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.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

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.