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.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Printed in the Ryman Premier League game v Horsham Monday 28th August (we lost 3-1 - but we are playing better away, honest).

In a few days time, after one hundred and ten years of history, Crawley Town Football Club could cease to exist. Just three seasons ago the club finally made it to the Conference Promised Land, had a great first season, built up good support and had a new council owned stadium. The future looked bright until a couple of bling-boys, Chas and Azwar Majeed, came along, giving it the large and promising league football and a whole lot more. They turned the club full time, splashed the cash, signing Daryl Clare for a small fortune and started paying silly wages to players.

After being sold to them with a zero balance sheet, the Majeed’s SA Group now claim the club, which has gone into administration with debts of £1.1m, owes them £750,000! Chas Majeed acted as chairman at first until the FA declared that, as an undischarged bankrupt, he was not a fit and proper person to hold such a position. Now fit and proper is certainly words you wouldn’t use to describe these jokers. In their short time in control, the Majeed’s have managed to sack the most successful manager in the club's history; sack dedicated office staff losing 4 employment tribunals because of their actions; slashed the wage budget in half and incurred a three-point deduction for bringing the Football Conference into disrepute. The brothers had stopped paying tax and National Insurance just two months after taking over the club, while Braintree and Boreham Wood officials complained to the FA that Crawley hadn’t paid their share of cup gate receipts on time and cheques had bounced. This season the club started with minus 10 points. Meanwhile with fan protests growing, known SA Group heavies attempted to threaten a teenage fan who was organising a protest against their regime, while Azwar himself is currently up on assault charges.

The Majeed’s even by their own admission haven’t a clue about football. And while selling beer in Brighton isn’t exactly taxing, running a Conference level club is another thing. Still, while the players and fans suffer, the Majeed’s have purchased a new sports car and announced plans for more nightclubs and restaurants.

You’ve got to ask yourself how these jokers ever got to run a football club? But then the list of dodgy owners is a long and illustrious one. Brighton, Wrexham, York, Doncaster, Kingstonian…the list goes on and on and on.

The FA’s ‘fit and proper’ rule for anyone who takes over a club is currently under review. It is also something the Independent European Sport Review have recommended become European wide, along with salary caps, home-grown player quotas, agent regulation and a legal obligation on clubs to release players for international team duty without compensation. Whether or not the footballing bodies will have the bottle to implement them all, well I wouldn’t hold your breath.

The issue about being fit and proper surfaced again recently when Alexandre Gaydamak emerged from anonymity to gain a 50% per cent stake in Portsmouth. Gaydamak's father is a Russian billionaire who is hiding in Israel and the subject of an international arrest warrant in connection with a 1994 arms-for-oil scandal in Angola. Alexandre denies business links with his father, which is obviously why they have a joint £5 million bank account (currently frozen by the authorities). But then of course we like dodgy Russian oligarchs being involved in the Premiership. In the aftermath of the Gaydamak deal the sports minister, Richard Caborn, reminded football of the European Sports Review which could mean that ruling bodies had a better legal leg to stand on if they ever decided to bar someone.

Until the legal minefield is made water-tight (and there’s a fit and proper test if you want to join the official England supporters club) clubs will always be willing to turn a blind eye if someone turns up with a big enough chequebook. But as the experience of Crawley supporters and countless others shows, turning a blind eye isn’t usually in the best interests in the long-term. The Majeeds said that buying Crawley was a business proposition rather than a footballing one, so does that matter? Well I reckon it does. The club has paid an important part of the community for 110 years, but thanks to the actions of a bankrupt and a thug they could lose their ground and have to start again from scratch in the Sussex County League. As for Majeed’s, well I reckon it would only be fit and proper for them to have to carry out some community service for the club like picking up litter after a game and having to clean the toilets, which would be poetic justice considering the crap the two have put the Crawley supporters through.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


From the Slough v Leyton programme 19th August 2006 Ryman Premier League (we lost 1-0 in front of a pathetic gate of 246).

Did the football season end? A few of us Slough supporters extended it with a visit to see Fisher beat Hampton and win promotion to the Conference South. Fisher are a very good side and will do well; all their moneybags chairman needs to do now is buy the club some fans.

Then we had the World Cup. The group stage didn’t disappoint, and it reminded of the early rounds of the FA Cup with non league opposition pitched against the big boys. It’s great that countries like Togo and Trinidad & Tobago qualified, and by all accounts the atmosphere in Germany was on the whole like a carnival, a celebration of football like it should be. But by the knock out stages the diving and England’s adoption of tactics from Serie A had done it for me. Apart from the mind bendingly dull Switzerland v Ukraine, England were the most boring team to qualify for the knock out stages, especially nauseating after all the bluster from our players and manager.

Then Italy go and win the bloody thing, while their top clubs were facing serious punishment for match fixing. What next for the world of sport? The winner of the Tour de France disqualified for using drugs!

Of course these English superstars, who had deluded themselves into victory, had all their celebratory autobiographies ready at the wings to cash in. So after the failure to even make it to the semi-finals you think they would have had the common decency to tell their publishers to hold back for a bit. First it was Wayne, who lets face it at 20 and not the brightest button in the box, you wonder what words of wisdom he really has got to share with the world? Then there’s Frank Lampard, who seems a good bloke, but again what’s he really done to make a thrilling read apart from play football? Yes, him and Rooney come from poor backgrounds but it’s hardly Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom.’

Next up Ashley Cole, who in the world of bling really is Premiership class. You’ve got to take your hats off to someone whose agent described his contract at Arsenal as resembling 'a master-slave relationship'. Oh really? It was reported, he was disgusted to have been offered only £55,000 a week (plus an executive box at Highbury for his own private use) rather than the £60,000 he’d been promised. So let's see. Arsenal raised him, tutored him, played him, defended him, paid his slave-like wages while he sat on the treatment table. Arsenal fans paid for tickets, replica shirts and posters. Now he flirts with Chelsea. On and on it goes, like a dull storyline from Eastenders until he marries the girl, the fabulously yellow Tweedy Famous-but-i-can’t-remember -why. Not once, but twice – the second time for the cameras so he can raise some much needed cash for him and his wife. Infact the couple were so keen to protect their £2 million plus magazine deal for exclusive pictures that guests were banned from bringing cameras and mobile phones and had to sign a confidentiality agreement in which they were told not to ask for autographs. To cap it all comes his autobiography. All this shows that Mr. Cashley Cole has long epitomised the widening gap between footballers and their fans and with every twinkle of his bling, he moves further away. But then with the tens of thousands of pounds that he earns every week, does he have any need for loyalty?

Still, if you’re having trouble sleeping then I’m sure these books are for you.

Of course, the big money in football means the TV companies are scrambling ever early and are now hyping up friendlies, with Five really taking the biscuit, trying to get us excited over Weird Named Grasshopper Team v Crap Premiership Club fixtures. Then there’s Sky Sports News which really should take a break during the closed season – infact it should take a break full stop, it only being of any use when loads of games are actually being played.

As for the Slough Town closed season; well for once we found out where we were playing nice and early and got some some friendlies lined up. Great I thought, time to relax, spend time with family and friends I usually abandon on a Saturday. I could water my allotments and instead of fretting about not having someone to support next season, I could instead worry about my tomatoes not ripening and getting blight. But oh no, the forum was alive with complaints about us staying at Windsor, tales of player’s departures and players arrivals. It’s never a dull pre-season with Slough.

I managed the Supporters Trust AGM and the kick about against the Polish Industrial League side (with the Polish invasion of Slough we seriously need to find ways of getting some of them down to Stag Meadow) but missed the other friendlies. I know I’m keen, but I’m not that keen to travel the Thatcham on a Thursday night.

As much as I like football, just like anything in life you need a break, otherwise it goes stale. The problem is that football is such big business, its flogging to death isn’t surprising. But if it drives a football nut like me round the bend, what must it be like for those who prefer cricket and cycling (I’m sure there are some of those people out there)?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Welcome to Ruben Carter

Published in the last match of the season v Heybridge Swifts 29th April 2006 - with my son at his first ever footie match just five weeks old...

He was destined to be a football baby. His mums waters broke during an UEFA cup match on the TV (about the only thing interesting that happened during that game). His male midwife was a tattooed Brighton supporter. He was born on a Saturday.

Five weeks ago little Ruben Carter came into the world and today is his first ever football match.

But just who should he support?

With my bad-mouthing of any Brighton kids I see in Arsenal or Chelsea tops, should he really be brought up a Slough fan?

He's certainty got his options. Our next door neighbour is a Brighton season ticket holder and the new stadium when it is eventually built will be right next to our estate.

No doubt there will be times when he will be running round the Dripping Pan at Lewes with my mates who are season ticket holders.

My brother and his sons are season ticket holders at Fulham.

And Zoe's family are Man United supporters (they are from Manchester, so I'll forgive them) although I've already told Ruben that supporting Man United will be a leaving home offence (he can of course admire FC United of Manchester).

If I get him an amber and blue top will he be taunted in the playground or given puzzled looks from his friends when he tells them he watches Slough Town? Or will the full backlash against the Premiership premadonnas be in full swing by then, and the league awash with supporter run clubs? Maybe being a non league fan will be the ultimate in cool.

Today's game is Ruben's cultural equivalent to his recent Jewish naming ceremony, where next to his Jewish skullcap was his knitted Slough Town bobble hat. So while me and Zoe think it's important that he learns about the Jewish faith and community, is there such thing as a Slough Town football community? Well I think so. To me watching Slough is more than just about the football; not life and death cos there's definitely a lot more important things than that. But as a Slough supporter, I don't just feel like a punter at the club, another pound through the turnstiles, another person to flog merchandise too.

Infact, I think perversely, our forced absence has bought out the best in the club and its supporters. Like the Jewish community who make sure that all its members are looked after, I reckon you could say the same of the Rebel community. Look at the way people rallied after June Cousins death; the 41 that walked to Harrow - more than most clubs have bought to Slough games this season; the people standing in the local election fighting not just for a football club back in Slough but for better sporting facilities for all the towns residents. The backing our Supporters Trust gives to other clubs in trouble. The presents Ruben got from the supporters.

After one wet boxing day match where Slough were getting stuffed by Windsor, Zoe commented on the fact that everyone seemed to know each other, and has found herself sticking up for non league football over people who were complaining that football is a waste of time. I know that Ruben will be joining me on the terraces watching the Rebels whether that may be, until he's old enough to tell me I'm a silly old fart and he's off to watch the Albion with his mates. But before he's allowed to go to football on his own, he'll be part of the Slough Town community that will eventually get a ground back in the town and be a whole lot stronger, more community minded and appreciative of the fact because of the years in exile.

Political Footballs

Published in the Ryman Premier League match v Windsor and Eton 17th April 2006

What's football got to do with politics?

Quite a lot when it comes to Slough Town, where the end of season safe from relegation feeling has been given a bit more of a buzz with the Bravo cameras and the announcement that the Supporters Trust are fielding five candidates in the coming local elections.

Politics is certainly what the leader of the Council Richard Stokes was playing when he announced that hopes of Slough going back to the former Dolphin site had been dashed, because Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had granted planning permission for five retail outlets there instead. Apparently some fans had contacted him about going back to a ground we last played 25 years ago and whose land value alone would be well out of the clubs reach. But this was a complete non-story, like announcing that the Windsor swans haven't yet got bird flu or that people buy more things at Christmas. But this is the sort of politics Stokes does best. He did the same thing when he threw out the Britwell proposals, handing out a sheet out of paper to everyone announcing amongst other things just how many OAPS would lose their home help if the football club instead got the cash; not that the club was ever asking for money from the council, but like the Dolphin story a good way of mudding the waters and misleading the public.

In an ideal world football clubs should be in the middle of towns, but no one I know has ever mentioned the old Dolphin stadium as a serious alternative to going back to Slough. What Stokes was doing was a bit of pre-electioneering, on the back of the announcement that the Supporters Trust were standing five candidates in the election, and the stir that the Bravo TV cameras caused. The Supporters Trust know they won't win their seats they are contesting - they even say so on their election leaflets! But what they will do is raise the issue again - why the hell in a town like Slough are the club in exile? Charlton fans used this same election ploy to get a return to the Valley, and Brentford even have a councillor and thanks to that a much more supportive council.

Raising the issue was certainty what our manager-for-a-week did in his interview with Star FM. I know it raised a few hackles, but when I walked off the train and into the newsagents to hear Star FM announcing the game on its regular bulletins I felt it was worth it. And while the Bravo programme will no doubt be a chance for TV programmers to have another pop at the town, it put us back into the spotlight.

True, fans didn't come flooding to the game, but Stokes and other politicians will be on the backfoot and have to come out with more weasel words to pretend they are doing something. Manager Eddie Denton got it spot on about Bravo when he said "I have got one motivation and that's to highlight the fact that Slough Town are not playing in Slough. If we can get some more exposure that's what I'm after."

Bravo and fighting the election are publicity stunts, just like the Walsall red card protest was, with the intention of influencing the political mood in the borough in the build up to an election. As one of the candidates Chris Silski put it "Since the public announcement that we would be running candidates we have already seen Cllr Stokes suddenly raise the issue of the football club again. He hasn't mentioned us for at least a year - so we have already had some impact."

Now it's up to Slough supporters to lend a hand delivering leaflets through peoples door and asking their candidates where they stand on the issue of getting the club back home.

Ups and Downs

Published in the Ryman Premier league game v Folkestone Invicta 8th April 2006

It's that time when I start to speculate about who Slough will be playing next season. With more non league restructing on the way, and the border line between the Ryman and the Southern wafer thin, will my wage packet be stretched to bursting point by a switch to the Southern? Unless they manage a great escape, there will be no local derby against Windsor, so can be look forward to playing Maidenhead next season? Or will the magpies one again pinch another clubs conference nest again thanks to the hypocrisy of the Conference big-wigs. Why is it ok for them to demand three up three down to the football league, while every year giving failing conference clubs reprieves?

Last year it was Hornchurch that went bust (and out of the ashes AFC Hornchurch became the first club in the country to win a league title, the Essex Senior League, with an average attendance of 418). This year it could be Cambridge City going to the wall thanks to financial meltdown, giving Maidenhead, Carshalton or Newport County another chance.

In the Nationwide Conference 2003/4 season Northwich, Farnborough and Leigh RMI were all given a reprieve thanks to Telford going to the wall and Margate being thrown out. And what happened the following season? The same three clubs were relegated (Northwhich finished fourth from bottom but were thrown out over ground problems). This hardly makes the league competitive - especially with so many clubs knocking on the Conference door.

Last season Maidenhead should have been relegated yet got a reprieve, and once again the club have struggled at the foot of the league. I don't want to sound sour grapes, but are the Magpies really a Conference team and is this good for competition?

Surely it would be fairer to promote the clubs that have done the best in the feeder leagues. Take Fisher, who I reckon are the best footballing side I've seen this season - mind you they should be on weekly wages of eight grand a week - and yet if they don't reach top spot and muck up on the play-offs could find themselves in the Ryman Premier again.

The conference has done wonders to promote non league football, and the top half of the Conference is as strong as clubs struggling in the fourth division (or whatever it's called this season). But on the relegation issue they are wrong, and their attitude comes across like the old boys network that they have successfully challenged in the league to rightfully win two up-two down.

Talking of promotion I suppose we should offer our congratulations to Reading reaching the Premiership. For years a struggling bottom division side on the brink of bankruptcy, it's a remarkable achievement, but I think it bodes ill for Slough Town. Already they appear in the town at football events, when it should be the Rebels that are represented, and their Premiership status is going to magnify that ten-fold and no doubt nick a few more would-be Rebel fans. Still at least Steve Coppell, seems a decent human being, which is more than can be said of the top Premiership managers.

Chelsea's Mourinho has become as whinging and defensive as Wenger and Ferguson. Coppell has compared being a manager to being a pimp, and has expressed his dismay at the hype surrounding the Championship, let alone the Premiership.

I spotted him the last time Slough played Kingstonian on a cold winters evening obviously checking some players. Maybe he's the sort of man we should be looking at for the next England manager?

My Father And Other Working Class Football Heroes

Published in the Ryman Premier League programme v Worthing 25th March 2006

I must admit I’d never heard of Stewart Imlach, a pacey winger who was man of the match for Nottingham Forest in the 1959 FA Cup Final. All this and more is revealed in a book by his son, Gary Imlach, who realised he didn't know much about his dad after he had died. 14 years as a professional footballer, Stewart came from Lossiemouth, a Scottish fishing village, played 423 league and cup games and earned himself a couple of Scottish call-ups. His list of clubs is long, but in those days there was no agents, and you had no choice what club you went to, but was sold like cattle from one club to another.

But the book is more than just one mans search for his fathers history. It reveals a football world that has changed beyond all recognition in the past 50 years. Stewart Imlach and his fellow footballers were serfs. One QC at the time called the Football League terms of employement “the worst contract I’ve ever seen.” In 1955, the average footballer's wages were £8; factory workers might have expected to earn £11. Many players lived in club houses. They travelled on public transport with the fans, they had jobs like the fans. In one chapter Stewart describes his dads photo published in the local paper “My father is at his workbench in overalls and a cloth cap, self-consciously sawing a piece of two-by-four for the camera. Since his job meant that he could train only on Tuesday and Thursday nights, he’d been at work when the preseason photo call took place, and the paper had evidently had to send out a photographer to get whatever picture he could for the story. It looks a little strange on the sports page, but it locates him as a footballer of his time as well as any endorsement shot of David Beckham’s. Football was a game of the working class, for the working class, by the working class. One thing it wasn’t was a golden passport out of the working class.”

“Imagine this: the Chief Executive of the FA calling a plumber – and forty five minutes later David Beckham ringing his doorbell in overalls. It could never happen, except on television, a stunt for Children in Need or some yet-to-be-invented reality game show. But in 1955 it did happen, without generating a single paragraph in the papers.”

Eventually something had to give, and in 1961 the threat of a players strike by the Players Union led by Jimmy Hill, and the football maximum wage was breached.

As for the author, he doesn’t really do football anymore. “At what stage does sport become such big business that the original point is lost? At what dilution of cash to content can you no longer taste the sport in sport? How do you passionately support a PLC? How do you maintain tin the undying devotion that makes you a fan when the club is doing its damnedest to turn you into a customer? One answer is that you simply blank it all out and focus on the team, on what happens out on the pitch. But what if the team is a rotating cast of millionaires with no more connection to your world than Tom Cruise, half of them here for no better reason that that the lira supply dried up in Serie A. What are you rooting for then?”

‘My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes’ serves as testimonial to Stewart Imlach, but it’s more than that. It’s a great football book that’s well worth reading but also serves as a reminder for us to talk to our parents and grandparents and find out about their lives before it’s too late, because not everyone will have the chance to study scrapbooks and news clippings of their dads footballing prowess.

* ‘My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes’ by Gary Imlach was published by Yellow Jersey Press in 2005.

Danger Everywhere

Published in the Ryman Premier league match v Fisher Athletic 11th March 2006

I was really looking forward to the Chelmsford game, a football club that has finally gone back to its hometown after eight years away, giving us homeless rebels something to hang onto. But what a disappointment. Terrible performance, freezing cold (which obviously weren’t Chelmsford’s fault) and the most officious stewards I’ve come across for a long time.

Chelmsford have moved into the council athletics stadium, one of their last options - so what to do? Their gates have been impressive. Three thousand plus for their first game back home against Billericay, and even as gates have fallen there are still twice as many going as when they were groundsharing. With such a big fanbase, along with the bar and café takings coming into the coffers, I expect them making a serious challenge for the Conference South next season.

But one of the reasons I enjoy non league footie is its laid back attitude. Not that any of this was in evidence at Chelmsford. Why did grumpy bouncers have to search my bag on the way in? They said it was because if I had a plastic bottle they would take the top to stop me throwing it on the pitch. They had bouncers with earpieces guarding the clubhouse, and when I tried to take some chips into the clubhouse I was told I couldn’t even tho it was freezing outside. When I went to get my beer to wash down the chips outside I was told that was also not allowed.

I was told that’d had problems with kids causing trouble, and the taxi driver told us the area was known locally as the Bronx - but you don’t make everyone feel like criminals and instead why not keep an eye on the kids? Not that the stewards did anything about the clowns on the balcony shouting foul and abusive language towards our players when they left the pitch.

I know the council are breathing down their necks but they need to sort out their stewards’ attitude. One Chelmsford fan told me he was he was told not to sell Chelmsford raffle tickets in the director’s bar because he was wearing jeans! And directors drinking beer on the balcony were told to stop by a council official.

Unlike the bunch of jokers that run Slough Council, Chelmsford’s councillors have been really supportive, with an interest free loan of £200,000, spending over £1 million on the grandstand and £160,000 on the pitch. The club also received £150,000 from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund.

But the problem with council health and safety officers is they’ve lost all reasoning. One of my mates I used to live with became one, and sees danger everywhere. I took her to see Slough play Leyton Wingate a few seasons back and she was commenting on the unsafe terracing, unsafe posts - I half hoped a ball would fly into her face! One of the problems is that Councils are scared stiff of being sued, and what about that sign as you enter the Queensmere that told me ‘Danger Stairs’, as if people had never come across stairs.

I’m not against health and safety, but in the hands of the officious it spirals out of control. My mate Simon Jones was killed at work, sent to Shoreham docks, to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the country without any health and safety training. Within five minutes at work he was decapitated by a crane. In a campaign of direct action that temporarily closed down the port, the temp agency that sent him to his death, the Health and Safety executive, and the Crown Prosecution Service we found evidence that if a safety mechanism had been in place he would have lived. Except putting this in place costs £50 a go. Thanks to our campaign we eventually got the boss in court hoping he would get sent down for corporate manslaughter. Instead he was given just a £50,000 fine.

So while the world of work has been deregulated and you can kill someone at work and get away with a fine, eating chips in a bar – oh no; thinking of garrotting someone with that dangerous plastic bottle, well watch out.

As for Chelmsford, all our complaints to their officials just got them all defensive. But if they want to put their head in a bucket of sand and not listen to the concerns, well that’s their problem. I feel sorry for Chelmsford, met a few decent fans, and well done on getting back to your home town, but PLEASE let's not have a running pitch around the pitch or let the council have a stake in our ground. I go to non league football to enjoy myself, not be bossed around with ridiculous rules.

* Simon Jones Memorial Campaign

Busy Bees

Printed in the Ryman Premier league match v Wealdstone 18th February 2006

Just what would we have done without our link up with Brentford?

Our chairman Bernard Devine told me that he and Roy Merryweather know Brentford manager Martin Allen from way back, and that friendship has certainly come in handy as our thread bare squad picked up injuries and suspensions.

The link up suits both clubs – players that aren’t getting games get match practice, youth teamers get first team experience – look at Mousinho, who put in some impressive performances for the Rebels, went back to Brentford on a non contract no pay basis and got himself signed up. Goalkeeper Clark Masters has just been getting better and better and Charlie Ide was on the Brentford subs bench for their game against Bristol City. Others haven’t been so lucky, with George Moleski and Aaron Steele both released by the club.

Allen worked wonders with cash strapped Barnet propelling them back in the football league. Now he’s working miracles with cash strapped Brentford seven million in debt but on a dizzy FA Cup run (I wonder where Slough Town programme editor Glen will be today?) and knocking on the door of the championship.

Allen was known as ‘mad dog’ during a playing career with West Ham United, Portsmouth and QPR. And now? Before last seasons cup game with Southampton Allen dived in the icy River Solent after a dare from his players. “I stripped naked and dived in like Mark Spitz. There was a ruddy great tanker, bigger than this ground, 100 yards away. I nearly had a heart attack from that and the freezing water.”

His non league contacts have certainly come good, plucking DJ Campbell for just £5,000 then selling him on for £1/2 a million to Birmingham. Slough can of course claim some unwanted credit for the meteoritic rise of Campbell, who played in the FA Cup Yeading team that defeated Slough to earn them a publicity spinning tie with Newcastle. Let’s hope Campbell’s rise alerts more top clubs that there are plenty of bargins playing in footballs basements. Players who know what it’s like to work for a living and are often hungrier than those footballers who have always been spoon-fed.

Last month Brentford supporters under the Bees United banner acquired the majority shareholding in the club. Every member of Bees United is a shareholder of the Trust and is able to take part in electing representatives and calling special meetings to hold the Trust's representatives to account. Of the 9 Directors on the board, 4 are nominated by Bees United, whilst the other 5 are Investor Directors with each board member having just one vote irrespective of their shareholding or investment in the club.

While not in the basement, Brentford are low down on footballing pecking order and have had to sell their best players in order to stay out of administration. Brian Burgess Chairman of Bees United explained “The Bees United strategy is to break away from that kind of dependency, to improve Griffin Park to earn more revenue and claw our way up the food chain so that we can become a big club again. I have said before that running football clubs is not for the faint hearted. Until we are one of the big boys with the deep pockets we will continue to be faced with tough choices.”

One of those tough choices is their home Griffin Park, which they have been trying unsuccessfully to move out of for 20 years. This search has not exactly been helped by the local Council (where have we heard that before?) The attitude was, to describe it generously, indifferent. “Which was not what would be hoped when dealing with such a unique and cherished community asset as BFC.” So what did the fans do? They stood councillors in the local elections under the A Bee C Party – ‘A future for Brentford in the Community’ – and got a supporter elected! Luke Kirton polled enough votes to become a councillor for the Brentford ward on Hounslow Council in May 2002. His election brought a sea change in attitudes within the Council who recently gave a £500,000 loan to help Bees United become the majority shareholder in the club. Hounslow’s Leader, Cllr Colin Ellar said: “What won us over was the amount of work the club does in the community. Their Football in the Community scheme is often held up as one of the best in the country, and the work of the club and their supporters for our young people is valued and appreciated by the council.”

Maybe a bit of a Rebel election shock this May is just what Slough Council need to get them focused on the plight of Slough Town.

An Historical Perspective

Published in the Ryman Premier League game v Bromley 4th February 2006

The Rebels last two away games in London have shown just how big the gulf in non league football can be.

First off was a trip to Leyton to their intimate little ground in East London. Leyton are apparently ‘the oldest football club in London.’ A history with so many twists it left my heard spinning trying to work it out. With Leyton Orient just down the road (the club even used to play at Orients ground) Leyton are always going to struggle to attract people through the gates and have an average attendance of just 124.

They certainly have a chequered history and from the seventies went on a confusing spree of mergers, that ended with a court battle with
Leyton Pennant arguing over who owned the original Leyton history, a battle that Leyton eventually won in the High Court in 2002.

AFC Wimbledon are probably
London’s youngest club, although they are also struggling with their history, if not their crowds. Their poor support in the Premiership translates well in the Ryman Premiership, and nearly 3,000 were crammed inside Kingsmeadow last Saturday for the visit of the Rebels.

A club as big as AFC Wimbledon are going to get peoples backs up, but I am really impressed with their set up, it’s how a club should be run. OK, so they've got some idiot fans, but then it's to be expected when your pulling in so many thousands a game (think of some of the plonkers supporting Slough that came to the Yeading game.) Still all the Wimbledon fans I met before and after the game were a friendly bunch. They reckoned we had the best support they’d seen at a league game and thanked us for not chanting MK Dongs songs at them. With £1/2 million needed to pay off the ground-debt, they probably can’t buy their way out of the league so easily, and could be in for a long haul in the Ryman Premiership just like Aldershot where. Personally, I hope AFC Wimbledon don't go up this season, cos I would much rather go there for the afternoon than places like Leyton.

Gail Moss, the press and publicity officer of the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association (WISA) told me “I've read some of the guest books and am disappointed if some of your fans think of us as arrogant. It's true that we were robbed of our League position, and that we believe we have a moral right to be back in professional football. But at the same time, the blame for what happened lies fairly and squarely with the then owners of Wimbledon, Asda/Walmart and the authorities who let it happen. It's not the fault of other clubs, it's not up to other clubs to give us an easy passage to the League, and the vast majority of our supporters do know that any League place has to be earned by results on the pitch.”

But assuming the history of the old Wimbledon FC? Their website explains “The supporters of AFC Wimbledon believe that our club is a continuation of the spirit which formed Wimbledon Old Centrals in 1889 and kept Wimbledon Football Club alive until May 2002. We consider that a football club is not simply the legal entity which controls it, but that it is the community formed by the fans and players working towards a common goal. We therefore reproduce the honours won by what we believe was, and will always be, 'our' club, in our community.”

Whether you agree with that is up to you, but I take my Slough Town bobble hat off to those who reclaimed their football club from that joke of a franchise that play in Milton Keynes. The next question now is – should us supporters make the journey to MK Dons to support the Rebels in the Berks and Bucks Cup?

I asked Simon Wheeler, chair of WISA who said "Since May 28th 2002, WISA has been calling for fans to boycott games played in Milton Keynes. WISA is extremely grateful for the amazing support that we have received from genuine football fans. By boycotting Milton Keynes Dons matches and not helping to finance Pete Winkelman's property deal, football supporters have sent out a clear message that football franchising is unacceptable and has set a dangerous precedent in the English game. However, we understand if Rebels fans feel they have to support their team and go to this cup semi-final. In that case, we'd ask you to spend nothing
besides the price of your ticket.

WISA is continuing its campaign to ensure that the football authorities tighten up their rules to ensure that what happened to us can never happen again, whilst fighting for the history and honours of Wimbledon FC to be
returned to AFC Wimbledon and/or the Community of Wimbledon."

Personally I won’t be making the trip to Milton Keynes, and hope other Rebels feel the same.

Stitched Up

Printed in the Ryman Premier League match v Margate 21st January 2006

Forget tabloid headlines about footballers bad behaviour, one disgrace that should be plastered across the back of the sports pages is the use of sweatshop labour to produce goods for our national sport. Take footballs; while premiership stars earn thousands each week and football is rolling in the money, those that make the balls get paid a pittance. Most stitched footballs are normally made by hand rather than by machines in countries like India and Pakistan, where children as young as five have to work to make them. It’s a hazardous job - many child stitchers suffer from poor eyesight, chronic back and neck pain, and sometimes deformed fingers. They often don’t get proper treatment for these conditions, leaving them affected for life. Wages are incredibly low and many children never get the chance to go to school. However, many families could not survive without the income these children bring into the home.

So what can be done about it? Well, just like you can get fair trade tea and coffee you can now buy fair trade footballs from the Fair Deal Trading Partnership. The company have signed up to a pioneering scheme where football stitching is organised into small work units in the villages. As part of Fair Trade, the working conditions in these units, such as ventilation, lighting and access to safe drinking water are gradually being improved.

The key component of Fair Trade criteria, however, is that the workers in these centres receive a substantially increased wage, which is calculated to meet the basic needs of a family, allowing the children can go to school instead of having to work. A basic health scheme is also provided. And in order to reduce the dependency of the workers from the ball-export-production, micro-credits (a bank for the very poor) are offered to improve the village level economy and to provide alternative or additional income opportunities.

To finance all this, a Fair Trade premium is placed on the price of each ball. In the case of fairdeal footballs, this adds just $2 to the cost. As with all other products that carry the Fairtrade label, compliance with these criteria is subject to constant independent monitoring.

The cost to the buyer is negligible but the benefits to the producers is immense. Take 18 year old Sameena Nyaz, who lives in Chak Gillan near Sialkot, Pakistan the 'world capital of football production'. Sameena stitches footballs for a living, and the Fair Trade wage pays a decent income which enables her to properly provide for her family. Recently Sameena has had to undergo a thyroid operation with all medical costs paid for by the Talon Fair Trade Welfare Society - the health care scheme made possible by the Fair Trade premium.

Unfortunately FIFA won’t endorse any football with a Fairtrade label on it. Jamie who helps run the Fair Deal Trading Partnership told me “I don't think this is going to change and if you want to open up a can of worms it appears the international ball standard is being changed so that only the new crap machine moulded balls will pass e.g. the Adidas Rotario that was used in the European cup that the players complained about being too light and soft. It transpires that the person in charge of football standards in FIFA used to also be very high up in Addidas so the whole thing stinks really.”

However, some clubs have been supportive. AFC Wimbledon used the footballs in their pre season friendly against FC United of Manchester. The company also sponsor FC United and hope to be selling their footballs in their gift shop. And Jamie from Fair Deal Trading told me “If ever a football club would like a sample ball they are more than welcome.”

Just like buying fair-trade tea and coffee might cost a bit extra, the benefits to those producing the goods should mean it’s a choice we should all make. So the next time you need a new football make sure it’s one where people get paid a living wage.

To get hold of fair trade footballs call 0870 7665196 or go to

Putting The 'WOW' Back Into Slough

Printed in the Ryman Premier league match v Billericay Town 7th January 2006

So did it make you happy? The biggest social experiment of its kind with six happiness experts arriving in town with a mission to put a smile on people's faces, or more precisely hoping to Make Slough Happy. Having rub Sloughs face in it, thanks to the The Office, no doubt the BBC wanted to make amends.

The ten point happiness manifesto was common sense including stuff like plant something, count your blessings, do a bit of exercise, cut down on TV and do a good deed every day. But did we need a "skilled team of happiness experts" to tell us that? Quite frankly these experts got on my nerves. My main problem with them is that's it all very well if you are well educated and earning a packet, but telling someone living in rubbish housing or trapped in a dead-end job to cheer up could end up with them happily giving you a punch. Take the "expert" standing outside Slough station lecturing people that commuting each day makes them miserable. I'm sure they all needed to be told that!

Other happiness gurus have worked out that after a certain point, being wealthy doesn't make us any happier. Tell that to governments and economists who are obsessed with measuring the health of the nation by how much we produce and buy. So does buying more stuff make us happy?

At the end of the programme, the experts declared that the 50 people who had taken part were far more happy than when the programme first began. Of course if you take 50 people, push them into things that wouldn't normally do, open up more opportunities for them and get them to meet new people chances are they will feel better. I'm not arguing that it's no bad thing, it's just depressing that it took a TV company to get people out of ruts. One of the women who has been suffering for years with mental health problems, chronic depression and anxiety, said that one thing the programme taught her was that "actually the town has the potential for wonderful community spirit."

One of the happiness gurus Dr Richard Stevens, also talked about the communal experience that was the most rewarding. "We started with this very disparate sea of faces, and soon they were all involved and animated in a group." Stevens believes that modern society works against contentment in various ways: that we are very busy to no particular purpose; that we fret about the past and we worry about the future and we forget about the present; that we talk all the time about diet and exercise then we eat badly and slob out; that we would love to be part of a community, but spend half our lives staring at TV screens and playing online poker.

So what have we hear at Slough Town? A cross section of the community who get together for a couple of hours to watch football and get a bit of fresh air into the bargain. And what would make us happy? Our own ground would no doubt send serotonin levels through the roof. A new ground where we could put into practice 'more of that wonderful community spirit.' Of course we could at least be on our way now, if it were not for those idiots in the council who vetoed plans for a community football club in Britwell. But hey presto, now they want the same thing, without the football but with a lot more housing being built over Britwell's green spaces. They claim that these extra housing would pay for leisure facilities, a new Britwell parish hall, a larger community centre in Northborough, and doing up the Wentworth flats. All very commendable, but the fact that they could have had less houses in exchange for Conference style football facilities for the whole area.

It's up to you football loving residents of Slough to let those standing for election in May know what would make Slough happy for you and vote out those who have used the club as a political football.

A Trip To Maldon

Published in the Ryman Premier League match v Hampton and Richmond Borough 2nd January 2006

It was like a scene from a nativity play. Me and my heavily pregnant girlfriend lost in the wilds of the Essex countryside, unable to find the hotel we’d booked, every place we stopped at telling us there was no room at the Inn, we began to eye up empty barns. Nine hours after leaving Brighton we finally found a room at a Travel Lodge off the A12 near Colchester. Hmm, this wasn’t exactly the idea we had for our last romantic holiday before Zoë gave birth, and she let me know in no uncertain terms announcing it was her worst holiday ever!

We’d set off in good spirits. Not even an email from my mate telling me about his trip to the Galapagos Islands, snorkelling with penguins, sea lions, reef shark, and diving with hammerhead sharks, could dampen my spirits. Bah humbug – give me the Essex countryside and a trip to Heybridge Swifts Football Club anyday.

Hours later, stuck in traffic, a trip to hell for some food (have you ever been to Southend?), hopelessly lost and a night so cold I was beginning to wonder if tomorrow’s game would be on anyway.

Still, it’s amazing what a good night sleep can do – even in such a non descript environment as a Travel Lodge – and the next day we set off to Maldon in search of somewhere with a bit more character.

The town is famous for the battle of Maldon in 991AD. Living on the coast meant the constant threat of pillaging Vikings. England had no military or diplomatic answer to these raids, so the King simply raised a series of taxes to pay the Vikings off. In August 991 up to 3,000 Vikings appeared off the English coast. This time there was a heroic stand by the Anglo-Saxons against the Viking invasion, but which ended in utter defeat. But the battle has been made famous for being the subject of an Old English poem celebrating the bravery of the English.

Maldon is how a proper small town should be – despite Tescos (who else?) lurking in the back ground like a modern day scrooge, trying to grab all the pennies for themselves. Maldon high street is full of grocers, ironmongers, butchers and fishmongers. No doubt the tourist trade helps keeps these shops alive, and yes people really do come to Essex for a holiday. Forget the Essex of Billericay and Basildon, Maldon is on the Blackwater estuary full of mudflats and sailing boats of all descriptions, with panoramic views, and the place still has an individuality all of its own.

OK, they lost their train station (the nearest one is six long miles from Maldon and Heybridge’s ground), its cinema’s gone, the bus station’s been flattened, and Weatherspoons is eyeing up the attractive Post Office building. Nationally, the Post Office is busy selling off buildings and closing branches in preparation for privatisation. A spokesman for Weatherspoon said “Maldon’s a lovely place so we would consider opening there.” Yeah, but it’s only lovely cos it doesn’t look like every other bloody place in the country. And in any case there are loads of old pubs full of character to drink in, so the last thing the place needs is a Weatherspoon.

One of those drinking holes is the Blue Boar, a 14th Century coaching hotel where the creaky floorboards and 4 poster bed was worth shelling out for. It’s even got its own brewery now on the premises, knocking out great sounding ales such as Pucks Folly, Nelsons Blood and Blue Boar Bitter.

I was looking more for an anti-freeze punch on the arrival at Heybridge’s ground which is just a five minute drive from Maldon town centre. I asked the taxi driver if there was much difference between Maldon and Heybridge, and he replied not a lot anymore although if you asked anyone from those places they would seriously disagree!

Whatever people say about Slough Town football club, one thing you can’t knock is the clubs level of away support. The last proper Saturday before Christmas, a two hour drive on a frostbitingly cold day, and yet there must have been 80 Rebels there, some worse from wear from Christmas parties, others at their first game ever. Ian and Kay’s new born Alfie making his first game despite being just a few days old. How we all eyed up his cosy blankets, wishing the Lathey’s all the best, but secretly wishing we were as wrapped up in swaddling out of the cold. And our payment for freezing to death? Hardly a shot on goal, and a deserved defeat, only the goalkeeping skills of Clark Masters keeping the scoreline respectable.

But while the supporters got back on the road, I went back to the hotel then off to dinner, with a very refreshed girlfriend saying we should plan more weekends like this around Slough Town fixtures. The Rebels next trip to Maldon though might prove a bit tricky, as it’s the week Zoë’s due to give birth. No doubt, some time in the future I will be joining the Lathey’s in swelling the Rebel ranks with our clubs youngest supporter.

Colour Blind

Published in the Ryman Premier League match v Harrow Borough 10th Decmber 2005

I got completely lost trying to find Harrow's ground last season, and after a few too many beers managed to get lost on the way back from the ground as well! But at least I could get something decent to eat as the high street was packed with amazing Indian vegetarian food. During half time I spoke to one Harrow supporter who said most people in the area don't even know Harrow Borough existed. How comes? The club is surrounded by houses and many of these are now owned by Asians – so why not try and get some Asians to start supporting the club? Easier said than done? Well, what about trying to find if some of the Asian kids are good enough to pull on the Harrow Borough shirt?

Trevor Brooking recently said that the experience of Asian footballers is similar to what happened to black players in the seventies, and Premiership star Andrew Cole backed him up. Black footballers of today have the likes of former stars such as Brendon Batson, Viv Anderson and John Barnes to thank for paving the way for them, playing in front of hostile crowds and monkey chants.

Brooking and Cole reckon that Asian footballers will only make the breakthrough when they have someone who they can identify with, and Cole has backed former team-mate Zesh Rehman to be that man. British Pakistani Rehman has come through Fulham's academy, and is already an England youth international. Cole said "Zesh has got a very level-head and the times I have spoken with him, he has never mentioned being one of the first Asians to make it in the Premiership but I am sure it has played on his mind. But it is going to be so important for all the young Asians out there who have not got someone of their own colour to look up to. And I believe that he can be a pioneer who changes things because I think it is only a matter of time before he gets through at the top level."

One reason Asian players haven’t broken through is often blamed on their parents – and Rehman agrees "I think the main reason that a lot of British Pakistanis don't make it as footballers is because they don't get enough support off their parents. A lot of our culture revolves around education and I think a lot of parents are wary of their children getting too involved in sport”

Meanwhile one man who helps run youth football in Harrows patch complained “I help out with a North London U15's team in the Harrow Premier League and we have two outstanding Asian players. Sadly both players have to lie and argue with their parents to train and play. To this day after two years I still haven’t met their parents or have seen them support their talented boys from the sidelines.”

With Asian leagues full of thousands of players, some of the league organisers also point out the lack of footballing scouts that come to the games. But a couple of Asians are playing at a higher level. Newcastle’s Michael Chopra and Harpal Singh at Leeds United, Shahed Ahmed who used to play for our mates Wycombe, Huddersfield’s Adnan Ahmed and former West Ham defender Anwar Uddin.

Meanwhile two Asian clubs have entered senior football. Sporting Bengal and London APSA made history this year when they became the first all-Asian teams in this year's FA Cup. One of their players Suroth Miah said "Our participation in this year's competition is truly a historic moment for the Asian community in this country. We want to take the whole community forward by being successful and push Asian players into mainstream football.”

Sporting Bengal United was established in 1996, formed by the players themselves, who went on a tour of Bangladesh and subsequently got talking about the lack of Bengalis involved in local football. The club was awarded senior status by The FA in 2003 and subsequently admitted into the semi-professional Kent Senior League, the side have made giant leaps to challenge the under-representation of Asian youths in mainstream British sports. London APSA complete in the Essex Senior League.

Obviously players have to be good enough, but once the gates open, then it won’t be long before the sight of Asian players in football is as common as black players. For teams like Harrow and Slough with large Asian populations, this could mean not just a source of new players but increased crowds, and some of the Asian population of Harrow could start to discover that there is a friendly little club just at the bottom of their street. But this won’t just be good for football. As Mike one of the West ham coaching staff put it “I think football, without wanting to sound like an old romantic, is one of the few things that can truly bring people together from all backgrounds and realise not just there differences but also there similarities.”

Gems Amongst The Greedy

Published in the Ryman Premier League match v Walton and Hersham 26th November 2005

So an overpaid Roy Keane has been booted out of Manchester United because he couldn’t keep his mouth shout about other seriously overpaid players who weren’t pulling their weight. I’ll say this about Keane, in a football world managed by PR agents at least he’s honest. In the 12 and half years he had at United, he would have seen how football superstardom can go seriously to your head with plonkers like Rio Ferdinand able to demand a massive pay rise despite being suspended on full pay for eight months. But Ferdinand obviously can’t survive on his wages, and is always on the look out to find more ways to market himself. You can now pay £4.50 to download a message on your mobile phone with him telling someone they’ve been dumped!

But its not just me, I recently stumbled across one football website, where some of the vitriolic against Premiership players made me look like a shrinking violet.

“They're children in men's bodies. Solipsistic (I don’t know what that means either), selfish, greedy, lacking emotional maturity; the worst traits that many of us had as children are still present in these stunted boys. The journey into adulthood is marked by the realisation that you're not the centre of the universe and now I'm pathetically grateful for any gift I'm lucky enough to receive because I understand the thought that goes into it. Is it really any surprise that these horrendously spoilt men, who earn in the region of £100,000 per week and in some cases more, really couldn’t care a less when they lose what they perceive is a meaningless game. Do they really understand what it means to the fans who pay so much to follow them around the world? I doubt it.”

Another added “I know a friend of mine once met a Premier League footballer who was a few sheets to the wind in a bar; when asked what he thought to his team's fans he replied something unprintable. I think that's got a lot of truth to it. Having too much money too soon prevents you from growing up properly; having everybody telling you how great you are prevents you from growing up properly; being almost entirely devoted to one small aspect of human experience prevents you from growing up properly.”

But amongst the greed and avarice I’ve come across a couple of stories that warm the heart

Take Damiano Tommasi who plays for Roma. While some of his team-mates earn millions (Francesco Totti, for example pockets around £8 million a year) he has requested a salary of just over a grand a month. After being out of the game for months with a knee injury, the 31-year-old player said he simply wanted to return to playing football at the highest level and economic considerations were low on his list of priorities. A modest salary was enough for his needs, he said, and he was still earning more than many ordinary Italians. His gesture has led to him becoming a hero in football-mad Italy, and even the Vatican has given him the thumbs up.

Tommasi - a former altar boy and practising Catholic, has always been a favourite of the Vatican - but the public endorsement of the player is unusual. An editorial in the Vatican newspaper said: “Damiano has always thought that a famous footballer has a responsibility as an example to young people and he has always modelled his behaviour with this in mind.”

Speaking recently before a group of young people, Tommasi said: “Kids see us as idols and we have to give a good example. I do a job that I love and I get a lot of money for doing it. This is a joy but also a big responsibility.”

Football clubs have also been known to show their soft side, but it is not often that a top European club hands its shirt and its cash to an army of balaclava-wearing guerrillas fighting for autonomy in a large chunk of their country. Last year Inter Milan donated a few thousand, an ambulance and the captain's No 4 black and blue team shirt to one of the strongholds of the Zapatista revolutionary army in a gesture of solidarity. The Zapatista army - who began their armed campaign for indigenous rights in 1994 – are concentrated in a few strongholds dotted around Chiapas in Southern Mexico where they are fighting for autonomy, putting it into practice without waiting for government permission.

Argentinean star and team captain Javier Zanetti, talked his club into donating its changing room fines to help one village rebuild after it was attacked by government military forces. In a note to the village, posted along with the first instalment of cash, Zanetti wrote "We believe in a better world, in an unglobalised world, enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the people. This is why we want to support you in this struggle to maintain your roots and fight for your ideals." The donations have helped the villagers to rebuild houses and water pipelines, and the club has offered to supply football gear and balls for budding Zapatista footballers.

With so much cash in football there will always be people on the make, but if you look a little closely there are also those that realise just how lucky they are to be playing ‘the beautiful game’ at the highest level.

Anti-Social Moaning Gits

Printed in the programme for the Ryman Premier League game v East Thurrock United 22nd November 2005

I took the opportunity of Slough not having a fixture last Saturday to go somewhere different. I decided to give the Lewes v Cambridge game a miss despite both teams scoring five goals during their previous matches. I must say that Lewes have lost a bit of their charm since being in the Conference South and becoming more ‘professional.’ Maybe it’s inevitable at that level of football, but I wanted something real grass roots, so I scanned the back of the Non League Paper for nearby fixtures and decided on the Sussex County League Division Two game between Seaford and Lancing. I also liked the fact that the match kicked-off at 2pm, giving me time to rush back to see the England–Argentina game

Seaford is a quaint little fishing town near Newhaven, located on the South Coast between Brighton and Eastbourne, where nothing much happens. Tucked away, their ground ‘the Crouch’ is near the train station, and as with every County league ground I’ve visited, has the obligatory view of the South Downs, this one a spectacular view of the cliffs that crash suddenly into the sea.

The ground itself is in a public park, and although the gate man took my £3 there was at least five other entrances for people to sneak in if they wanted to be tight gits. The crowd were the usual mix of ages with the younger kids taking the match as an opportunity to show of their own skills – I saw at least three other games of football going on while the match was being played! Cover is limited to a strange squat like breeze block building squashed up behind the dugouts. Although there are no seats, spectators have little option but to sit on the steps due to the very low roof.

The 1st half especially was a good advert for county league football, and by the final whistle there had been three goals, a couple kicked off the line, a sending off, and a penalty that hit the crossbar. Somehow Seaford managed to win the game 2-1.

The club have had a couple of brief spells in County Division One but in 1997 they dropped out of senior football altogether and spent two seasons in the East Sussex League before regaining their place in Division Three. Then promotion back to Division Two was achieved and last season they finished 6th.

They’ve now got permission to put floodlights on the ground which is essential if they want to remain in their current division, enter the FA Cup and FA Vase. All they need now is to raise £50,000! Half of this has been promised by the Football Foundation, but it’s a race against time to get it sorted before the end of the season otherwise under new Sussex County rules, they will be relegated back to Division Three.

Seafords climb back up the pyramid and the issue of floodlights raised the hackles of a few local residents and the first application was refused by Lewes District Council because the lights would be 'detrimental to local residential amenities.' Excuse me, but aren’t football clubs invaluable community amenities?

Luckily the council eventually saw sense with club chairman Dick Knight (no relation to the Brighton chairman!) telling councillors “We take 300 kids off the streets every month to play football. We need these lights to go any further because otherwise as a football club we will stagnate and die.”

Residents argued that the site was unsuitable for the development of Seaford FC and an alternative site should be found. I reckon that it’s these residents who should find an alternative site to live. As one Seaford official put it "The football club has been at The Crouch for a lot longer than a lot of residents have been here. I know that it was here in the 1950s because I used to come when I was eight or nine.” Residents also complained that their promotion back to division two could see crowd trouble. Where have we heard that before! With average attendances of 52 you can see where the whinging gits are coming from. After the game, I had to leave early as pitched battles raged between opposing fans, and I saw at least two cars torched a la France.

You’ve got to hand it to the idiots who move next to football grounds then complain. Personally, I think they should be told where to go. At Burgess Hill just two residents have helped get restrictions on the clubs use of floodlights meaning that extra time in cup games last season cost the club £10,000 in fines and legal fees. And what happens if the moaning minnies get their way and make Burgess Hill move out? It’s council land, and instead of a football ground being used occasionally in a lovely woodland setting, there will be hundreds of new homes! Apparently, one resident who lives near Crawley Down (whose biggest attendance last season was 94) one day complained about the noise being made by the groundsman cutting the grass! He doesn’t want the club to have floodlights either, despite the fact that it is the hub of the local community. Listen mate, there is also a simple solution to floodlights – close your bloody curtains. Britain really does seem to breed these wannabe Victor Meldrew’s. But it is this minority of moaning gits who are the real problems not the football clubs. They are the anti social, anti community types, who should be told to shove it if they don’t like it.

I like my little trips to Sussex County grounds. I feel that it is a real credit to football in this country that so many clubs exist. So the next time Slough haven’t got a game, why not sample the delights of some lower league team – you might be pleasantly surprised. And don’t forget to take an airhorn or big drum to really give those miserable old sods who live nearby something to really moan about!

A Year's A Long Time In Football

Published in the Ryman Premier League game v Hendon 5th November, 2005

What a difference a year makes. Wind back to last year and we were all looking forward to the visit of Walsall. Now with Walsall facing Merthyr in the Cup, their manager Paul Merson said “Losing to Slough last season was the worst day of my football life. The sound of Slough players celebrating their win still haunts me and I don't want a repeat experience!” Our great run in the cup compared to a dreadful performance at home last Saturday with the rumblings from the terraces growing loud. But that’s football.

What a difference a week makes. Crawley Town’s most successful manager was sacked. And how many would have put a bet on Mark West once again pulling on the Slough shirt and then scoring a peach of a goal against Wealdstone last Saturday?

Football is an emotional roller coaster. We pays our money and we have a right to moan, but with no ground and our playing budget slashed from last year I sometimes wonder if we have to all get a grip. Football fans can be fickle, it’s easy to forget the good times (be interesting to see how many Manchester United fans stick with them as they slide down the league and into bankruptcy, or is that just wishful thinking?).

Not that I want the banter and abuse to stop. Football is a great way of getting rid of pent up feelings (often brought along by the game the previous week!). I’m reminded of a story a Bromley supporter was telling me. A bloke asks the guy next to him if he minds toning down his language, and he replies, yes he does actually cos its the only chance he gets all week to let off steam!

No doubt our dwindling crowds will dwindle a little more today, as a few supporters go and cheer on Burnham. A village side, with a revamped ground that everyone is well impressed with in the first round for the first time ever. How much salt do they want to rub into our wounds? Still, good luck to them, I really hope they knock out Aldershot and Matty Miller grabs the winner. Or what about Leamington, who only entered the FA Cup for the first time since they reformed after a phone call from Soho Square. After the old club folded when they lost their ground, a bunch of very determined people kept the club going for 12 years without a ball being kicked. Now they are slowly climbing up the pyramid and this Saturday will be put back on the footballing map. Then there’s Ramsgate, always the footballing lessers to neighbours Margate, who are flying high in Ryman Division One. This time last year they were winning 2-0 at Greenwich Borough; now they are in the FA Cup 1st round for only the second time, with AFC Wimbledon at home the following week in the Trophy, which as their manager says is “the biggest fortnight in Ramsgate's history."

And what about Brighton who have been given permission to build a new 22,000 all- seater stadium at Falmer. Their present ground Withden is without doubt the worst in the league and only holds just over six thousand, but somehow they have managed to cling on in the Championship, helped by a crop of youngsters from the Brighton area and a brilliant community set-up. They had their ground sold by their former dodgy chairman for DIY store, have had to endure two seasons of home games at Gillingham and nearly got relegated into the Conference – and now this.

When I do the Fans Forum pieces, nearly everyone old enough mentions our FA Amateur games against Blyth Spartans, Skelmersdale and of course Walton and Hersham as their highlights of watching the Rebels. Countless times I’m stopped on the tube or train after a game by people who see my Slough top and say they used to support the club. The club were flying high and were a real force in non league football. I’ve no doubt one day in the future we will be once again.

I want us to win and do well, but I won’t scream and shout as much as I used to if we don’t. Despite the dreadful performance, a bunch of us were having a good laugh in the pub before the Chelmsford game – then the game goes and gets in the way and spoils it! (The Chelmsford fans were friendly if a little confused, with one asking us who we were playing – er, you lot!). Sometimes the banter as much as the football match is why I make the long journey.

Football is all about the highs and low. About sticking with your club through thick and thin. The last two seasons under Eddie have been great – promotion, the league cup, the FA Cup and Trophy runs. This season I’ll be happy with mid table, getting six points of Windsor and some movement on going back to Slough.

Places Of Distinction

Printed in the programme for the Ryman Premier league game v Chelmsford City 22nd October 2005

I didn’t get my football fix last weekend. I’d promised to sort my girlfriend’s brothers garden as a wedding present. No problem; only take a couple of hours and I could then sneek off to see Enfield Town. Enfield supporters were the first people in the country to break away and form their own fans run club. In my younger Rebel days, Enfield were our big rivals but a dodgy chairman, financial disaster and their ground sold for housing, meant they fell on hard times. Some fans had enough and they formed a breakaway, and have been slowly edging up the football pyramid and now play in the same league as the old Enfield club – with twice as many fans.

Anyway, my plan was scuppered and I found myself first at a garden centre in Highgate then walking on Hampstead Heath. Pleasant enough but not really what Saturdays are for. What struck me being in London was just how many football clubs there are in the capital. But how do all these clubs survive and does it matter if they do?

Edgware Town are the latest club to face footballing oblivion. Developers based in the Isle of Man want to build houses on their ground, and supporters and residents have vowed to fight the proposals. Edgware Chairman Ken Batten said “We will not move from the White Lion ground, it is our home and has been for the last 66 years, before that it was used by Edgware Rugby Club and has been a sports ground for as long as anyone can remember. Too many clubs have succumbed to big business, which buy up grounds and then build on them just to earn a fast buck.”

John Tebbit spelled out in the Maldon programme the damage bulldozers have done to Slough. My old English teacher was leader of the Labour Council, who I would occasionally visit to eat amazing food, drink his beer and argue. He was obsessed with office blocks and to him, they were the answer to all Sloughs prays. When I use to object he would tell me that I wanted everyone to live in mud huts! The vandalism that these office blocks have done to the town cannot be overstated, especially when many have remained empty. The council then have the audacity to point the finger of blame at ‘The Office’ for blackening the town’s image!

But despite the wreckage the town is still distinctive from Windsor, Burnham, Maidenhead, Beaconsfield – and people want their own football club. Even in the sprawl of London, areas felt different. Edgware Town football club add to the local distinctiveness, and their higgldy-piggidly ground is in stark contrast to the faceless hotel that overlooks it and obliterated one of the local pubs in 1997. That pub was The White Lion, which gave the ground its name. So does it matter if Edgware go to the wall? Despite McDonalds, Tescos, Starbucks and their ilk stamping their uniformity over the country, when I was in London I could still pick out different areas and places which looked and felt different. Sure coming out of the tube at Edgware the place feels like just another unremarkable London suburbs, with shopping centre, massive retail parks, and the roar of endless cars. But maybe the people who live there feel differently, and Edgware no doubt has its own history, its nooks and crannies, its own ‘local distinctiveness.’

Local distinctiveness is good for the human spirit, and having a bit of pride in your area is no bad thing. So what is it with these planners who want everywhere to look the same? I was involved in endless battles with developers who were always trying to knock down parts of old Slough and replace them with faceless monstrosities. Whenever I got to ask these people where they lived, it always seemed to be somewhere green and pleasant, miles away from the monstrosities they were proposing. Funny that.

Edgware Town is important for Edgware. Sure, they could ground share with Wealdstone, but why should they? The chairman said, “Our survival is not in question, we are financially stable and our management team has built a side to challenge for promotion this season. Our youth squad is also progressing well in the Allied Counties League. Many local youth teams use the ground for League and Cup Competitions and our function hall is used extensively by the local community.” Each place should have its own football club, its own pubs that don’t have the Weatherspoon stamp, its allotments and community centres, its parks and wild spaces for kids to hang out. Places where people can meet up and socialise out of the confines of work and shopping.

But this isn’t just romantic old tosh, but makes our neighbourhoods better for everyone. After the longest and most expensive study in the history of criminology the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighbourhoods concluded that the most important influence on a neighbourhood’s crime rate is neighbours’ willingness to act for one another’s benefit. The study argued that most major crimes are linked to concentrated poverty and what it calls ‘collective efficacy’ In plain English this means, for example, that if your local park was full of rubbish and the local authority removed it all, the rubbish would probably return in a few weeks. But if the local community organised a meeting to clean up the park, with a chance for people to meet, solve problems and work together, the benefits would most likely be much longer lasting and the park would probably remain cleaner for longer.

The research in the Chicago Neighbourhoods study shows that crime and ‘anti social behaviour’ is most effectively fought not with more laws and more jails, but by building strong communities where people take control of their own lives. On a football level I reckon this means if we feel we have a stake in Slough Town football club then we will go that extra mile for no monetary payment (walking to Worthing springs to mind) and often for a lot of pain and not much gain!

I don’t want the whole world to look the bloody same. I want ramshackle old clubs like Edgware to cling on, a place where people can meet up and have a pint and watch a game of football, without the constant threat of the corporate vultures wanting their pound of flesh.

Sign the on line petition to save Edgware’s ground here.

More Mascots Please

Published in the programme Slough v Staines Town Ryman Premier 11th October 2005

It’s not rocket science, but sometimes it’s worth pointing out the bleedin’ obvious: for most football clubs to thrive and prosper they have to be part of their community. While we have one hand seriously tied behind our back by not playing in Slough, there’s plenty the club and the fans can do to get more people through the turnstiles.

After disappointing crowds at the beginning of the season and complaints about no atmosphere (I won’t bore everyone with the ‘covered ends behind the goals please’ argument) the Oxford City FA Cup game was a great example of when the club got it right.

We had the Slough Juniors sponsored by the Trust in their snazzy Rebel kits, and staff from Barclays as guests who had sponsored the game.

But best for me, one of my nephews, Tyler was mascot for the day.

This meant that ten members of my family (eleven if you count the three month old baby in my girlfriend's belly) came to the game, including my dad who hasn’t been to a football match since he took me to my first ever game – Slough Youth v Liverpool Youth in the seventies when eight thousand somehow squeezed into Wexham Park.

He hates crowds which is probably why he drinks in the Alpha Arms, small enough to be your living room (and, well, it is his living room quite a lot of the time). I told him not to worry, that overcrowding hasn’t really been a problem this season.

My brother’s wife was worried about their four year running round, but we persuaded her to come along, pointing out that a pack of small children running up and down behind the goal was obligatory. Now he wants to be a mascot, and told my mum proudly “I know I’m only little, but I went to a football match.”

For £50 Tyler got free entrance, a Slough top, and three others got in free (although my cousin Mark did complain that the £50 he had to hand over on the gate for sponsoring Tyler wasn’t exactly getting in free for him!)

My brother paid for everyone else - £30 which he said was well cheap, compared to the four Fulham season tickets he has for him and three of his sons.

Even though he looked a bit shell shocked Tyler loved it and wants to do it again, and for his birthday will be getting the DVD of the game with his name being announced and him shaking hands with the captins and the officials. Four of us could have drunk in the directors bar afterwards, but that would have been a bit unfair, on the rest of the family waiting outside!

There should be a mascot for every game. One Rebel came up with the great idea of having a lucky dip draw at schools where the winner gets to be the mascot. We wouldn’t get the £50 but we’d get more people through the gate, people who wouldn’t normally come.

Slough is just another small community club which relies on its supporters to do a lot of the work themselves, but we should all help to sell its strengths. One mate who is a season ticket holder at Reading and comes to our bigger games, brings his two young daughters but would never take them to Reading. He told me “there was a lot to be said for non league football”.

To be fair a lot of our supporters do put a lot of voluntary hours keeping the club and the trust going, but if we want to see bigger crowds then we all have to do our bit. The least we can do is take a few posters of forthcoming matches and stick them up in our local pubs and shops. I’d also say to join the Trust. Then have a think about that football mad young relative who swears allegiance to a premiership club but probably would love to run out on any football pitch in front of a crowd. You could also take the more drastic of increasing our gates, by doing like I have, and getting your girlfriends and wives pregnant!

The Beautiful Game ?

Published in the Ryman Premier League game v Maldon Town 1st October 2005

Anyone who reads my columns will know what I think about the Premiership and the way the game is being run at the top. In David Conn's meticulously researched book 'The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football' he far more eloquently puts into words the problems with our national game.

He sets out his stall with chapters on Arsenal, the Hillsborough disaster and the Bradford City fire; how clubs like Notts County, York and Bury went for the dream and instead nearly went to the wall. How small non league teams like Glossop North End struggle on despite the huge wealth in the game. Lays bare the FA and the Premiership with all their power struggles and rush to grab all of football's cash. "An overwhelming majority of people involved in football believe that the Premier League has far too much of the games money. This has concentrated success in the hands of a couple of clubs, while creating the conditions in which nearly half of the football league clubs have gone out of bust since 1992."

He examines the numerous reports that have set out what is wrong, like the Taylor report, written in response to the deaths at Hillsborough "It is legitimate to wonder whether the directors are genuinely interested in the welfare of their grass-roots supporters. Boardroom struggles for power, wheeler-dealing in the buying and selling of shares, and indeed of whole clubs, sometimes suggest that those involved are more interested in the personal financial benefits or social status of being a director than of directing the club in the interests of its supporter customers."

But the book isn't just a dig at the footballing elite, but also has chapters about how some clubs are trying to do the right thing. There's chapters on Crewe and Charlton Athletic, AFC Wimbledon, Supporters Trusts and the Fans United days where supporters from all over the country descend on a beleagued club to show their support. Another chapter covers the Positive Futures schemes and other community football initiatives, and how football is usually the one thing that kids labelled as anti-social respond too. As one of those women involved in Positive Futures put it about the top clubs "I do think they have forgotten about their communities. Perhaps they've forgotten an important part of what sport is. Certainly they've lost sight of providing access. There is so much good they could do; football is still the most attractive activity for our young people, a great way in to addressing some of society's problems."

Conn clearly loves football and sees it not just as a sport but something that can do real good in our society. "I shouldn't be so outlandish an idea for football clubs to rethink themselves as social institutions, as charities in the broadest sense of the word. They are after all, sports club. That ought to mean more than reaching for the money, paying enormous salaries out to a few players, pounding on for points. If they spent their huge money wisely - all of them, so one doesn't lose out by doing it more than another - they could run vast community programmes, organise many teams, see their grounds used as a hub of general public participation in sport, while still running their first teams as intensely and ruthlessly as ever. Indeed, the two complement each other naturally. The clubs, if they thought through what they are, could see this as a central part of their purpose, rather than a useful commercial add-on...Football is at the peak of its glamour, popularity and riches but is spoiling its great gift with poor management of the cash by clubs wasting it on enormous wages and payments to players and agents."

Of course this goodwill won't go on forever. More clubs are being run by their fans and even some of the supporters of Man United have set up their own club from scratch showing just what's in store when fans are pushed tofar. The problem of overcharging is also dealt with by one Arsenal fan "The support is getting older, and nobody is doing anything about this exclusion of the poor and the next generation of fans."

The challenge for teams such as Slough is to persuade those that currently support top clubs to either ditch them in favour of friendlier, non league clubs which they can feel a part of, or at least adopt us as their second clubs. For that to happen we have to become more and more pro-active in our local communities.

*David Conn 'The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football' is published by Yellow Jersey Press - everyone should read a copy.