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.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

LIVING THE DREAM

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.

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