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

Merger Most Foul

Printed in the Slough Town programme v Thurrock FA Trophy 4th Round 6th February 2005

Remember Burnham and Hillingdon Borough? In 1985 Hillingdon lost their ground and were about to fold, so decided to merge with Burnham who took their place in the Southern League. Just two seasons on and the Hillingdon bit of the title was dropped. Four years later Hillingdon Borough (1990) FC emerged and now play in the Spartan South Midlands League.

So what’s this piece on non league trivia got to do with the Rebels?

One way Slough Council would like to wriggle out of helping to find us a new home in the borough would be to merge with another local club. Windsor for example, have a ground but could do with some more supporters. Slough are well supported, but homeless - so put the Rebels and the Royalists together – and bingo! Problems solved.

Except that’s not how I or many other Slough fans see it.

I remember when I first started watching Slough in the late seventies, we would regular play against Walthamstow Avenue, Ilford and Leytonstone- three of the amateur game's most famous clubs. But over a period of time these clubs disappeared and amalgamated and eventually we were left with just Dagenham and Redbridge FC. Initially this new monster of a club didn’t see any real increase in crowds – it was only some good cup runs and decent Conference campaigns that people started to flock to Victoria Road.

As for those three proud East London clubs, Ilford and Walthamstow Avenue have reformed, albeit at a lower level in the pyramid. And there’s the rub. Despite identikit housing estates and High Street chains doing there best to make every town centre in the country look the same, towns do have their own identity. Slough is a very distinct place from Windsor, Maidenhead, Burnham or Beaconsfield. The Rebels are steeped in history and I feel part of the club. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t bother with all the travelling if the Rebels ever did merge – it wouldn’t feel like my club, it wouldn’t be the same one that I’ve seen play so many times.

I’m not alone. Oxford United fans weren’t best pleased when dodgy crook Robert Maxwell came up with the idea of them merging with Reading to create Thames Valley Royals. A few seasons back some shareholders of Oswestry Town said they preferred their club to fold and that any assets be donated to Morda United or Ellesmere Rangers rather than see the club merge with its former Welsh Premier rivals Total Network Solutions. Total Network used to be called Llansantffraid until a new chairman took over and decided to rename the club after his company. But he became stuck with his expansion plans and when Oswestry, one of the oldest clubs in the world, were forced to resign from the League of Wales with crippling debts he pounced and despite protests from some shareholders, the clubs merged and a new stadium is now being built in Oswestry – although the club will just be known as TNS (The TNS chairman was one of the main people who hassled the BBC to include the League of Wales results on sports report – nothing like a bit of free advertising). Even local Slough councillors don’t like the idea of merging when it comes to their club.

When one of our supporters asked an old acquaintance and now a Slough Borough councillor who happens to be a Watford supporter how we would like it if Watford merged with Luton Town the councillor looked at him in disgust. Surely this cannot be the same councillor who reckons it’s a good idea for Slough to merge?

Sometimes mergers works – Rushden and Diamonds were two small footballing sides who were amalgamated under chairman Max Griggs, who pumped money into the new club until they eventually reached Division Two. But that’s not really the point. For hard nosed businessmen, chairman and lazy councillors, a merger can feel like a good plan, but for us footie fans who are irrational, emotional people who value history and a sense of belonging to something special, its not an option.

Sorry, but Windsor Rebels or Maidenhead and Slough United just doesn’t do it for me.