These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Monday, October 23, 2006

UTTERLY POINTLESS

Printed in the Ryman League match v Billericay 14th October. We won 2-0 - our first home win of the season. It felt good!

East Stirlingshire FC are Britain's worst team. The Shire, as they are known, have finished bottom of the Scottish Third Division three years on the run, so writer Jeff Connor decided it would be a good idea to spend a season immersed in the club. Agreeing to give 10% of his royalties to them in exchange for access to the boardroom, the dug-out and the dressing-room, the book is a no holes barred warts an all story about the club.

The players earn no more than £10 a week (paid in coins), the manager works for free and the ever-absent chairman is busy trying to sell the dilapidated ground with apparently no thought for where they might go.

It could have been a tale of unrelenting depression, but Connor has a keen eye for the ridiculous and his book brings out the absurdity of the situations he witnesses. It's funny in a not too derogatory way. Mind you just reporting the goings on at the Shire is ridiculous enough.

For the past four seasons they have finished bottom. During the 2002-3 season, adrift at the foot of Division Three after 25 successive games without a win, they looked set to equal the worst ever season by a Scottish club. They managed to avoid that but still finished the season with eight points from a possible 108. A repeat of the dismal league form could see them finally lose their league status, although this season they’re seven points ahead of Elgin who’ve yet to get a point. The club has also agreed to sell its Firs Park home subject to planning permission. The deal is reported to be worth £1.5million, but no decision has been made on the club’s new home.

Connor admits he set out to poke fun, but along the long, hard season he gets bitten by the bug “Like the majority of the other sceptics and provocateurs – the Sun, Sunday Sport, Daily Record, Front and Loaded – I had arrived at Firs Park with a self-imposed remit to scoff and deride and had bathed myself in an air of heightened contempt. But all that had changed. I had become a fan. Not a supporter in the sense that I would offer up a large part of my life to them, as so many of the Shire followers did – but an admirer.”

This isn’t a book for anyone looking for insights into how much of a tactical genius you have to be in order to send out a team to play the beautiful game. With Connor as the fly on the dressing room wall, manager Dennis Newall reveals the secret of his team's lack of success through his masterful delivery of such inspiring team talks as, 'get your arse into gear' and, before a match against those pansy-arsed prima donnas from Gretna, 'When they have the ball you go right through them, I want their physio to be living on that pitch.'

It’s a good a commentary about the heart of football in Scotland, and says everything about what it is to follow a football team – even one as hopeless as East Stirlingshire. “I confess here and now that I began the season with the hope – kept well concealed, of course – that the Shire would lose every match, farcically lose every match, and thus justify the title of the book. But by mid February that had changed. I had come to realise that I wanted the Shire to win. Unrestricted access to the Shire had transformed me from cynical chronicler into rabid fan.” One incident gets two officials laughing at him “He’s caught it. You’ve got the Shire-itis. God help you now.”

Which explains a lot, and got me to diagnoses a similar symptom in myself, that makes me travel miles to watch a homeless club gearing up for another battle against relegation : Slough-itis, it is then.

Football isn’t just about glory. Infact following teams like East Stirlingshire must also be about a sense of belonging – even a backs-against-the-wall mentality. Indeed in one striking paragraph, just finishing second from bottom above Albion Rovers would be something to celebrate for the club.

Every Slough fan should get a copy of this book. When it seems that all the trouble in the world is being heaped upon our shoulders, it’s worth remembering that there’s more to football than just playing and winning games.

* ‘Pointless - A Season With Britain's Worst Football Club’ by Jeff Connor; (Headline Books 2005)

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