These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

HAPPY BELATED NEW SEASON

 

To be printed in the National League South game v Chelmsford City Tuesday 16th August 2022


In a world of pandemics, climate break-down and a cost of living crisis, its nice to be back, worrying and moaning about football instead.

As I headed to Havant for the first game of the season, the sun and beer must have gone to my head. Surely Slough could have a tilt at the play offs, get to the third round of the FA Cup for the first time ever and the FA Trophy final? They would distract me from the world is burning blues and give something to celebrate for our loyal managers who this season have been with the club 10 years.

This is my 44th season supporting the Rebels (with a big gap in the 1990s). It might also be the first season where I’ve disappointingly already visited every ground in our league.

Still, the day was looking promising as I even found something edible to eat at Chichester train station (Take a bow Saigon Munchbox. 3 big veggie spring rolls with sauce since you ask). Franchised corporate sterile Reading station take note. Which I’m sure you will from a Slough Town blogger.

I read a book about the history of plagues during lock down which talked about how pandemics bring big changes in society and that when they end people want to enjoy life again – that certainty was the case in Brighton, as I battled through the crowds pouring off the trains to celebrate Pride.

At Havant train station, the crowds were all wearing Portsmouth tops, and heading to Fratton Park; so how can Havant and Waterlooville compete with Pompey just nine miles down the road?

There’s been a massive resurgence in non league crowds across the country. Only Slough, Chelmsford and Havant in our league bucked the trend and saw average attendances fall. 

Many people came along as the only covid alternative, liked what they saw and stayed.

As someone with a very expensive Brighton season ticket I can see why. I’ve had enough of being searched, cardless turnstiles where you can’t just hand over your ticket to a friend if you can’t make it but have to pay to do so. Bottle lids removed from kids soft drinks, people leaving 10 minutes before the end to beat the rush but miss the goals. At our level you can stand up, mingle with away fans, swap ends, even drink a beer on the terraces.

So it was disappointing but unfortunately de rigour at Havant, for the chief steward bigwig to take away our big flag and try and confiscate my drum sticks – even the home stewards were sick of him. We played the usual bin banging hide and seek - but if someone can explain why hitting a rubbish bin and making some noise is such a big deal, I’m all ears.

Twitter can be a toxic faceless world where people pile on insults for the slightest criticism of their club. There needs to be an app where if you breathe alcohol on your screen it refuses to post till the next day. So thanks to Tim Cronin a Havant supporter who grabbed hold of Clubshop Sues olive branch and made peace.

So how can Havant compete with Portsmouth? Tim told me "It is difficult being in the shadow of such a club. We have a strong fan base but the catchment area suggests it could be better. Many around the Havant area are Pompey fans, Gosport have the same problem, you can look at Bestleigh with Southampton. We do have deals with Pompey season ticket holders which suggests we can swing maybe 200 if they are away. We ended up with 6,000 of 'em when we went to Anfield which grates the real Havant fans, they took 'our' day away from us but that's what happens. They booed Never Walk Alone and were singing 'Love Havant we do' when it's 'We love you Havant loville!'  

Slough need to find a way to grow their crowds and make them more reflect the town they represent and get more youngsters going to away games (although it must be said, our away support is always pretty solid). Of course that's easier said than done. Ade and other Slough committee members recently spent a frustrating day along Slough High Street trying to get sponsorship.

One way the club can raise money is through the bar,  but Ade asked "Would be useful if you can do an article where you ask Slough fans why they don't stay behind after games. What can the club do to get people in before and after a game. So many just go home, we've tried happy hours and money off."

So let the club know what would make you hang around longer at Arbour Park.

With people deciding whether it should be heating or eating and half the population saying they can’t afford a pint in a pub, how many of those are going to come to a football match?

Do we need to look at how much we charge? How can we cut costs? The Isthmian League has said that if both teams agree, they can change 3pm kick offs to save on energy costs. There’s further organisation of the pyramid to cut travel in the West Country. But there’s still far to much travelling for smaller clubs.

What we have all got is the perfect opportunity coming up to attract new fans with the winter World Cup. And the new mini saver ticket offer is a positive step in the right direction. 

As I pondered all this, I knew whatever happens, all the Rebels will keep banging the bin and waving the flags for Slough Town. And then normal football season antics were restored, as I fell asleep and forgot to change at Chichester and ended up at Waterloo. Which I suppose is better than ending up back at Waterlooville.

Another season of adventures awaits.





Friday, August 12, 2022

REBEL PROBE : SLOUGH TOWN



Printed in the National League South game v Tonbridge Angels Saturday 13th August 2022. We drew 1-1 in the first home game of the season in front of 467 in the boiling heat. 


Seeing as we are asking visiting away fans their darkest secrets (well, how they think their team will do this season and best places for a knees up) it seems only right that some Rebel fans were also probed.


So I asked Clubshop Sue, Rebel Radio debutant Max and Richard from the Supporters Trust some questions


Richard has always been a supporter : “I was there at Wembley in ‘73 as a kid and was regularly at the Greyhound stadium and Wexham Park for years. When in 1998 we were demoted from the Conference for being 49 seats short (probably more to it than this) I was devastated and focused on family and Tottenham. Eventually I made the return and no matter what people say about the Premier League, lower league is a far better experience.”


Max come along with his dad to support Slough despite being from Hayes. “I heard that Arbour Park was a brand new stadium so went to watch – the main stand wasn’t even open as it was still a building site. Then went to the odd Tuesday night games then Sutton away in the FA Cup and haven’t looked back since.”


Sue, well she went along with her husband around 20 years ago to see what all the fuss was about. And to make sure he was behaving (he wasn’t, but that’s a story for another time). Sue has run the clubshop for the past 15 years.


How was last season


Richard “We made a dreadful start with not a lot of luck and were rock bottom and losing the sixth until we turned that into victory and went on a decent run. As the season progressed, we threatened to take a play-off position, The FA Cup did not go well and the Trophy run was great until we lost to York City in an even, but poor game, albeit a decent day out. Team was very much a mix of experience supported with several academy players, so overall I would say we overachieved.”


Max “Disapointing at times but with some brilliant moments!”


Sue “After the uncertainty of the previous two seasons thought last season was ok enjoyed quite a few games but there were some I'd rather forget!.”


What are your expectations for this season?


Richard “This season looks positive with a great core of experienced players, some new faces and the return of some old ones. Optimism comes to mind. I so hope we can look back at the end of the season and think wow, that was great.”


Max : “Top 10 – ideally play-offs”


Sue : “Just to stay up.”


Players to watch out for


Richard: “Aaron Kuhl was stand out last season if choosing an individual player. Rather than picking names for this season there is a great opportunity for several players to make their mark.”


Max: “Kuhl, Goddard, Hunt (most of our midfield).”


Sue: “All my favourites of course.”




Thoughts on the managers


Richard “Why have one manager when you can have two. It works for them and it works for us. Us supporters have the utmost respect for them, their decision making and fantastic commitment to the club. They know many of us by name, you won't get that at too many clubs and that's a nice feeling.”


Sue: “Both managers are very honest and say it like it is. Have

always come through with players when needed and give 100% to the club.”


Max: “Absolute legends.”



If there was one thing you could change to improve the club (not including a multi millionaire sugar-daddy or more players) what would it be


Richard: “Thankfully, we have a great stadium compared to many teams we visit which is a bonus. Of course, investment makes a massive difference to any club.”


Max “To own Arbour Park. More incentives to Premier and Football League fans to come down.”


Sue : Quite a few things I'd change; food being available around the ground, proper bar downstairs, better facilities for the disabled etc etc but its out of our hands due to being council run. Think the two guys on the turnstiles are pretty good though.” (eh, isn’t one your husband!). Also allow drums, big flags and bin playing at every ground – it all helps to make a great atmosphere.”


Can you recommend


Best pubs (Wetherspoons don’t count) and places to eat in Slough


Richard: “Bar wise, I recommend spending money at the club as every little helps.”


Max : “Wheatsheaf in Slough and Red Lion, Iver.”


Sue : “Herschel Pub and Red Lion Pub in Wexham for food. Exotic Karahi on Farnham Road for curries.”


Must see attractions


Sue: “Cliveden House, Windsor and that dog at Slough train station!”


Max : “Biggest trading estate in Europe!”


And finally


Richard “Our supporters are fabulous, everyone is very approachable and welcoming to new fans with open arms. There is a real sense of belonging to the Slough Town Rebel Army


I am on the Supporters Trust board where we focus on supporting the club and local community as best we can each season. I look after the Trust twitter site and use this to interact with the supporters with some banter. You won't find us criticising the officials or crossing the line.


I have a thing for Slough flags so the 8 x 4ft flag, was joined by a new 10 x 10ft flag with telescopic pole last season. Largest Trading Estate in Europe is joined by largest flag in the Conference South! Just ask if you want to have a wave or have a photo taken.” (with the flag I think he means!)


Cheers everyone, and let’s hope we have a great season (and reach the 3rd round of the FA Cup). 

Friday, July 29, 2022

TIDY TRIP TO BARRY ISLAND


Printed in the friendly v Arsenal youngsters Friday 29th July 2022

1-0 to the Rebels in front of 1,248



I’m really not bothered about friendlies, but I’m not gonna lie, it was hard to resist an international friendly away weekend in Wales.

Still, if truth be told, it all got a bit confusing as we ended staying in Barry Island while the game got played at an athletics stadium miles down the road.

And I had to leave at half time.

And forgot to buy Welsh Cakes.

And the best place we found to drink on the island was my pub nemesis - Wetherspoons.

Football is weird; you spend so much of your free time with people for months, then they are dropped like some whirlwind romance. Then all of sudden the Rebel WhatsApp groups and social media starting pinging to life as we started to plan how to get back together in the Land of our Fathers. Well my Welsh granny actually, who came to Slough after falling pregnant to a black American serviceman. Not the done thing in the Valleys in the 1940’s. Infact one of my first memories is the smell off Welsh cakes cooked by said Welsh grandma on the Wexham estate, along with cracking my head open when I fell off a wheelbarrow. Which is no doubt the reason why I became a gardener rather than a Welsh cake.

Wanting to crack our heads open could describe Fridays Barry Island pub crawl as the Slough Town Are Massive started to descend from all corners of the globe. Well Brighton, Britwell, Burnham, Southampton, Essex and Alicante. Yes Deans cousin Jake diverted his holiday flight early to land in Cardiff and soak up the well lush atmosphere.

There was only one bar on the seafront while in town one served a pint so rank even we couldn’t stomach it. The trendy place across from our hotel, had decided that its best if we let them do the work and order from an app rather than that old fashioned come to the bar trick. Covid has changed many things, but online service from your table is not one I like very much. We could see the bar, the beer slowly being poured, but it was 20 minutes before it touched our parched lips.

Barry Island used to be a Butlins camp but now its got a tired looking fairground, a few tacky kiss-me-quick shops, and more chip shops than bars. While Slough got The Office treatment, Barry Island got Gavin and Stacey. We didn’t want to see what’s occurin and so dodged Nessa’s Slots and instead watched the seagulls dive-bombing anyone on the beach trying to eat. What it has got tho is some pun-tastic play on words. Who fancies going to Barrybados or seeing Bob Marley at Glaston-Barry? It was just a crying shame that Gordon Bennetts nightclub was closed.

Somewhere in amongst all this was a football match and Barry Town supporters couldn’t have been more accommodating.

The friendly came about because Macron make Barry's top as well as Sloughs. Macron is based in Cardiff and one of their directors part of their supporters run board. Like Slough, their ground is council owned, which comes with its limitations – like ripping up and replacing their artificial pitch late meaning our friendly was moved to Cardiff. We still met at their Jenner Park ground, where they laid out the red dragon carpet – well a smart minibus rather than Dave’s coaches. Our route took us to an out of town shopping carbuncle that every city seems lumbered with. But it was a groundhoppers dream. Cardiff City's ground opposite the Welsh Athletics International Sports Stadium with our final destination the Leckwith Stadium, which is part of the international sports campus.

The Cymru Premier has in recent years been dominated by a local computer company Total Network Solutions that is based in England. Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham, Merthyr, Newport and a few others ply their trade in the English pyramid – which weakens the league somewhat. But as Barrry fans pointed out, playing in the Welsh League means you get the chance to play in Europe, and if that happens you are quids in.

To say Barry have had a football roller-coaster history is understating it. From European cup games against Porto to last season being relegated to the Cymru South. Winning the Welsh League numerous times to going into administration and now being supporters run. Even with last seasons relegation they managed to average around 500.

Maybe Slough can claim that our Welsh heritage means we get a shot at a season in the Welsh League and Europe. Mind you, knowing our luck we will get drawn against TNS.

Oh and if your interested in such things, the game ended 2-2 and the players came over at the end to shake our hands. Which I missed, cos I had to get home. Still I got to bang a Welsh bin and give a rendition of ‘Biggest Trading Estate in Europe, Your Never Sing That.’

All in all, if truth be told a tidy trip.






THERE'S ONLY ONE SEAN FRASER

Printed in his testimonial game programme Sunday 10th July 2022

He’s helped us win two promotions, two trips to the FA Cup 2nd round, won managers young player of the season and the Kevin McGoldrick Award. He’s been part of the team that bought the Rebels back home and holding our own in the National League South. With ten seasons under his belt he is in the top 10 player appearances in our history.

So for the final time in a Slough shirt, we give you Sean Fraser.

Born in Ascot, 31 year old Sean is a plumber married with two boys aged 2 and 5 months. His Former clubs are Coventry City U18s/23s, Banbury and Slough Town who he joined in August 2012.


Why did you stay at Slough so long?


I’ve stayed at Slough for a number of reasons. During my time the club was always looking to get promoted or be in the play offs each season. It always felt like a big club in the league when I first joined, so to be a part of a team that should be winning games was exciting.

Location. I have moved in the last couple of years but I could get to training in under 10 minutes when we moved to Arbour Park so that was a big bonus! Also a well run club with a good group of players each season, made going into training and playing games enjoyable.’


Your 3 favourite Slough games and why


The 1st round FA Cup match at Gainsborough, the build up and match itself everything just fell into place. To be able to score and set up a goal in such a big performance by the whole team, with the celebrations during and after the game I will always remember.

'Kettering play off final win. To come back the way we did in the second half, as at one point I thought it wasn’t going to be possible, away from home was a great moment in a Slough shirt. That was a really good group of players and people that felt more like mates at times going out each game. The celebrations after weren’t bad either!

'Kings Lynn play off final win. To get promoted for the second time at the club through the play offs, after missing out the season before was a big achievement. Going behind again in such a big game isn’t ideal but with the players we had and the form of the team I just felt we were going to get it done. Then Manny gets the ball in the box… and the rest is history!’


Your best season


I can’t remember all of them to be honest but the first season we moved into Arbour Park and I was captain that season made it one to remember for me personally. I managed to stay fit and play in every game and we reached the play offs, it just wasn’t to be that year.’

Any dirt on our managers! Or how come they get so much loyalty and players want to come back and play for them?

The managers are great people firstly, very honest and you know where you stand with them so it makes playing for them and the club a good place to play your football. You hear of some managers and clubs dealing with players a certain way and I always thought I’m glad I’m at Slough!

Back when I first joined there would have been some stories on nights out as there seemed to be one every week but it’s a lot more professional these days!’


What are you going to do with your Saturdays now?


My Saturdays so far have been spent with my family; holidays, days out, swimming lessons with my eldest & a little bit of golf. I’ve had a bit of interest over the summer break from other clubs which is great so I may not be hanging the boots up just yet!’


And Finally


Can I just say thanks to everyone that has made this day possible. All the volunteers, the players/managers, those who have helped with the raffle prizes. Also to everyone that has come out to support me today, I feel very lucky to have been a part of this club for 10 years and wish it all the success in the future! Up the Rebels!

Thanks, Sean Fraser.’


I’m sure I can speak for every Slough supporter and say thank you Sean for your loyalty and your part in making the past ten years so memorable. 

Once a Rebel, Always a Rebel.




Saturday, April 30, 2022

PARK LIFE

Printed in the National League South game v Dartford Saturday 30th April 2022. Last home game of the season. We lost 6-0 in front of 961

Some people complain that football and politics don’t mix but with Slough Borough Council in financial meltdown, could Arbour Park be under threat?

While the National Audit Office has warned that at least 25 authorities are on the brink of bankruptcy, it’s Slough Council which has the biggest deficit in the country. It’s auditors refused to sign off its accounts and the government appointed commissioners to help sort out the mess, with all non-essential spending frozen and the councils chief executive sacked.


The council will need a minimum of £479 million in support from central government over the next few years – a figure that could be even higher if it fails to meet “challenging” savings targets. These targets include selling off £600 million worth of assets and cutting £20 million from this years budget. Slough’s director of finance Steven Mair said “The seriousness of the council’s financial position cannot be understated” and “will require cost cutting to a degree not seen anywhere else”.


So what has this got to do with Slough Town? Well, the club pay to play at Arbour Park, a council run ground. Could one of those assets that are sold off be Arbour Park?


I spoke to Councillor Rob Anderson, long term supporter of the club and former leader of the council who has now taken up the poison chalice role of lead member for ‘financial oversight, council assets and performance.’ I really take my hat off to people who give up their time to become councillors, and Robs role is particularly challenging.

Q: Given the financial state Slough Borough Council finds itself in, what assurances can you give Slough Town fans that Arbour Park will not be sold off by the Commissioners to help balance the books?

Rob “The Commissioners have been sent in to have oversight of the running and Governance of the Council to make sure that we are making sound, evidence based decisions in our efforts to get the Council back on a firm financial footing. They will only intervene if they believe we are not acting correctly. So far the relationship has worked well.

What we have to do as a council is test all of our operations against Best Value to ensure that we can live within our means in future. All of our assets, including Arbour Park will be appraised as to their cost versus their actual and potential income alongside the aims of the Council.”

Q: If not sold off, what reassurances can be given that the club will not face a debilitating increase in rent?

Rob “As above we will have to assure ourselves and the commissioners that we are getting the Best Value out of all our assets. That isn’t just maximising the short-term financial return, it’s making sure that the asset is contributing to the long-term outcomes the council wants to see.”

Q: Given the council’s ongoing predicament, is there an opportunity for the club to take over the running of Arbour Park?

Rob “We can and will look at all possible options. One of the things we have to do not only with Arbour Park is to find new ways of the council enabling certain services rather than being the direct provider, either through the voluntary sector, trusts, volunteers or others. Our current relationship with the club fits into that mould perfectly so hopefully we can expand and improve on that.”

Q: It takes a lot of time for volunteers to make Arbour Park ready on match days. Could there be more leeway given to the club in terms of having memorabilia inside and around the ground given our contribution to the running of the facility? And Clubshop Sue asked why can't she have her own portacabin in the ground!?

Rob: “That’s certainly something that can be looked at if we can agree a new operating model in the future.”

Q: What are the main revenue streams for Arbour Park outside of Slough Town match days and how do they compare in terms of their contribution to overall revenue?

Rob: “I don’t have the numbers on that level of detail and given what we need to try and achieve would probably be commercially confidential now! What I can say is that I think everyone knows what a good job the club have done with the bar and catering. If we can expand and extend that to the rest of the operation then the benefits to the club AND the Council could be significant.”

Q: What were the annual operating costs of Arbour Park for the last financial year?

Rob: “Again same as above. What we do know though is that the club went through so many years of uncertainty when homeless. When I first met with (former chairman) Steve Easterbrook we talked of creating a permanent home that was safe from either some future owner wanting to cash in on the land, or the Council changing its priorities. The plan was to get the place built, get the club up the leagues and on a sound footing and then see what model we could create to protect it for future generations. Unfortunately by the time it was opened I was not in charge of the council anymore. But I still believe that there is a future model that will suit both the Club and the Council and get a better return for both while giving the club long-term stability. That is what I will be looking for in the coming years as we work through all of this.”

So watch this space.

It takes a monumental volunteer effort to organise match-days. With the close season upon us, the club has some time to breathe. After years of being homeless, Arbour Park has given us the stability we needed to power up the leagues and rebuild our club. In an ideal world just think of what we could do with an events co-ordinator and a community development worker to make the most out of Arbour Park. Burnham have been hoovering up East Berkshire Football League games and even the Slough Town Cup which was traditionally played at Slough. I’m not privy to conversations between the club and the council, but I would be using this opportunity to work with them and the commissioners to make sure the ground is working not just for the Rebels but for the wider community.

Now seems the perfect moment, to take the leap and stamp the Slough Town badge more fully on Arbour Park.

Monday, April 18, 2022

MORE TRAIN STATIONS THAN FANS

Printed in the National League South game v Hemel Hempstead Town Bank Holiday Monday 18th April 2022  We won 2-0 in front of 744

I will always remember the look on the faces of Wrexham supporters as their coaches trundled along the cobbled streets of Lewes to watch their team. But this wasn’t an FA Cup jolly but a league match. Welcome to the hell of the National League, where former league clubs spend an eternity trying to escape.

As Slough fans weaved through the passageways of Dorking to their Meadowbank ground, I wondered if Wrexham fans would have that same feeling again next season, coming to this sleepy Surrey town with panoramic views.

Dorking have powered up the leagues thanks to one man, but just like Lewes how far can you take a market town up the football pyramid? (If you’ve got wind assisted pockets, quite a way looking at Forest Green Rovers). With their deep pockets and never ending conveyor belt of players, they demolished Slough in the wind, snow and sun as we tried not to take off like a beach kite holding on for dear life to the biggest Slough flag ever made.

Lewes had no money for the National League and there were rumours that the sacking of manager Steve King at the end of their promotion season was because the board didn’t actually want promotion. They were beaten nearly every week and it knocked the club for six and took them years to recover.

I was contemplating all this as I wandered the mean streets of East Worthing.

With Slough pretty safe and my bank balance depleted, I thought I would jump on the Shoreham play-off push band wagon.

Worthing will be joining Slough next season in the league, but the place has as many train stations as Dorking with the added bonus of three senior football teams. I was here to see the one of the outskirts - Worthing United (The other is Worthing Town since you ask). People might have heard of the club for the tragic deaths of two of their players, killed on their way to a game in the Shoreham airshow disaster. As you can imagine, the loss of their players was deeply felt but the club have done them proud, with the Matthew Grimstone and Jacob Schilt stand, photos in their small clubhouse and a memorial garden. When Worthing United did eventually begin playing again, a crowd of 1,000 came along to show their respects. As one official pointed out “the biggest game in the clubs history, sadly for the wrong reasons.”

It was slightly smaller today with just 89 coming along, with a healthy smattering of away fans. With a lot of injuries their youngsters frustrated a much more experienced Shoreham who never troubled the 18 year goalkeeper in the first half. A goalkeeper who was playing for Shoreham Under 18s the week before!

Despite the megastores and giant carparks behind the ground it’s another picturesque Sussex football club. There’s a stand that straddles most of one side and cleverly combines terracing with seating and has Constable-esque vistas of the South Downs. There was a women feeding her horses, sheep in the background, gorse in flower and daisy's growing on the hard pitch for their last home game of the season.

But this was no A259 classic. One Shoreham supporter had finally given up his Brighton season ticket enjoying non league football more. The final straw being the Dear Customer email as he failed to renew. But he couldn’t help feel he’d made the wrong decision giving up an away ticket to the Arsenal for this; as his son who had decided to go let him know: they were beating the team whose fans annually win most entitled of the year. ‘We should be beating teams like Brighton’ I think is the derogatory catch phrase.

You know a games poor when its highlights include a Shoreham spectator being sent off and the chairman getting soaked by his own pint. Still, the Shoreham forward who took out the beer, eventually scored the clubs 100 goal of the season that helped them pick up 3 vital points. I think play-offs at every level is a great idea to keep interest going but one of those in the Southern Combination Division One play off places is Dorking Reserves who can’t get promoted. So why not pick a team below them to play instead? Er, no the FA ruled this week that whoever draws them in the play offs will get a bye! Which is hardly fair play.

Worthing is a funny old place. What happened in Hove, is happening here. Slowly occupied by people who can’t afford to live in Brighton with the council make up changing from staunch blue to red and green; there’s numerous micropubs replacing the more traditional boozers that are becoming as rare as a Worthing bus on a Saturday.

As I tried to catch a bus, a broken shelter with no information summed up the public transport system in this country. The government promised millions to sort this out, but unsurprisingly it’s another promise that has failed to materialise. Sussex will be on the forefront of climate change - a small sea level rise will put paid to much of the seafront infrastructure, so governments need to get their finger out and invest now if we want to encourage people to get out their cars. Otherwise like me, they will be running down the road to catch the East Worthing train back to Brighton with the sound of two Worthing United youngsters complaints ringing in my ears ‘I can’t believe we lost to a team like Shoreham.’   





Saturday, April 09, 2022

DOWN THE SWANNY





Printed in the National League South game v Eastbourne Borough Saturday Saturday 9th April 2022  We drew 2-2 in front of 551.

As football club statements go, it was as bizarre as the ‘Freddie Star ate my hamster’ headline. The chairman of Staines Town who has long been in dispute with the owners of the football clubs ground said they would no longer play at Wheatsheaf Park. He said the owners investment firm Downing LLP had breached Russian sanctions and the Modern Slavery Act. Infact he accused the company of financing, ‘environmental crimes, price fixing, deforestation, forced evictions, human rights abuse, child labour, slavery, gender discrimination and murder.’ You know, the sort of qualifications the Premier League would welcome with open arms.

Downing deny all the allegations while the Isthmian League held emergency meetings to see how they could help sort out this mess.

But its been a mess a long-time coming.

Just 10 miles and a river separate Slough and Staines and we’ve been battling it out for 100 years footballing wise and the butt of jokes. Ali G leading the Staines Massive while Slough historically had a poet who wanted us bombed followed by The Office. Officials came up with a cunning plan to portray the town in a better light and rebranded it Staines upon Thames; i'm not sure that they really thought that though properly.

When he took over Staines, Chairman Jo Dixon announced plans for the football league. Instead the Swans look like they are sinking to county level football. His attempt to buy the ground failed. And as James Cave from Against League 3 put it “In reacting in this overly dramatic way, Dixon has almost certainly killed Staines. To fail to finish the season likely means to be ejected from the league. I’m not sure what the lease situation is but fat chance of renewing that again. Dixon inherited a team pushing for promotion once more to the Conference South. Currently, the team is a shadow of what it was, regularly failing to attract a hundred at home. Maybe it’s Dixon’s fault, maybe it’s Downing LLP’s, maybe both. But it’s the supporters, as always, who are left behind again.”

We’ve played each other 67 times but have recently kept passing each other with our combined rise and falls. In our last competitive game we lost 2-0 in 2007 in the league in front of just 178 people when we were slumming it at Windsor. That was our season of hell, homeless and finishing bottom of the Isthmian Premier with just 18 points and conceding 123 goals! I’ve seen us win the League Cup at Staines ground and at one game at Wexham Park the Swans fans serenaded me with ‘Red and yellow and pink and blue, I can see a rainbow’ – a clever dig at my multicolour hair at the time. We know just what a disaster it can be to lose your football ground. It took us 15 years to get back to Slough after we lost ours to an owner who cared little for the Rebels.

I can say from first hand experience that is not easy to run community projects. And football clubs are even harder with supporters demanding never ending success with top clubs splashing ever ludicrous amounts of cash to do so, with its detrimental effect across the football pyramid. Tracey Crouch’s planned governance reforms can’t come soon enough - although already the top clubs are mobilising to water it down.

Governance is such a boring subject but its essential. Not the type of governance that stifles innovation – but that stops property vultures making rich pickings from community assets.

Down in Brighton, a storm kicked off about a bloke who said all the right things about a pub he bought on a whim. Like you do. He announced he would turn it into a place for Ukrainian refugees but wanted others to raise the money to make it happen. A worthy cause but people rightly challenged his plans asking that if they were putting in money they would want a say in the assets, rather than him making a tidy profit. So he got builders to start ripping down the locally listed green tiles, it seems in an act of spite. The council stopped them but not before a lot of damage had been done.

Lots of developers buy pubs, run them down then fling their hands in the air and say look they are unviable. When I hear this all I can think of is ‘what if this was a football club.’

Your team are rubbish, they are losing every week and are bottom of the league. Worse your drowning in debt. Close them down I hear you sing, they’ve become unviable. Or how about this: change the management, players and run it a bit better. They start winning games, more people come and watch them and hey presto, look they are viable again.

There are countless examples of developers not getting there way and pulling out the matches or sending in the bulldozers. So hats off to Westminster Councils approach to the company that knocked down the Carlton Tavern. After being denied planning permission to convert it into 10 flats, and two days before Historic England was due to recommend the pub be granted Grade-II listed status, the owners ordered its demolition. Fast forward six years and after an unprecedented court order the developers were made to rebuild it brick by brick.

James Watson, the pub protection adviser for the Campaign for Pubs, advised the Carlton campaign. “I never imagined that I would see a planning inspector order a developer to put back what he’d just knocked down, to look exactly as it was. I thought the developer would get a slap on the wrist, a £6,000 fine. But I was flabbergasted – and it has set an incredibly useful precedent. Other planning inspectors will remember it, and so will developers.”

With public services cut to the bone, prices skyrocketing and a loneliness epidemic exasperated by covid, places where people can meet are more important than ever. I’m involved in one of those. The Bevy is the only community owned pub on a housing estate in the UK. It seems impossible to make a profit but it’s so much more than just a pub. A community centre that delivers everything from meals on wheels for vulnerable people, training for people with learning disabilities, art clubs, lunch clubs, job clubs, free children’s parties  - we even grow our own food. You name it we serve it up. It’s social value means it is something worth investing in but something that is unviable if you just measure life in pounds, shillings and pence.

It’s time property vultures were given last orders and our community assets were protected for everyone, be that football clubs or pubs, community centres and village halls. In the meantime its supporters of clubs like Staines Town who find themselves collateral damage. And no doubt it will be these same fans that eventually get the club out of the mess they now find themselves in.




Saturday, March 26, 2022

SLOUGH TOWN ARE MASSIVE (but a few more fans, would make us even massiver)

Printed in the National League South game v Braintree Town Saturday 27th March 2022  We lost 2-0 in front of 670

The last time my whole family came to a football match, my eldest was a baby being breastfed in a dusty old room at Windsor's Stag Meadow with a picture of the Queen looking on. Fast forward 16 years and after leaving the Brighton v Liverpool game early, safe in the knowledge that Brighton weren’t going to score again this season, all my family decided to watch us take on Maidstone. It was my mums birthday and if we going to visit Slough then it would be sacrilege not to watch the Rebels.

We arrived a little late and Slough were already 1-0 up against the full time, top of the table team. But it was the perspective from my missus that was the most interesting. Sat with the little ‘un in the clubhouse, she commented on how comfortable and clean it was. Enjoyed watching all the different people at the ground – young Sikh lads, people with disabilities who have decent viewing platforms where they can watch the football. Ruben even got to see an actual goal as we went mad on the terraces beating the league leaders. And Alex Dutton came up with what could be chant of the season for their big number 4 “Tattoo on his face, the big disgrace, rolling on the ground all over the place.” I don’t think I can persuade my eldest to start following Slough but it got me thinking about how we attract new supporters.

Supporters of a certain age go all misty eyed over old fashioned stadium. Bath City’s is a corker but they have so far failed to get the planning permission to upgrade it and bring in the income streams that would make the club financially sustainable. And as for the mens toilet block. The last time I was there, a group of ecologists had just found a new species of mushroom. St. Albans is a delight nestled in a Victorian Park but you need a stairlift to get to the clubhouse. And there’s Dulwich who are bursting at the seams. They used to be such a billy no mates club and now look at them. I wouldn’t want to go their in the rain but last Saturday we bought the full Slough carnival works to Champion Hill, sung songs about the biggest trading estate in Europe and gave a ‘Slough Town are massive’ encore for 15 minutes after the game had finished. They even sold food that’s edible. Despite a last minute equaliser, it was an away day that was good for the soul.

Arbour Park suffers from shallow terraces and the fact that having to share the council owned ground, means we can’t really badge it properly as our own. The main bar is in the wrong place and can feel like an aircraft lounge. But new fans don’t want crumbling terraces and stinking bogs.

The new grounds are soulless argument is similar to the one about grass. In an ideal world we would all like to play on it - but i'm not the one trying to make the football finances work. The fact that so many, including the U23’s, can play on the artificial pitch has worked wonders for the club – especially the convey belt of gems from the U23s that now make up a solid chunk of the first team.

It's Non League Day and while crowds across the country for lower league clubs are surging, for whatever reason Sloughs have seriously stalled: 200 down on average from those halcyon pre covid days. This will have a massive knock on effect on budgets. I always think a problem is best solved when its shared and as club powered by volunteers how about we all meet up one matchday and come up with some ideas to attract more fans?

The footballs good, its reasonably cheap, its friendly and fun. Taplow Rebel told me about his 93 year old mum who came to a game over Christmas and got treated like royalty. You can even sip your beer inside and watch the game if you so wish. So why aren’t people rushing the turnstiles to get in? Let’s bash our collective brains together and come up with a plan.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

YOU DONT KNOW WHERE YOUR GOING

Printed in the National League South game v Maidstone United Saturday 12th March 2022  We beat the league leaders 2-1 in front of 883

Sometimes it can feel like your team hasn’t turned up or after a particularly poor performance you wished you’d got lost on the way. Other times going to football can leave you very geographically challenged.

Braintree on a cold wet February night isn’t the easiest of places to get to – but Mick and Rick took muppetry to a new level by instead turning up at Concord Rangers five days early. Doh! ‘Caravans to the left of me, Refinery’s to my right, Here I am, stuck on an Island with Rick’ sang Mick. They managed to get to Braintree by half time and we’re given as you would expect a warm welcome for their road to nowhere. Mind you after Saturdays postponement, another week night in Canvey awaits them again. It really is the glamour of being a football fan.

I could fill a book from our conference days when my cousin used to get us regularly lost. There was no SatNavs or mobile phones then – but in hindsight we should probably have familiarised ourselves with actual maps: ‘you sure you go across the Severn bridge to get to Telford?’ we joked as we ended up arriving at half time with one particularly smelly steward still trying to charge us full price to get in. We even managed to arrive half time again at Telford for the last game of the season which traditionally used to be silly hat day. I would like to say its because we were being cultured and familiarising ourselves with the place that gave birth to the industrial revolution. But we were just being useless and arrived shameful and donning Dunce caps.

Still its not just us. I don’t often get the supporters coach, mainly because they refuse to pick me up from Brighton, but as we sped past the Gainsborough turning on our way to a FA Cup 1st round tie, I cursed under my breath: ‘Driver, you had one job.’ Even with SatNavs some people fail. No Sue, Worthing is not in Brighton. And no Phil, putting diesel in a car made for petrol is not a good idea if you want it to work properly and get you to Gosport.

Scott McNeish told me ‘He won’t thank me for this but Richard Taylor cycled to Burnham’s The Gore instead of Holloway’s Park. I had to go and pick him up!!’ Another supporter arrived late for an FA Cup away to Tooting and Mitcham. This was kind of understandable as he had gone to their old ground – one of the last of the big London non league grounds, now buried under houses. Except he admitted he had already been to the new Imperial Fields but had just forgotten. There was also a rumour that former Slough player and manager Darren Wilkinson once went to Leighton Buzzard rather than Leyton but that might just be an urban myth.

I got totally lost in the pouring rain one Tuesday evening trying to find Walton and Hersham's ground and arrived just before half time starving and soaked. I could only buy a burger bun with onions to eat and the game got called off before the second half started. I sat freezing waiting for the train back home questioning my sanity after seeing no football but feeling like I'd wet my pants.

But I still think I can trump all this stupidity. I once went to a Slough game away to Abingdon Town in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round in 1989. I hadn’t been to a match for ages, and Slough were playing in their away kit with Abingdon in yellow. I then spent the whole game not only keeping an eye on the floodlights that looked like they were about to blow over at any point, but thinking Slough were Abingdon! At the final whistle I couldn’t believe we’d lost a cup game to such lowly opposition and it wasn’t till me and my mate got back on the coach that it dawned on us that Slough had actually won. I think it was then I realised I needed glasses.

We all love football for these stories; for a bit of escapism and a laugh with mates but I don’t like being told that football and politics don’t mix. There’s no escaping the fact that if you’re rich enough to buy a football club then it will be no questions asked while the football authorities and supporters do moral somersaults to justify the background of people in charge.

No one in power in Britain has come out smelling of roses over Putin. And Chelsea are now in limbo now Abramovich has finally been sanctioned.

So I will leave you with this written by the UK Parliaments Intelligence and Security committee: “Russian influence in the UK is the new normal. Successive governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’ and connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures. This has led to a growth industry of ‘enablers’ including lawyers, accountants and estate agents who are – willingly or unwillingly – de facto agents of the Russian state.’

As we lurch towards World War III maybe we need to be a little more critical of who we support and not forgive people for crimes just because they are bank rolling our clubs and political parties. 

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine that sentiment is already too late.