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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Printed in the Ryman Premier League Boxing Day fixture against Ashford Town. We lost 2-0 in front of a very poor crowd of 250 people. More players have left, we got stuffed 5-0 at Chelmsford a few days before, the club are heading for oblivion...

At the beginning of the season I was thinking of putting my literay talents towards writing a book. Inspired by a book about Britain’s worst footie team East Stirlingshire, surely the public would want to know what it’s like following Slough for a season.‘Travels with a struggling non league club’ might not have become a best seller, and I hoped to come up with something a bit more catchy by the time it came out, but there’s enough non league enthusiasts to flog a few and maybe even make a bit of cash for the Supporters Trust.

But with a new baby I just didn’t think I had the time, and instead decided to stick all my articles on a blog. What a mistake! Half way through the season and its already been a soap opera at Slough Town. We’ve seen players threaten to go on strike and then leave at an alarming rate as wages never materialised; we are in a financial crisis which even by our standards is impressive. We’ve had to play games with half our small squad either injured or suspended. Still despite getting thrashed at Boreham Wood with the most patched up squad ever, it was our players that were clapped off the pitch, while Wood supporters barely made a whisper. We’ve visited the usual places, but also been to some new ones like Cobhams delightful Leg O’ Mutton ground, so posh it had a farmers market outside its gates. Great for olives and stuffed vine leaves to hand out to the newley gentrified Rebel fans (ok, halved refused and most could be seen stuffing their faces from the BBQ Cobham officials had laid on). We witnessed a 25 man brawl at Worthing. We had a nice trip to Ramsgate in the autumn sun (but the less said about the delights of Margate the better) and a battling scoreless draw against AFC Wimbledon in front of a decent crowd. We lost a great manager in Eddie Denton, obvioulsy exhausted by the whole sorry Slough soap opera – hey, at least Eddie you can walk away, we’re stuck with supporting this club!

There seems no real significant news on a move back to Slough. And as for football on the ‘best playing surface in the league’ – for who? Ducks? To be fair, the whole of December’s rain fell in just 24 seconds, so we went ages without a game and well, this Boxing Day fixture will probably be cancelled as well (which would be bloody annoying as it’s my birthday).

And yet, despite all this, I still enjoy coming to the games, well at least the social aspect (the Hendon game might have been called off, but at £2.30 a pint a few of us felt it our duty to stay till gone 5pm, drinking and chatting to various players and officials).

Of course there’s grumblings behind the goal, but supporters of any team like nothing more than a good old moan. At this level, its more real. We can chat to the players, some of whom are loyal to the club, drink during the game, change ends at half time, exchange pleasentries with oposition fans (when they’ve got any) and never pay more than a tenner to get in.

The fans i’ve interviwed for the programme’s Fans Focus who have mobility problems have nothing but praise for the club and its friendliness and willingness to go that extra mile to accomodate them. The Trust fought the local elections and did pretty well. The supporters team even won a game last Saturday, thanks in part to two young lads who play for the youth team the Trust sponsors.

So will there be a club to support next season? Will be have to start again at the bottom of the pyramid pile? The next few months in the relegation dog fight will no doubt have plenty more twists and turns. Better start writing that book.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Printed in the Ryman League programme v Hampton & Richmond Borough Saturday 16th December. Quite a few new players, but we still lost 3-0 on a bog of a pitch.

Us footie fans don’t seem to really care if our clubs are in a financial mess and our dreams built on sand if the team is doing well. We all enjoyed Slough Towns Conference days, loved the ride, lived the dream – unfortunately we are paying for it now. It was Alan Sugar who said most football clubs are run as if some bloke decides to have a massive blowout one weekend for his friends and families, then spends the rest of his life paying it back.

Ian Ridley, decided to live his dream and become the chairman of Weymouth Football Club, the team he had supported all his life. His book ‘Floodlit Dreams’ is very enjoyable and very readable; well it should be as he is a top sports journalist and has a lot more to say then those Premiership stars who churn out books – they might perform well on the pitch, but have the charisma of a potato.

He arrived with a pall of gloom hanging over the Wessex Stadium, and set about making things better. Running the place more professionally, weaving it more into the fabric of the local community, establishing an academy and his ace card - getting journeyman Steve Claridge to become the player manager.

Ridley who spends his time covering the big football games, still clearly loves non league. “I never thought about it being non league football in those days. It was just football. I never thought about the appeal of it, all its qualities, as I would do later in life. As I aged I loved this antidote to the Premiership and its glitz. You could turn up five minutes before kick off if you wanted, stil get in comfortably. Or you could arrive an hour before and have a drink in the bar, even stand there sympathizing with a player who had been dropped. If you were so inclined you could give the chairman and manager the benefit of your wisdom after the game. In between, you felt a part of it, part of something manageable. It was the human, affordable side of the game.” He talks of a trip to Lewes “My first Saturday away from my job and with the team took me to the charming Sussex town of Lewes for an FA Trophy tie. The hospitality and atmosphere at the progressive little club, in their quaint stadium called the Dripping Pan, on the site of an old monastery and where the pitch was below the level of tall grass banks around it, was far more enjoyable, more like real football in England, than any Premiership experience.” That game ended 8-5 to Weymouth and me and some mates who went along couldn’t quite believe what we had just watched.

But even in non league, being chairman became a full time and very demanding job “Counting the pennies, fixing the leaking roofs, getting everything ready for the new season trying to get new sponsors on board, getting a buzz about the place, and all this dealing with his dads death trying to turn the place around and make it more professional – whilst keeping it a friendly, welcoming place to be. All consuming.” And then was it worth it? “It had been a long day, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Football I was finding out, was like that. You experience as many triumphs and diasters in a day as in a month in most other walks of life.”

I like the fact that Ridley didn’t treat Weymouth as a business. Run a football club properly, but it shouldn’t be a way of making yourself rich “It had always been my personal believe that clubs should not be in the business of making money. As a chairman, of course, I had a duty of financial care to the club, eo ensure that debts did not get out of hand and the club enter either adminstration or bankruptcy. But I did not belive that clubs should exist for making big sums of money for owners or shareholders. I had not come into the game to make money, just to enjoy my club performing better. I personally would have handed any dividend on my own shares back to the club. The aim, in my view, was to break even each season. It would be a sign that you were doing the job properly, putting as much money as you could into the team, providing the fans with the best team they could see without getting the team into trouble. Any profit or windfall, such as from a cup run, should go into improving the team or facilities the next season.”

During Ridleys short sixteen month spell the club finished second twice - missing out on promotion. As he puts it “The club was revitalised to the point where it had become attractive to people never previously interested in it, and I still worried about the motices and intentions of people who might know the price of everything but may not comprehend its value. And expectation is the biggest burden of any football club.” The man who took over as chair is clearly not Ridleys mate and he recounts the tale of a major shareholder who wanted to return the club to a more benevolent ownership, eventually handing it over to a supporters trust, an idea blocked by the new chair. “I was reminded of a witty and appropriate observation by a colleague ‘I don’t know where football keeps finding these people, but I wish it would stop looking.’

Weymouth are flying high in the Conference, but Ridley claims this is all built on stand. This isn’t just a book about Weymouth, but a book about the whole way football is run.
Is it OK to live the dream, if that eventually drives your team into oblivion?

* Floodlit Dreams – how to save a football club’ by Ian Ridley is published by Simon & Schuster.

Monday, December 11, 2006


This article about games being called off should have appeared in the programme for league game against East Thurrock United - but the game was called off. Oh, the irony. Spent the day in Seven Sisters with my family instead. Very nice - but it wasn't football was it?

Call me old fashioned, but I thought December was the month of wet muddy pitches with a bucketful of sand in the goalmouths. But obviously this was all new to the ref in charge of last Saturdays game at Hendon. Rain during Friday night had left a tiny rectangle of the pitch just outside the penalty area in a poor condition, but Hendon supporters, players and club officials worked hard, laying sand and ensuring no surface water was visible. The remainder of the playing area looked in good nick – and there hadn’t been a game called off at Claremont Road in almost five years. The players and managers wanted the game to go ahead but the ref didn’t and used the excuse that players could slide into the hoardings.

So a wasted trip to Hendon, which got me thinking about other games I’ve gone to that haven’t happened. Most disapointing was against Windsor two seasons back.

I’d stayed in Slough for Christmas Day, and was up bright and early ready to celebrate my birthday with a a few drinks and a victory over our landlords. But when I arrived people were leaving, the pitch frozen, the game off. I headed by train to London trying to find any footie to go to, before giving up and sulking depressingly sober back to Brighton trying to russtle up some friends to have a drink with me on the Pier and rescue the day.

Before the days of the internet and mobile phones, checking matches were on was a bit of a lottery, especially in those halycon days of the Conference when away games could be miles away. My cousin Mark, Pleb (who co wrote our fanzine ‘Rebels Without A Clue’) and me were driving down the M40 on the way Cheltenham with the snow getting heavier, visibility down to zero and a blizzard starting to blow. By the time we got to Oxford it became apparent to even us idiots that this sort of weather was not condusive to playing football, and when we did what we should have done in Slough – phone Cheltenham Town Football Club – we found that the match had been called off.

I’d not seen Slough play for a few seasons, when they were drawn away to Crawly in the FA Cup and as it was just up the road thought i’d go along. My friend persuaded me to take her son to his first football match and I agreed as I always think it’s best to start kids off at the grassroots part of the game. For a start it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, the kids have more freedom to run round, and if they say they are bored they can have an unoffical game of footie in some forgotton corner to keep themselves amused. I think it’s also good to show them that the world of football aint all Premiership glitz and glammer. At eight months Ruben is already on his fifth game, but Hendon was to have been his cousins Rafi first match at the grand age of six weeks old. Mind you, I couldn’t really tell if he was upset or not as he slept the whole afternoon anyway.

Anyway back to Crawley. Waiting in the bar we heard the game was off due to a waterlogged pitch. But trying to explain to an inquistive three year old why was proving hard work – ‘why is there no football game’, ‘why does it rain’, ‘why are there clouds’– on and on went the why’s on the journey back to Brighton. I finally gave up trying to answer and just replied all Buddha like ‘Because.’

Two seasons ago I got my map round the wrong way when I arrived at Walton train station. I got hopelessly lost and in the pouring rain couldn't find any living soul to point me in the right direction. Eventually I arrived at Stompond Lane soaked and starving thanks to rushing straight from work. They were friendly enough in the kitchen, but being vegetarian was causing them problems and all they could offer was a stale bun with processed cheese and some fried onions. After watching two minutes of the first half, the game was abandoned and I was sat dripping wet, cold and hungry on the train station questioning my sanity.

One Christmas I went to see Worthing play Lewes. The ground was packed (there was no Premiership footie on the TV, and the massive crowd just proved how so many games on TV is affecting gates) and as the rain poured down the pitch began to resemble a river.

Former Slough goalkeeper Dominique Jean-Zepherin then went on one of his infamous mazy runs out of the penalty box to near the halfway line, was tackled and a Worthing player kicked the ball towards the goal. It was just about to fly in when it hit a puddle so large ducks had taken up residence. It rolled onto the mud and stuck on the goal line. The ref had enough and the game was abandoned.

So from having no games called off last season, that’s two in a row. Still as the ever chirpy Matty Miller pointed out in the Hendon bar afterwards – at least it’s been three weeks since Slough last lost a game!