league, they had to groundshare 40 miles away because their ground didn't meet football league requirements. There was even a plan to relocate to the North East and merge with Newcastle Blue Star but this was rejected by the Football League. They were the last League club to go bust and their homeless youth team had to reform at the basement of the footballing pyramid, playing in the Fourth Division of the Kent County League - effectively relegating them seven leagues. It took 24 years to finally get back to the town they represent. From the ex-Football League carcass with crowds of just a couple of hundred while groundsharing at Sittingbourne, they have powered up the leagues and are now in their first season in the Conference playing in front of 2,000 plus a week on a 3G pitch and have become the heart of their community.
Last Saturday we put another homeless club to the sword. Like all homeless clubs, the fans of Cambridge City have been put though the mill. In January 2006 their owners announced that they had sold their ground to pay off debts and planned to scrap the first team and have City’s reserve side play at Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium as a feeder team for United.
As you can imagine this went down like a lead balloon and supporters quickly rallied with a 200 strong public meeting establishing a Supporters Trust. Just 8 weeks later the club had become supporters run and the old board were gone - but unfortunately they still lost their fantastic town centre ground and are now pitched up at St.Ives Town. With no disprespect to what St Ives have achieved, their bobbly pitch and ramshackle ground 17 miles from Cambridge is far from ideal. Crowds really reach 200 and on Saturday over half must have come from Slough. Still, they have a new ground lined up and would be playing there now if it wasnt for one anti social neighbour with too much time and money on her hands trying to stop the move on some obscure planning technicality. We hope the success of Maidstone and the resurgence of Slough, can keep the Cambridge City supporters spirits up.
As for us Rebels; back home, top of the league, seven wins on the bounce and into the 3rd qualifying round of the FA Cup, we haven't had so much to sing about for a very long time.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

HOME COMING AND FOOTBALLING GODS

Printed in the FA Cup 1st Qualifying round  v Chipstead on Non League Day Saturday 3rd September 2016.We won 6-1 in front of 472.

Well that was some home-coming. A sell out crowd of 1,401 (where did the extra one come from?) in our fantastic new stadium with plenty more unable to get tickets. A 2-1 victory in the sunshine after being a goal down. Electric signs announcing the game as you came off the M4, twitter on #RebelsReturn meltdown. Eight deep at the bar and not because of the usual reason that Beaconsfield bar staff had gone out for a fag at half time. Fans old and new, loads of youngsters – you've got to say after nearly 14 years in exile the only way is up for Slough Town. And you could see from some of the old faded Slough tops why club-shop Sue was doing such a brisk trade in merchandise.

Our joint managers Unders and Bakes in their programme notes made it quite clear that without our chairman Steve Easterbrook none of this would have happened. And where was he when I arrived at half one to flog Trust membershipis? On car-park duty! When I left at 6 he was clearing up. Did he see any of the game? Did any of our supporters who volunteer to make our club tick and took on the enormous task of making sure the day went smoothly see more than glimpse of the action?

My only complaint was that it was all over so quick and there were plenty of people I didn't see. But guess what. It's all happening again. Even better the Football Gods have made sure we have an FA Cup tie at home on Non League Day. Now in its 6th season, its become part of the footballing calendar. As they put it "Always scheduled to coincide with an international break, Non League Day produces a platform for clubs to promote the importance of affordable volunteer led community football." So instead of listening to moaning Premier League managers, smaller clubs can grab the spotlight and find ways to entice people to their games. That it's not all about the glamour (and expense) of the Premier League - and that football exists away from TV screens. Crowds often triple but the million dollar question is - how do you keep some of those people for more than just a day? Having a swanky new stadium near the middle of town with the town playing attractive football should help.

What i've also been really impressed with is the link up with St.Josephs School which our academy players will attended as part of their sixth form education. It's just another important part of the jigsaw that will really put Slough Town back on the map.

So why not be part of the story? Fantastic if you can cheer from the terraces, but how about some volunteering? Join the Slough Town Supporters Trust, sign up to the 500 club lottery, help out on matchdays. You never know, you might even meet your future spouse. Or sell a golden goal ticket to David Brent when he turns up to his first game.

The last time I saw Chipstead play they spoilt the AFC Wimbledon party. It was the Dons first ever competitive league match, after the FA thoughtfully gave MK Dons their place in the Football League. With a crowd of over 4,000 and hundreds unable to get a ticket (sound familiar?) it was heading for a draw until in the 84th minute Chipstead scored to make it 2-1. Let's hope they haven't got any ideas of spoiling our week long celebrations today. Still, isn't it ironic that after such a helping hand from the football authorities and millions spent on a ground and players, that MK Dons are now playing at the same level as AFC Wimbledon who have been propelled up the leagues by the thousands of volunteer hours from their fans. Or was it thanks to the footballing Gods? 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SERVE WITH HONOUR

Printed in our first game back in Slough for nearly 14 years. Bank Holiday Monday 29th August 2016 v Hayes and Yeading United. Played in front of 1,401 people we won 2-1

Nothing would change in this world if it wasn't for the doers and dreamers, the people who carry on with what they believe in when others have thrown in the towel. Those were the words I spoke at the funeral of Mr.Slough Town Chris Sliski, who tragically died before he could see this day. But they could equally apply to our chairman Steve Easterbrook who along with others behind the scenes have gone about building our club back up brick by brick rather than waving the magic cash wand and promising the earth. Steve no doubt felt he was banging his head against a brick wall in the fight to get Slough Town back to the town it represents. But he never gave up and now here we are at Arbour Park.

I've always said how much of a monumental effort, mainly from volunteers, takes place every week so we can watch 90 minutes of football; so I hate to think of the years that have been put in to make sure we are finally playing back in the borough of Slough after nearly 14 years absence. Steve Easterbrook deserves a knighthood for the work he has done, but he will probably need to make a substantial donation to the party in power for that to happen.

It's worth remembering that there very nearly wasn't a Slough Town. As we left Wexham Park and began our nomadic journey, we spiralled down the leagues. In our last season in the Ryman Premier we lost one game 8-1 at home to Bromley while our 9-0 defeat away to AFC Wimbledon sealed our fate to play at our lowest level ever. At an away game in Chelmsford our manager told us another five players had left as he named himself and any Slough fan who had a pulse on the subs bench. If that relegation wasn't bad enough we nearly slipped down again to the Dog and Duck League saved only by the whistle by another team higher up the non league footballing pyramid going bust. As we protested outside the Town Hall one councillor, in a fit of civic pride, told us we should merge with Windsor. No money, no ground, no support from the council. It looked bleak. One of those who refused to give up was Chris Sliski. When ever I felt like throwing in the towel he would feed me nuggets of encouragement and help make that five hour round trip from Brighton to watch Slough get beat once again seem worthwhile. Luckily us Rebels developed a backs-against-the-wall mentality fuelled by a few beers, that made a great day out too often spoilt by the 90 minutes of football!

For nearly fifty years Chris supported his club Slough Town and helped shape and build it through its many ups and downs. He always seemed to be there with his trade mark ‘boot’, wading through nettles to rescue another mis-kicked ball. His funeral was as near to a Slough Town state one as you're gonna get. Another legend SuperKev 'the physio' McGoldrick who has been with the club an incredible 30 years was one of those who carried his coffin because as he put it 'Chris carried this club on his shoulders for so long, the least I can do is carry him on mine.' So its fitting that his wife Julie will be kicking the first ball at the new ground just before kick off. Let's hope she doesn't stick it in a nettle patch. There are other supporters who put their heart and soul into the club like Dave the Programme, and later in the season I hope to do a memorial wall of those Rebels who have passed away since we've been homeless.

But today is a day for celebration. Despite me leaving Slough nearly 30 years ago, and in possession of not just a Slough season ticket but a rather more expensive Brighton one thanks to a nagging older son, I remain a Slough Town fan.

A town that has always been a melting pot of people in a world far too riven by others hatred for anyone thinking or looking different. So what better way to bring them all together, under one roof in a new community facility for the whole of Slough. In a climate where services are being cut to the bone, this is something councillor Rob Anderson and the council should be proud of. Football is one of the best ways of breaking down barriers, so wherever you are from, however long you have supported the team, be this your first match of 500th, let's get behind the team and make those who can't be with us today proud.

COME ON YOU REBELS  

Check out some fantastic photos of the day by Gary House