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

Under The Radar

Published in the Ryman Premier League game v Braintree Town 3rd September

The plight of Ruislip Manor Football Club probably doesn't feature on the radar of most footie fans, but for the princely sum of £20,000 they could be facing closure in a few weeks time.

In 2000 a Muslim charity brought the complex, which incorporates the sports and social club and football ground, as well as an archery and cricket club from the Ministry of Defence. They have ordered the club to do some essential repairs, money they haven't got. Celebrity astrologer Russel Grant, whose grandparents helped set up the club, has stepped in to try and raise some funds, Staines are lending commercial manager Louise Moss and Wealdstone are also offering their support.

Ruislip Manor was founded in 1938 and a founder member of the Middlesex League. They climbed as high as Division One of the Isthmian League in 1993 but three years later were demoted to the Spartan South Midlands League due to inadequate facilities and have been there ever since. Last season they finished 12th, advanced through two rounds of the F.A Cup, three rounds of the London Senior Cup and reached the final of the Middlesex Millennium Cup. George Kaplanian who recently resigned as chairman after finding his football commitments too much told me "Just like AFC Wimbledon and FC United this is a supporters run club - for the past 15 years everyone bar one, who helps run the club has come from the terraces."

£20,000 is a lot for a club like Ruislip, trying to survive on gates of around 60, but in a game that has never been so wealthy it is obscene that any football club could go under for such a small sum of money.

£20,000 - that's one fifth of Rio Ferdinard's weekly wage, and probably the spare change in Abramovich's pocket. But with every season since the formation of the Premiership the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is becoming a chasm.

Report after football report has stated the bleedin' obvious - too much money is being concentrated at the top end of football. The deluge of money coming into the sport has hardly touched the clubs in the lower leagues, let alone non league. Since 1992 nearly half the league clubs have been bankrupt at any one time, and collection buckets are a familiar site at grounds throughout the country. The attitude of the footballing aristocracy best summed up by former Man United chairman, Martin Edwards who in 1985 said "the smaller clubs are bleeding the game dry. They should be put to sleep." He was complaining about the TV rights at the time, which were far too equal for his liking - so the Premiership came along and kept all the TV money for themselves.

Well, that's not quite true. The Premier league does hand over £20 million a year to the Football Foundation. But even that generosity was thanks to some wheeler dealing by former Football Task Force administrator Andy Burnham. At the time the Premiership was facing a legal challenge from the office of Fair Trading, so Burnham argued that it would be more convincing to argue to the judge that they weren't a cartel of greedy money-grabbing businessman, if they were actually sharing some of their vast wealth with the grassroots game.

As Burnham, now the Labour MP for Leigh, points out "Some of the people involved were genuinely ready to put something back into the community and contribute to the wider welfare of football. But there is no question that had it not been for the threat to the Premier league from the Office of Fair Trade court case there would have been no 5 per cent, and no Football Foundation."

Don't get me wrong, the Foundation does sterling work in dishing out money to improve facilities at the grassroots of the game - but that £20 million a year, matched by the FA and government - comes to £60 million. A huge sum of money; marginally less than the entire wage bill for Arsenal in 2002.

Just think how much could have been achieved with a little more trickle down. Ruislip Manor Football Club might not feature on many peoples radar, but football clubs going out of business is not only bad for football but bad for the communities they represent and society as a whole.

* Anyone who may be able to help Ruislip can call 01895 676168 or visit Ruslip Manor FC