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.

Monday, February 18, 2013

THE WICKER MEN


Printed in the Southern League Division One Central game v Chalfont St.Peter Saturday 16th February 2013. We lost 1-0 in front of 258 people.

As thousands of Brighton and Arsenal fans traded songs at Brighton station, a few of us quietly slipped away for an altogether different footballing experience. Never mind the FA Cup 4th round glamour tie everyone was talking about, we were heading for Southwick for a Sussex County League Two game v Seaford Town.  It didn’t seem quite right to shout ‘Come on you Wickers’ in case people thought we were DIY superstore enthusiasts.
Over the past decades Southwick have fallen not just on hard times and at one point hard drugs. Founded in 1882, they were original members of the Sussex County League which they have won four times. In the eighties they had a spell in the Ryman League reaching Division One before the money ran out and they ended up back in the County. They even got to the 1st Round proper of the FA Cup in 1974/5 before losing 5-0 to AFC Bournemouth. The ground used to have a stand but this was lost to a fire in the late 1990s.
The last time I went to Southwick wasn’t a particularly pleasant affair. One of those moments when you walk into a bar, the piano stops and the whole place grunts and stares. The chairman at the time ended up getting 14 years in prison after being found with £120,000 of cocaine on him.
Fast forward five years and we are greeted by a cheerful turnstile operator encouraging us to ‘buy a raffle ticket, save the club’. How could we resist.
The bar has been given a make over thanks to a £100,000 grant from the Football Stadia Improvement Trust and is open seven days a week. Selling beers is probably more likely to save the club than a couple of raffle tickets, but it all helps. And the atmosphere was a whole lot better than the last time.
The pitch was muddy and rutted but at least the game was on after another Saturday wild weather wipe out. As we settled in the higgidly-piggidly stand, the ladies of Seaford also took their seats. Over the next 45 minutes they gently chided the rather plump old lino. The ref came over and told them to give him a break and the lino then asked if they were on day release! At half time we were told he nearly didn’t go back on and had never had so much abuse.
Now I’m all for giving officials a break. I’m bored of reading football forums and moaning managers blaming refs for this and that mistake, when they are only human and footballers make as many if not more mistakes in a game. But really this was very good natured. When we heard he didn’t want to come back on we were rather perplexed and wondered about the sheltered life he’d lived.
Back to the game, with Southwick a bit thin on the ground cos so many had grabbed tickets for the visit of Arsenal. Seaford took advantage and ended up 2-0 winners while people kept everyone up to date with how the Albion were doing.
I know I don’t have to tell Slough supporters about the joys of non league football but I think most of the AMEX crowd would probably think I need my head read for preferring Southwick to watching the Arsenal. But I like the friendly atmosphere, the knowledge that if you strike up a conversation with a stranger they won’t think your mad.
Southwick are the second worse supported club in Division Two with crowds averaging just 30 (which is a 30% increase on last season) so as a punter you are important to the club. And for just four quid entrance, I’ll definetly be back to Old Barn Way to cheer on the Wickers and maybe next time buy that lucky winning raffle ticket. 

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