THE BIG SOCIETY
Printed in the FA Trophy 1st Qualifying round v Chippenham Town Saturday 16th October 2010. We drew 1-1 in front of 251.
OK, so I get the Governments ‘Big Society’ idea, even I don’t believe their reasons behind it. Maybe I get it because nowhere is the “Big Society” more evident than in sport. Every week thousands – maybe millions – of people play sports all organised in local communities and often affiliated to non-profit-making national organisations. You can see the Big Society in action at every Slough Town home game. Sure we’ve got a chairman who puts his hand in his pocket to keep us going, but he would be the first to acknowledge that without the people that give their time for free to run the Supporters Trust, be on the management committee, man the turnstiles, write and sell the programme, be a steward, collect wayward balls during games, walk stupidly long distances at the end of the season…well you get the picture.
You want something to happen? Then get involved to make sure it does. Simple. If that’s not the Big Society in action then I don’t know what is.
But sport is something people are willing to give up their free time and energy for because it’s something they enjoy. It is also something that can bring whole communities together. But that enjoyment is being eroded by expensive ticket prices, clubs going into administration or disappearing from the footballing map entirely.
During the World Cup, Supporters Direct - the government-backed initiative to encourage democratic, mutual ownership of football clubs - published a report. It found that for all its faults football remains of immense social value, and its clubs, when not falling into rack and ruin, are widely considered to be rallying points for civic pride. The report concludes that clubs should acknowledge the social role they play and adopt it as one of their core aims.
So perhaps we have to forget the leave-it-up-to you Big Society. If we are to sort out football finances then the FA needs to be leaned on by Big Government to stop so many idiots taking over our clubs. On a local level, councils helped by cash from the Football Foundation should work in partnership to build new facilities. You just need to look at how successful Dartford have been to show you what a really good partnership can achieve.
However, this is where we can see that the Big Society is just mutton dressed up as lamb (which isn’t really surprising as David Cameron apart from being minted comes from a PR background). Thanks to the bankers bail-out, who will still get their bonuses, it is we who have to pay the price and sport is an easy target. So it’s the end of free swimming lessons for under 16’s and over 60’s. The cancellation of a £25 million swimming pool refurbishment programme. No new school buildings will mean clapped out old school gyms will not be refurbished. Councils getting reduced funding will also mean local sport facilities will take a hit.
Of course we should get together to improve our communities – but run our local libraries, schools, leisure centres and rubbish services. Er, isn’t that what we pay local councils to do? Have people really got time to do all this? You won’t exactly get the same buzz as being involved in your local team as sorting out the local bin collection. Call me cynical but Big Society is just an opportunity to close services and push through more privatisation. Still I suppose as we fill in all the pot holes in our street with our uncollected rubbish we can at least have a football sing-song. How about ‘You’re not delivering services anymore.’ Or what about ‘tax top footballers wages and spend it on more sports facilities for all.’? I’m sure one of the lads behind the Slough goal could come up with a catchy tune for that one.