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.

Friday, January 16, 2015

ALIVE AND KICKING

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Weymouth on Saturday 17th January 2015. We beat the league leaders 3-0 in front of 328 people.

Being a lower league football fan in London isn't for the faint hearted. Where once stood magnificent stadiums bursting with song now there are housing estates or supermarkets. Where once all the capitals football teams could rely on big crowds, now those that are left face a relentless battle with an apathetic public and an insane property market, whose vultures circle ready to asset strip until there are no community spaces left. These people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Hillingdon Borough, Southall, Hendon, Edgware Town, Walthamstow Avenue, Leytonstone, Hayes, Ilford. Enfield. The list goes on.
The once mighty Wealdstone, the first club to do the Conference and Trophy double, were rewarded with their chairman selling their ground to Tescos and getting very little money from the sale. After a financially crippling spell at Watford, they groundhopped round the capital and even had a ground half built, before contractors went bust and Barnet eventually moved in. They have now settled in the idyllic setting of Ruislip, a club who themselves folded due to a lack of interest. Ruislip metamorphosed into Tokyngton Manor F.C.and now groundshare at Amersham. Meanwhile Wealdstone are on the up, crowds have rocketed and they will now forever be synomous with the 'wantsum' Raider.
Dulwich Hamlet, whose glorious old Champion Hill, was a glorious old wreck by the time they moved out are finally bringing back some of the glory days thanks to clever football and even clever marketing. Last week 1,200 turned up for a Ryman Premier League game v Billericay! Their ground is under threat, but it was also the first London football stadium to be listed as an “Asset of Community Value”.
Meanwhile at the Old Spotted Dog, something inspiring is taking place. Clapton FC play in the Essex Senior League where many clubs would be overjoyed with 3 figure crowds and where not so long ago just 25 people would watch the famous old Clapton play. Last week against Haringey Borough the crowd was 235 and the Clapton Ultras, with flares, flags and singing are trying to bring back the atmosphere (and politics) that has been lost to the supporters of so many corporate football teams. 
The first ever supporter run club in the country Enfield Town are now back in their borough after losing their ground to a dodgy owner.  
Then there's AFC Wimbledon, whose fans furious at the franchising of football, were spitting feathers at the FA commission comment that “Resurrecting the club from its ashes as, say, ‘Wimbledon Town’, is not in the wider interests of football.” They started life at the bottom of the footballing pyramid and pitched up at Kingstonian, another club who were having an ongoing battle with their dodgy chairman. The Dons paid him cash to bugger off while Kingstonian play a small amount of rent ever since. Now they have plans to move back near their spiritual home and might sell their ground to Chelsea. Some Kingstonian fans aren't happy, and have never been. If our ground got transferred to someone else and we became tenants I’m sure we would have the hump. To add salt to the wound, the Kingstonian committee say they can't afford to stay. I'm not sure what the solution is but rather than finger pointing, we need to look at the economic free-for-all that gets us in this mess in the first place.
Football grounds need proper protection from dodgy owners and property vultures. Like pubs they are all 'Assets of Community Value' and beyond the first team, give a chance for people to not just play football but for communities to come together.
As Wealdstone, Dulwich and Clapton have shown, with a bit of nous, it is possible to pull in those punters and show that lower league football is alive and kicking in London.


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