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, January 07, 2007

THE WAY FORWARD?

Should have been published in the Ryman Premier League game v Harrow Borough 6th January 2007 - but the match was called off because of a waterlogged pitch.

What will become of Slough Town Football Club? With relegation looking more and more likely should the club become supporters run? And if the Supporters Trust took over what would that mean? Who would run the club day to day? Do the accounts? Sort out the playing budget? Look for sponsorship? Get local business on side and a million other jobs that have to be done?

For some of these answers, we should look at Enfield Town, who became the first supporters run team in the country, when members of the Enfield Supporters' Trust voted overwhelmingly to break away from the old club and start afresh over five years ago.

When the club became homeless following the sale of their ground for housing, they shared with no less than six different clubs, before the Enfield Chairman settled on a long-term ground share with Borehamwood in Hertfordshire ten miles away. Support soon dwindled and, worried that their club may never return to the borough, a group of supporters forced the local council to tackle the problem. A joint 'task force' was set up and after many months of negotiations three sites were identified as a possible new home. However, the Enfield Chairman failed to act upon their findings, and so with the considerable help of Supporters Direct, The Enfield Supporters' Trust was formed, culminating in the historic decision to break away and form Enfield Town FC.

One of there supporters Keith Smith told me more “It is great to have a major financial backer for a football club if they have deep pockets and a massive heart for the club and its members, but clubs do in return become dependent on them and they have needs which do not always correlate with the fans. The Enfield FC ground at Southbury Road was sold in 1999 (and yes I get a lump in my throat and feel sick every time I look at the housing estate built on it). Enfield FC became homeless. Enfield Town FC was formed as the first ever Supporters Trust to own a football club as we wanted to remain within the borough and were not willing to continue to travel.

We were all fans but didn’t know too much about running a football club. Many of the former officers of Enfield FC at that time joined the new venture and helped us all learn the official ropes whilst many of us brought in raw life and business skills.

We were fortunate that the Essex Senior League welcomed us in with open arms until it was our time to move onward and upward into the Southern and subsequently sideways to the Ryman League. On the pitch our luck held on and we attracted a former Enfield FC manager to be our first team manager. He was able to use his contacts to build us a strong team and we soon began to win trophies.

Money is a tough one and always will be. Everybody wants money (landlords, players) and the skill is having a business model and sticking to it rigidly. If you spend it on the rent you cannot spend it on the players. There is no fat cat to underwrite the excess expenditure.

The Supporters trust key is that we are all equals, those that forget it soon get some corners knocked off (including myself) - learning as a group of individuals that have never worked together before to get on. The Chairman is no less important than the golden goal seller or the volunteer who forks the pitch after the downpour. The Trust becomes a family – I would argue that as a fan base we are closer to each other and the teams than at other clubs, because if we don’t do the jobs, nobody else will, it is as simple as that. Like other families we squabble and have disagreements. A Supporters Trust run club is not an easy option but it is good to have a vision of success and go for it.

We have been fortunate to share our experiences with other trusts. It has been a great pleasure to see AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester start up although we would not wish their circumstances on anyone. Maybe things have to get so bad before fans will find the courage to step out. i.e. There is nothing to lose.

We are happy to talk to anyone too share what we have achieved and what we continue to hope to achieve. Is it too left wing almost communist? Maybe but when you’ve been hurt by entrepreneurial failures do you trust your community spirit to someone whose agenda may not be yours? Would I as a fan set up as Supporters Trust again with less fear and trepidation? Yes.”

So could the Slough Town Supporters Trust take over the running of our club? Personally I think there is no better time, to try to steady the financial ship, to fight to get a ground back in the town and become what all football clubs should be, a valuable community asset. Would it be such a big step? Many of our supporters already help with the running of the club on a voluntary basis. What it would mean that no one would have overall control of the purse strings and an end to the cloak and dagger secrecy that drives fans up the wall.

Enfield’s history is bound up with Sloughs. They won the Conference, the FA Trophy's and played in front of 70,000 in Amateur cup finals, and still hold the record for England semi-pro caps. Financial irregularities in the nineties meant that Enfield were barred from taking their place in the Conference, and instead it was second placed Slough who were promoted. Like Slough, the old Enfield club put forward a planning application to redevelop their old stadium ground, but there plans for a 15,000 all seater stadium sharing with rugby club Saracens, was rejected.

With their supporters coming together, they have climbed up the pyramid and forged strong links with the local community. The Club's long-term aim however, is to establish their own home within the borough and negotiations continue with the local council to achieve this. Perhaps the only blip has been the fact that the old Enfield club soldier on as well, when together they could become a much stronger force.

But the fact is that the club remains under the ownership of its supporters and is living proof of the ability of these people to create and successfully run a senior football club, offering inspiration and advice other supporters' groups throughout the country who wish to have a greater say in how their club is run. As their mandate puts it “We cannot guarantee success but we can guarantee that the commitment and generosity of supporters will benefit just the club and the aims of the Enfield Supporters Society. No individual will gain from the efforts of the supporters.”

Football clubs are not business propositions, they are community assets, their value cannot be measured in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. Just as economists know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, many chairman and councils see football grounds as quick fix ways to get rich and develop the land – but at what price? Football is able to cross many boundaries and barriers and get people working together who wouldn’t normally mix and become part of the social glue that binds communities together. In such a transient town like Slough with so many different people and cultures that is something worth fighting for. As Norwich City fan Delia Smith put it “Football is the best kind of community you’re likely to be exposed to in the twenty-first century. And community is where we flourish and become human. Football can be wonderful, life-enhancing.”

Whatever league Slough end up in next season I feel its time to take the bull by the horns, for all of us supporters to join the Trust and become actively involved in putting our club back into the heart of the Slough community.

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