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

Punching Above Your Weight

Printed in the Slough Town programme v Staines Town Ryman Premier League 12th April 2005

Last weekend a Fulham supporter who sometimes finds himself watching the Rebels said he wasn’t bothered if his team got relegated “We aren’t really a Premiership side anyway.” For a man who has seen the ups and downs of Fulham over the years the attitude was refreshing. So are Fulham punching above their weight? Is it Premiership at any cost? Or was he just being disloyal?

On Radio Fives Fighting Talk Steve Bunce’s reply to a question about which sports teams were punching above their weight, was "Cambridge United - they're bottom of the league and still punching above their weight".

On the way back from the Hampton game I got chatting to a couple of Middlesborough supporters, who started talking about the next level for them. They’ve won a cup (their first silverware in nearly 100 years) and played in Europe. So where is their next level I wondered? The champions league fourth spot? I didn’t want to tell them I reckoned they’ve peaked and this was as good as it would get for them.

And what about Aldershot and AFC Wimbledon - very big fish in the lower leagues, not so if they eventually get back in the league. But how far can they go? What about Macclesfield Town – the worst supported team in the league averaging less than 2,400 punters per game. Was League football a punch too far, and they are destined to end up back in the Conference?

So what about Slough – are we a Premiership (were talking Ryman Premiership here) or a Conference side? We certainly seemed to be very big fish in Ryman Division One when our away support would dwarf many of the home teams fans and had me scratching my head as how some of those clubs survive on gates of 50 to 100. With a ground in Slough (and a population not much smaller than Middlesborough) I reckon we are Conference material and could once again get gates of a thousand plus if we were back in the borough.

Of course, one of the reasons we love football, is that it is not an exact science and nothing is set in stone. Many clubs could be said to be punching above their weight thanks to cashed up chairman or decent manager and squad of players. Thankfully outside the Premiership elite, anything can happen, and it usually does in non league. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that Yeading could soon be a Conference side? Weren’t Billericay in Ryman League Division Three and lifting the FA Vase just a decade or so back? At the other end, Dover and Kingstonian were Conference sides not so long ago, and both look like they are heading for Divison One. Yet on Bank Holiday Monday Dover attracted over 2,000 spectators at their local derby against Folkestone!

So will Slough have had a good season if we finish mid table? I reckon it’s been a success even if we don’t win promotion. For me it’s not just the watching football that’s important, but also about being part of a community. Enjoying the beer and banter before, during and after a game. Take the Gravesend Trophy match – which was one of the best days out I’ve had all season. OK, so we lost in the pouring rain. But the atmosphere in the pub beforehand was brilliant, our fans got behind the team despite being soaked and the train trip back was full of football banter with people supporting different clubs.

As for Fulham; well my brothers eldest son is a season ticket holder and isn’t so keen on the idea of relegation especially if they sell all there best players. He announced over Sunday dinner that if it happened he wouldn’t be going anymore – which would probably mean more visits to watch the Rebels! Fulham relegation or not, let’s hope he’ll be cheering us on next season as we punch above our homeless weight straight into the Conference South.