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

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.