Printed in the FA Cup 2nd Qualifying round game v
Eastbourne Town. Sunday 23rd September 2012. We won 5-1 in front of
FA Cup first qualifying round day and me and a few Brighton
season ticket holders are heading to Whitehawk,
one of the poorest estates in the country. Not that you could get a more
picturesque ground, nestled at the bottom of the South
with a winding country lane to the entrance. Their opponents
Sittingbourne have brought a few very lively fans who sing throughout the game
despite being crushed 5-0. I don’t know what they eat in Sittingbourne, but they
are the fattest bunch of fans I’ve ever seen.
The last time I went to Whitehawk they were bumbling along in
the Sussex County League Division One. Crowds of about fifty huddled in an old
wooden shed and tea was served in mugs. Fast forward a few years and they are
now in the Ryman Premier with a local backer aiming for Conference South and
League football eventually.
Whitehawks ground is slowly being transformed and crowds have
picked up but Conference South. League Football. Really? For a team on a housing
estate in Brighton
? Is this another non league
financial car crash waiting to happen? Just look at Truro City
who beat Whitehawk a few years back
in the FA Vase. They were fired up the leagues by a chairman’s generous pockets.
Now he’s bankrupt and the club in administration
A bracing walk over the Downs
would find you in Lewes, a place that couldn’t be
more different to the Whitehawk estate. Just like the Hawks, Lewes accelerated
up the leagues until they found themselves seriously out of their depth in the
Conference. A season of horror and financial disaster saw them eventually become
a supporter’s run club. This season they announced, unusually for a football
club, just what their playing budget was going to be for the season. It meant
cuts but they said they were now only going to spend what they received in
income. It will probably mean promotion will be on hold, but surely that’s more
preferable than no club at all.
Windsor and Eton FC were sunk with staggering debts of 283,000. Chairman Kevin Stott said this wouldn't happen again and looked at ways of making the reformed club more sustainable. Last season saw them finish second in the Combined Counties Premiership with a playing budget probably the highest in the league. Just six weeks into the new season that budget was gone. And so are most of the players. Negotiations for a long-term lease of the ground, a new 3G pitch and gym facility have dragged on a lot longer than planned, as they do. Their chairman said "I do not want us to be in a position where we are top of the league and in the quarter-finals of the FA Vase and not be able to fund the rest of the season. The main objective is to protect the immediate future of the football club and be in a position to work on the long term future." Windsor fans will probably have to get used to the Combined Counties.
With the FA relaxing its rules on 4-G pitches expect more clubs to go the way of Maidstone United who after 19 years finally have their own ground where matches are played on an artificial pitch.
Supporters demand success - but at what cost the long term future of our clubs? As Windsor's chairman Stott said "We are working on different timescales - in my head 10 years is nothing for but others that can be too long to wait."
My heart says get out of this bloody league at all costs, but in the cold sober light of day I know that the only way clubs like Slough Town will move forward is to find as many income streams as possible and return home. And for that we will have to be patient and not break the bank.