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

Friday, December 06, 2019

THERE'S ONLY #ONESLOUGH

To be printed in the National League South game v Braintree Town Saturday 7th December 2019


I was recently at the funeral of my Uncle John. John was a black man growing up in Slough in the 1950's. In the swinging sixties he started dating a white woman. I remember listening in disbelief at the stories of people deliberately crossing the road to spit in her face for the crime of going out with someone a different colour. Although not so shocked at the stories of my dad and John taking on the world when people insulted him! When John started dating Pam, people told them it would never last and her parents wouldn't have him in the house. They were married for over 50 years and in the end her parents accepted John for who he was rather than the colour of his skin.

One of our players said that because of his mental health he needed a break from the game. Such honesty would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. Remember that dirtrag of a paper the Sun piling on boxer Frank Bruno for his mental health issues? But the outpouring of support to Simon Dunn was heart warming and will in turn help others to speak out, because we have a mental health crisis in this country. It's shocking to think that the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide, so it was great to see people lose their flowing locks and raise over £2,000 for MIND at last weeks headshaveathon.

We all want to belong, to feel part of something, and football clubs like Slough have a massive part to play, but also have to be more than just about ninety minutes of football for that too happen.

If Slough Town wants to grow its crowds, we need to better reflect the place it represents. Since Mark Bailey's inspired appointment as Community Engagement Officer every game now feels like Non League Day with different ways being tried to get new punters through the turnstiles. Last week 61 people, mainly police officers, took advantage of free tickets for public sector workers. Today is the beginning of the #OneSlough campaign with free tickets handed out to mosques, temples etc. The club has also just signed up to the Kick It Out Equality Charter.

As Mark said “My remit will be to raise the profile of the club with the local community, the outcome of which should be a significant increase in attendance on match days, not only in terms of overall numbers but also the diversity of the crowd. My absolute focus from now to the start of the season will be getting more kids down to Arbour Park. We will be offering schools, youth clubs and youth football teams in the area free tickets and match day experiences at every home game. Alongside this, we will be targeting other areas of the population we feel are under-represented in our support base.”

It shouldn't just be up to governments to provide for everything but it shouldn't be cutting safety nets for those that fall on hard times. The charity I run works with adults with learning disabilities and children struggling at school often with their mental health. We have had to deal with a £36,000 cut in the past year – for a charity that had a turnover of just £100,000 that's a hefty slice. Adults with disabilities have their services shut and are then sent to us with no extra resources to look after them. School kids that don't fit into educations square pegs need support more than ever but schools can't afford to pay for our services. I'm a parent-governor at a secondary school which has had to cut £150,000 off its budget last year while the primary school I work in one of Brighton's poorest estates, has laid off a dozen staff and lost a staggering £388,000 in four years. Is this how the 5th richest country in the world values education? The OFSTED inspectors then pile in. Instead of measuring where a pupil starts to where they end up, insist that all children are the same; forget the poverty, forget that some are 18 months developmentally behind their peers when they start nursery, apparently they are as equal as the most affluent schools in the city! Which is the footballing equivalent of complaining that Slough Town can't beat Chelsea despite the huge gulf in wealth and resources.

Everything has become back to front. We have a Minister of Loneliness while pubs, libraries, community centres not to mention football clubs where people can meet and feel less lonely, are closing. We have a Health and Well Being Champion while mental health support services are becoming increasingly impossible to access. My local primary school has free bagels for children at breakfast. Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone had decent enough wages with capped rents so they could afford to feed their kids properly? And according to Shelter at least 135,000 children will be homeless and living in temporary accommodation across Britain on Christmas day – the highest number for 12 years. So it's all very well for the Tories to shout about more nurses, more services, more sticky toffee pudding, but ain't they the ones that have been in charge for ten years busy dismantling it all?

Christmas can be hard for some, but I think the club creating Mark's community engagement role is such a positive step that can only be a good thing not just for the club but for the town of Slough. And maybe, just maybe get some people to realise, no matter how different we are, if you cut us, we all still bleed.

Friday, November 15, 2019

WATERLOGGED-VILLE

Published in the National League South game v Tonbridge Angels Saturday 30th November 2019 We drew 0-0 in front of 771
 
Maybe we shouldn't have sung so loudly when the game was called off, although to be fair we were in such high spirits we were singing songs about Deanos dysfunctional balloons. Havant and Waterlooville was becoming Waterloggedville, the ref losing his footing, the ball not moving, the rain continuing to pour. It was more conducive to water-polo than football. We had just gone 2-0 down and their supporters weren't happy, some giving us an earful as we replenished our glasses in their bar; not that I remember me personally making the decision to call the game off. 

 
So it got me thinking of where else Slough fans had travelled across the country to see half a game. I'm sure if the legendary John Tebbit was still around he would let us know about those long forgotten abandoned games in Sloughs distant past, but these are some I can remember.
I got totally lost in the pouring rain one Tuesday evening trying to find Walton and Hersham's ground and arrived just before half time starving and soaked. I could only find a burger bun with onions to eat and the game got called off before the second half started. I sat freezing waiting for the train back home questioning my sanity after seeing no football but feeling like i'd wet my pants.
At Horsham the heavens opened and the game was called off with just 20 minutes played. While I sat miserable on my rail replacement bus at least I was better off than Yeovil Steve who had legged it after work to see the game from the West Country and whose car was stuck in the mud in the Horsham car-park. Slough fans helping him push out the mud, got covered in crap for their troubles.
It took us weeks to walk from Arlesey train station to the football ground, the longest village in the world. Luckily we got picked up by our manager before we ran out of food and water. But the ref injured himself during the game, and no one would step up to be a replacement lino so the game was called off. Once again I was handed a useless ticket to come to the next midweek game which I would never make. Then we found out that under the rules, the game could have carried on with just one linesman!
At Banbury a teenager who had apparently already been thrown out, hit the ref with a bottle of water full in the face at half time, knocking him out. The ref then refused to come out second half and the game was called off. The league bottled it as well, taking an age to make a decision before saying we had to play a meaningless game at the end of another waterlogged, frozen off abandoned season.
So thank our plastic stars for artificial pitches. It would take a nuclear war or stray firework to call a 3G game off and it is the future of non league football.
I'm not sure we will get such a warm welcome at the rearranged Havant game but calling the ref a cheat is the sort of nonsense which has ultimately led to VAR which as we can all see has sorted out the contentious decisions
As for Slough, maybe Deano will have patched up his balloon for Chippenham, but does this make the Chippenham match Bakes and Unders 501¾ game in charge? We're going to struggle with a song and a balloon for that.


 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE HAPPEN

Published in the National League South game v Chelmsford City Saturday 2nd November 2019. We won 2-1 in front of 731

Last week I was in Hastings talking about the Bevy Pub and how we achieved the impossible. Re-opening a dodgy estate boozer and turning it into a co-operatively owned community centre which runs everything from seniors lunch clubs, kids cooking, art clubs, dementia café, parkrun etc. You sing it, we will put it on. Joining me on stage were some very impressive people.

There was Sally from Watchet in Somerset, a town devastated by the closure of their 250 year old paper recycling mill. She is part of the Onion Collective a remarkable group of women bringing investment and jobs back into their small town. Two of their team had been raised in a zoo their parents had built from scratch and so have a we-can-do-anything attitude built into their DNA. Their latest venture is working with a bio-tech company to use mushroom mycelium (the thread like material of the mushroom that grows underground) to eat plastic waste and turn that into building materials which will create the hundreds of jobs that had been lost when the paper mill closed. The Library of Things is a simple idea where equipment is lent out so you don't have to buy stuff like a drill which you will only use once in a blue moon. Repowering London put solar panels on some of London’s poorest housing estates creating training, jobs and cutting electricity bills for people with few opportunities.

What we often ignore is that most of these people and their ideas come out of protest movements. The ones like Extinction Rebellion where people dress as broccoli and octopuses, block roads and have put climate chaos back on the agenda. Of course its easy to pick holes when people protest. 'How can we take you seriously, when you're not wearing potato sacks for clothes' they cry. 'You've got a phone! You don't live in a house carved out of a mushroom.' (that will come later from Watchet).

But let's be honest 'Please Sir can we have some more' just never really washes with the powers that be.

Take the Suffragettes, who everyone now idolises but did a lot more than stop a few cars to get the vote. We all know about Emily Davison who threw herself under the King's horse in June 1913. But less so about the letter boxes they set alight, the thousands of windows they smashed, the telephone wires cut, and graffiti scrawled. They burned down the empty houses of the rich and dug up golf courses. They attacked British Museum exhibits and paintings in the National Gallery. Imprisoned suffragettes went on hunger strike and were force-fed while others started planting small bombs until the outbreak of the First World War saw the abandonment of the campaign.

As Nicholas Klein quoted at a Trade Union convention in 1918. 'First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.'

The people who spoke in Hastings have a pig headed never say no attitude that started on the streets protesting but has metamorphosed into creating something that will make everyones lives better. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

This attitude is one Slough supporters had to adopt when everyone in authority turned their back on the club and even suggested we merged with Windsor. It was the supporters who formed a Trust and started campaigning outside the Town Hall; held a red card protest during our FA Cup game with Walsall, and stood candidates during local elections. I knew the leader of the council at the time who complained bitterly that people had been rude to him on the phone because his Liberal Party brushed aside the Rebels pleas. While we plummeted homeless down the leagues, others said that no one really cared about football in Slough. Yet here we are. A mix of stubbornness, business brains and volunteer hours, which means we are already part of the fabric of the town despite only being back home for three years.  

There's so much amazing stuff happening in this country but it is drowned out by politicians simple slogans or ridiculed by newspapers owned by billionaires written by columnists born with a silver spoon. We get more in-depth football analogy than we do political. So turn off the TV news, recycle those newspapers, ignore social media and sit down with a good history book.

The politics of pointing fingers and blaming everyone else can take you down a dark road. I'd prefer to try and work with people to make things better. Sometimes that will be on the streets, sometimes that will be hunched over a computer or chatting over a pint or on the terraces. It's a lot more fun as well than moaning and waiting for others to make things happen.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

CARE PLAN

Published in the National League South game v Welling United Tuesday 29th October 2019. We won 1-0 in front of 630


This year’s 10th anniversary of Non League Day saw me celebrating, not on the Arbour Park terraces but at a wedding where I bumped into Slough resident Tony Johnston who previously lived in what was the Vicarage and is now the care home right next to Arbour Park. Here's his story.

Oxford House was built around 1907 as The Vicarage for Saint Paul's Church just a few hundred yards further up Stoke Road. In the late 70's it was acquired by the Johnston family to house their growing family and was later adapted into a Nursing Home in the early 80's. The Johnston family remain the proprietors of Oxford House today and it is now a comfortable home to some 34 local elderly residents. It has a reputation for outstanding quality of care and is held in very high regard locally as one of Berkshire's very best care homes.

Tony continues the story “The current Arbour Vale site was previously the playing fields of Orchard School. When plans were first mooted for the site to be Slough Town FCs new home ground, we viewed the plans with a mixture of apprehension and enthusiasm. As a local family, we share a sense of connection with The Rebels and a number of close friends are life-long fans of the Club (some might say obsessed). Fans have long pined for a return to having their own home ground and this seemed to be a great solution after many false starts. However, we did had some concerns around security, light pollution, noise levels and increased local traffic congestion, not to mention the thought of a previous green field site becoming a potential eye sore.

The Club, its main building contractors and Slough Borough Council's planners worked with us collaboratively to address each of those concerns. Due consideration was given to enhanced security fencing, thoughtful floodlighting, road planning and parking restrictions, so that none of our concerns have proven to be a problem. The eventual site layout and architecture has subsequently enhanced the local landscape and is now a local landmark for the town. Throughout construction, the assigned Project Manager met with us regularly to update us on progress. We think the ground looks fantastic and offers a brilliant new facility to Slough residents. Recent form suggests players feel good about the facilities too.

The Club have been kind enough to provide Oxford House with a number of complimentary season tickets allowing our residents, and their Carers where necessary, to attend matches. These tickets are well utilised and we now run a 'book' to ensure they are used evenly across all of those residents that enjoy the game as demand for the tickets is always high. We have many family members who comment that for "Mum or Dad" the outings to Arbour Park are often a highlight in their week. Slough Town FC Staff on match days are very accommodating and the allocated viewing area is spot on. Competition amongst staff to accompany residents can often be fierce! We have some families who particularly wanted their parents to reside at Oxford House because of this ease of safe and accompanied access to match days. One of our current residents has been a huge fan since the 1930's and one of their relatives, Charlie Wakefield, was a goalkeeper with the club between 1937 – 1949 making 232 appearances. His brother, Percy Wakefield set up Upton United and Slough Villa in the late 1920's, and in 1930 when he was 19, played his first match for Slough Town but mainly paid for Slough reserves. He eventually became a ref and was later vice-chairman of the Slough Referees Association. Two brothers and two keepers!”  

So much happens behind the scenes to make a football club tick, to make it part of its community. The story of the Rebels relationship with Oxford House care home, to me sums up all that is good about the club and why it’s so important to get things right off the pitch as well as on.



Saturday, September 28, 2019

YES WE HAVE NO BANANAS

Published in the National League South game v Billericay Town on Saturday 12th October. Non League Day.  We won 3-1 in front of 1115

It's what FA Cup dreams are made of. A local derby. Village side managed by former player at home against a team three leagues higher. On a sloping pitch. But would it be full of banana skins?
I hadn't watched Slough play at Flackwell Heath since 1979. I remember snow, the ref asking for a replacement whistle after his pea fell out and a stonking crowd of 800 – boosted by the fact that all other local games were off - squashed into Wilkes Park to see us win in the Berks and Bucks Cup.
But today was the beginning of the Slough Town FA Cup adventure, on a beautifully sunny late September, a venture that has seen us reach the Second Round proper in the previous two seasons; like the previous rounds are somehow improper. Could we finally get the Third Round monkey off our back, or would we continue with the unwelcome accolade of the team who has reached the Second Round the most times without ever progressing to the Third?
Flackwell had already played three away games and a Tuesday night replay to get to this point, beating Oxhey Jets, Newport Pagnell Town and Sutton Athletic, earning over £10,000 in prize money to boot. Lose in any of the qualifying rounds and you now receive some cash, giving the FA Cup not just prestige but a real money spinner for clubs lower down the pryamid pecking order.
I was going to get the train to Flackwell until someone pointed out that the station had been closed since 1970. So I was Bourne End bound to meet up with the Rebel Rabble in Slough fan Carl and his missus Kim's Keg Bar. Opened in a former hairdressers The Keg Bar is a micropub, which according to The Micropub Association is defined as “a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks". The first one opened in a former butchers shop in Herne, Kent in 2005 and with so many traditional pubs closing, micropubs are a beer success story. A friend opened one in Shoreham in an old pet shop that had originally been a pub that had shut 100 years earlier! The Door Hinge opposite Welling's ground, bans mobile phones and larger and when I went to use the loo thought I had walked into someones front room as I disturbed a couple sat on a settee. When I found myself wandering round Newcastle recently, I came across one on an industrial estate. With lower overheads than a pub, it's no surprise there are hundreds with more opening every week. 

 
The Keg Bar is a great little boozer but it was time to taxi to Flackwell Heath, where a crowd of 484 gathered ready for some cup action. Flackwell averaged 73 last season in the league (with a total of 1,757 all season) and these Cup games give a real sense of occasion. They fired up the BBQ, the publicity and when the circus rolls out of town, you hope they have managed to hook a few new fans into supporting their local club.
Flackwell Heath are ambitious but not stupid. When they won the Hellenic League in 2014-15 they were set to be promoted to Division One Central of the Southern League. However, after Clevedon Town were demoted, they were provisionally placed in Division One South & West and subsequently declined promotion due to the doubling of travelling costs.
In the opening half Slough supporter Mick Carter took one for the team. Ben Harris was either jealous of us drinking or felt Mick had had enough as his dipping shot hit his pint clean out of his hand and the lenses out of his glasses. Luckily we hadn't drunk the Heathens bar dry just yet as Mick muttered something about having a word with Ben's dad as he sloped off for a refill.



Flackwells defending was resolute, but Slough finally got the first goal in the 36th minute with Ben Harris finding the net rather than Micks fresh pint. From then on, Slough were always in control. There would be no bananas or being splashed on the front page of the Non League Paper. It ended 3-0 Slough. Job done.
Next up Chippenham Town away.

Friday, September 13, 2019

FREE-STYLE

Published in the National League South game V Hampton and Richmond Borough Saturday 14th September 2019  We won 3-1 in front of 807.
 
There's nothing like scanning the fixtures at the beginning of the season and rubbing your hands with glee at a seaside trip in September; especially when it's less than half an hour away from my house on the train. The Slough hoards descended for the weekend, swapping the fumes of Slough for some bracing sea air. But while Eastbourne is my nearest game by about an hour, my mate decides to hold his stag do in Windsor. Oh how we laughed at the irony as the Eastbourne hotels put up FULL OF REBELS signs on their front doors and I jumped on the Slough coach back to my home town.

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

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

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

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

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


 


Thursday, August 29, 2019

HAWKING THE COMMUNITY

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


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

 





Wednesday, August 28, 2019

BURIED

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

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

UP THE SWANNY

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

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


 



Thursday, August 08, 2019

HUNGER GAMES

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

Love Island hopefuls


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

THE CAMPAIGN STARTS HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The campaign starts here.


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