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, March 23, 2008

MEETING THE GRADE

Published in the Southern League South and West game v Burnham Saturday 22nd March 2008. We lost 3-0 in sunshine and blizzards. Had our sixth new manager in two seasons and are deep into relegation trouble. Dog and Duck League here we come!


It’s that ‘squeaky bum’ time of the year where teams across the country are worrying about relegation and promotion – and for those of us in the non league pryamind, ground grading rules and regulations.

Already the Blue Square are welding the big stick threatening clubs with relegation if they haven’t got their grounds up to scratch and throughout the non league pyramid, every club seems to have a ground grading horror story.

Many moons ago, Slough finished eighth in the Conference. Unfortunately we didn’t have the required number seats in our stand, it went to a vote and we were booted out of the league.

Evesham United were ground sharing at Worcester City when they were told by the Southern League that they would not be promoted because Worcester’s ground wasn’t up to scratch. Forget the fact that Worcester were playing two leagues higher in the Conference and had passed their ground grading rules! Mind you the reason for rejection was a serious one – there were gaps under advertising boards surrounding the pitch!

Many moons ago when Wealdstone were playing their home games at Watford’s Vicarage Road, they had to have their own portable dugouts because the Football League club’s dugouts weren’t deemed suitable by the Southern League.

When Yeovil Town moved to their new ground in the mid 1990's, the Isthmian League apparently had to think twice before passing the ground fit for their Premier Division as there was no covered terracing, even though there were five thousand covered seats!

Walton Casuals originally failed ground grading because the seats in their new stand weren’t numbered! Instead of allowing them to number the seats while they were there officials made them wait over two months before coming back and passing the ground just a couple of weeks before the season started. Burscough have to spend £60,000 on improvements even though they are moving to a new ground. Or what about Beaconsfield and that extra set of turnstiles – when was the last time they were used?

While these stories might make us laugh, unfortunately they are not isolated incidents. Unless there are real safety issues surely flexibility should rule the day. Just what is the point in spending money on facilities that hardly anyone will ever use?

Clubs at Step 5 of the pyramid must have a capacity of 1,000 with 250 covered of which 150 must be seats. Take a club like Whitehawk (basically an estate in Brighton) whose picturesque ground has a decent covered stand but no seats - hardly necessary in crowds that average 57. But so what, they face relegation unless they build a new stand – one that will undoubtedly be as distinctive as a Tesco superstore.

Now I am all for facilities being improved for the spectator, but forcing clubs who are lucky if they get 100 people come through the gate into over the top ground improvements is ridiculous. Especially when many of these clubs should spend the time and money on improving the most important part – the pitch.

The story of Merstham just about sums it all up. A few seasons back they won promotion from the Combined Counties League only to fail the ground grading. The foundations were in place for a new stand but unfortunately the steel supplier let them down. So when the ground grading committee turned up, despite Merstham having the plans, receipts and the ground work done, they turned them down. 10 days later the stand was erected in hours so they appealed. That cut no slack with the bureaucrats who once again rejected their request, telling them there could be no exceptions with the rules and that grounds must be on budget and ready by the given date.

What, just like Wembley stadium?!


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