These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. After only 24 years we finally won promotion to the Southern Premier, a mere seven leagues below the Premiership. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time, and despite living in Brighton still go to most games. Still waiting for that bloody new ground in Slough tho.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

FINALLY TIME FOR A BEVY

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Dorchester Town Saturday 20th December 2014. We won 2-1 in front of 254 people.

Four years ago a few of us had this crazy idea to re-open our local pub.
Fast forward, enough meetings to go round the world twice, endless fund-raising, form filling, hoop jumping and general blood, sweet and beers and finally The Bevendean Community Pub opened its doors to the public last weekend.
We have transformed an empty shell into a multifunctional bar, café, community room, edible pub garden and soon to be community kitchen fulfilling our vision that if it was too succeed then the Bevy would have to be more than just a boozer.
Every time I see a boarded up pub or one converted into another poxy supermarket my heart sinks. Where are people meant to meet, to celebrate, to chew over the days events, if there are no community spaces left? Well for once, we have put a line in the sand and stuck two fingers up to those that said we couldn't do it.
The Bevendean is the first co-op pub on a housing estate, bucking the trend of nearly 30 pubs a week closing. But as we have been banging on for the past few years, it will be so much more than just a pub. We raised nearly £50,000 by selling community shares along with loans and a massive grant because the funders could see that we are a trail-blazer. The first of its kind with supporting letters from everyone from the Brownies, to Albion in the community, NHS and residents groups saying how they would use the Bevy.
Although just a couple of miles from the town centre, living in Moulsecoomb sometimes feels more like living in Slough rather than Brighton. Its nearly a fiver to get a bus into town and there's no pubs, cafés or anywhere to get an organic aubergine. Not that I like aubergines. I also believe we can make green issues relevant for the working class estates that surround the bright lights of Brighton. Rather than beating people with an eco-stick, if we can produce our own electricity and knock a few pence off a pint or coffee then it becomes relevant. If we can grow and buy as much of local food as possible, we can offer decent meals to people at affordable prices then it becomes relevant. Cos its worth remembering that the Moulsecoomb and Bevendean estates are in the bottom 5% of deprivation in the whole country.
We will be composting our own waste, asking for the repair café to fix things, swap veg seeds and support our local micro-breweries. We will create jobs, training and opportunities for people, paying the living wage while offering work experience to pupils from the local schools.
But most importantly we will have somewhere to meet that is owned and run by the local community. So rather than meeting in dusty halls, we hope we will see a renaissance in local community groups as people not only have something pleasant to meet but a chance to find out what's going on and how to get involved. We hope it will tackle the fear of crime with young people serving up meals to older residents, so when they see them in the street they say hello. Somewhere that will not only generate income onto our estate but make it more resilient, a better place to be. And with the promise of public spending going back to 1930's levels, the Bevy profits, rather than lining the pockets of distant shareholders, can be invested back into our community supporting all the different groups that make a big difference.
The Bevy shows what a group of determined, bloody-minded residents can do when they set their minds to it. So the next time Slough play a game near Sussex by the Sea I expect you all to pop into the pub for a pre match bevy. That's got to be something worth celebrating. 
To find out more www.thebevy.co.uk
To watch us on ITV Tonight programme, click here

Saturday, December 06, 2014

WHAT'S IN A NAME

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Dunstable Town Saturday 6th December 2014

Anyone with a grasp of football, would understand why it should be part of the geography curriculum. Much of my youth was spent pouring over leagues giving me an encyclopedic knowledge of just where every village, town and city was. Now my eldest is using his football sticker collection to find out about different countries.
If only a well travelled Ex had supported her local team Shepton Mallet. Instead she didn't know her Bristols from her Barnsley’s and once asked if Slough was by the sea. Er, not unless you count the Grand Union Canal. Now I like nothing better than winding my missus up on car journeys, by pointing out, been there, done that, cos at one point I’ve watched the Rebels play at over 150 different grounds. I know that isn't a touch on what John Tebbit could come up with, but it's seen me reach the far flung corners of our country. From Gateshead to Truro to Ramsgate with a bit of Wroxham and Boston thrown in to make a perfect geographical triangle.

I can get all romantic over a bit of Stockton and Norton Ancients and felt depressed when Blackpool Mechanics changed their name to boring old AFC Blackpool after merging with Squires Gate Youth. Everyone loves a bit of Accrington Stanley, not just cos of the milk advert, but because of their name. Sheffield Wednesday trumps Sheffield United and Sheffield any day of the week. You wonder why Sheffield, who invented the game, didn't pick a better name, seeing as they were the first and could have been called something like Sheffield the First Albion, which would certainty have put a marker in the sand.

Scottish and Welsh footballing names are always going to win in the beautiful words contest, although I thank the pagan Gods I don't support Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogochFC. If i struggle with remembering Give us an S, L, O when I’ve had a few beers, imagine trying to get that one on the go. Their name translates as "St Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio of the red cave" which kinda beats Slough meaning an area of soft wet land – or bog.

It's a pity that these reformed clubs, they didn't use a bit more imagination that sticking AFC before their name, although FC United of Manchester when shortened to FCUM is a two finger salute to modern football. Blyth Spartans give themselves an edge just by their name and have FA Cup romance written all over them, before they'd even thought about reaching the 5th round proper. Romulus aren't from another planet and Walton Casuals aren’t a punk band from the seventies managed by Jimmy Pursey or an English Defence League splinter group but a team from Surrey playing in the Ryman League Division One South. And try saying Harrow Borough quickly after a few pints (and try finding the bloody ground for that matter).

Thumbs up to Chalfont Wasps, Glossop North End, Prescot Cables and Oxhey Jets but it's the Northern League that not only dominates the FA Vase but dominates best named footballing clubs. Jarrow Roofing Boldon Community Association, Bedlington Terriers, West Allotment Celtic, Billingham Synthonia, Seaham Red Star, Esh Winning and the aforementioned Norton and Stockton Ancients make all us wordsmiths go weak at the knees. It's only spoilt by one of those ego trip chairman clubs, Celtic Nation which leaves a bad taste in the mouth like the once proposed merger of Ramsgate and Margate to make Thanet United. Gravesend and Northfleet becoming Ebbsfleet was also a historical football club name massacre.

So if you are thinking of starting a new club, why not pour over the Non League Paper for a bit of inspiration. Just think of how the innocuously named Harrogate Railway Athletic lured us all into a false sense of security. Maybe we need to soften up Slough to do the same. Mind you, its taken so bloody long to get a ground, we are fast turning into Slough Town Wanderers.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

THE MATCH DAY EXPERIENCE

Published in the Southern League Premier Division game v Cirencester Town. Tuesday 2nd December 2014. We lost 2-1 in front of 273.

A recent letter in my local Brighton paper said all you need to know about football fans. Here was a Brighton supporter complaining that rather than spending money on a spanking new football academy, Albion should have instead splashed all that cash on players to get to the Premiership Promised Land. He also cited Southampton as an example of a club who waited till they got to Premiership Nirvana before they spent money on these sort of facilities. Yes, Southampton who seem to be supplying all the top clubs with their best players, while remaining a top club themselves. What a waste of cash their Academy has been.

The Premiership/success at all costs is why I haven't changed my opinion that most football fans are idiots. Of course football makes you irrational with many of us exhibiting a blind brand loyalty that any other business would kill for. Football clubs use it as an excuse to exploit, although any Wigan supporting Chinese Jews are probably finding it difficult to cheer their team on at the moment.

On a recent rail replacement trip to Cambridge, one Arsenal fan who travels up from Eastbourne for matches, went into full brand loyalty mode, telling me that Arsenal weren't as expensive to watch as most people think, but he couldn't afford to watch his local non league club Eastbourne Borough anymore. That's because he was spending £200 on the Arsenal Match Day Experience.

Brighton was recently picked out as the most expensive team to watch in the Championship. This is hardly surprising as Brighton is a bloody expensive place to live. Their Chief Executive argued that the report was flawed because it didn't take into account the 'Match Day Experience'. So what exactly is that, apart from, er, watching the match? The last time I went to the AMEX I sat on my tod, next to people more interested in the Man United score eating overpriced pies and queuing ages to have a pee. With 10 minutes to go the stand I was in was nearly empty – and Brighton weren't losing. I might expect this type of experience at a cinema but I had to pinch myself to remember I was at a football match.

While Albion were one of the Championship clubs to try and stick to the financial fair play rules, they reluctantly voted to massively increase the money clubs can overspend so it no longer can really be called fair play just more of the free-for-all-winner-takes-all model football fans seem to have swallowed whole. But at least the Albion are trying not to build their house on sand. A peek over to the South Coast at Portsmouth should remind fans what happens when you do that, only rescued from the jaws of oblivion, by their fans.

So while Labour has promised more supporters on the boards should they reach the promised land of No 10, the Premiership have reacted to the crazy idea that fans having a greater say with apoplectic fury. What's wrong with Russian criminals, tax exiles and deluded Malaysians who think that red is a much better colour than blue (I'm sure no teams that play in blue have won the Premiership recently, so he might have a point). To be fair, the Con-Lib Alliance wrote in their coalition agreement that they would “encourage co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters” which they have sort of done, by letting clubs go to the wall ready for fans to clear up the mess and run themselves.

As for me, I will stick to the Match Day Experience offered by non league football. Sure, there might be more atmosphere at Slough Cemetery than Holloways Park. Yes there might be less than 100 at most of the Sussex County League games I get too. And yes, the fans at Lewes might make me feel a little uncomfortable by being just too darn polite, but they are places where I feel most at home, can watch a decent game of football, and not be broke for the rest of the week just because I’ve watched 90 minutes of football.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

HOPPING MAD IN SUSSEX

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Cippenham Town Tuesday 25th November 2014 We drew 2-2 in front of 238 people.

Despite being a Slough Town season ticket holder, sticking pins in my eyes is often more preferable than going to Beaconsfield. A pocket full of pins is usually all i've got left to spend after some of our far flung away trips and with other commitments eating up my Saturday mornings, it's meant that I have spending time sampling the delights of Sussex County League Football.

First up Shoreham were you can always expect a warm welcome from their forward thinking chairman who runs a proper community football club. Shoreham town centre has been transformed in recent years and now even has its very own micropub that makes a trip to watch the Musselmen even more attractive. Micropubs are basically stripped out boozers – no music, no fruit machines, often no bar with barrels of local real ale and cider for the discerning pallet and limited opening hours. Soon there will be 100 micropubs and they are a shot in the arm to the relentless pub closures happening across the country. Especially this one, the Old Star, being in the same place as The Star, a pub that closed 100 years ago!

Next stop Southwick, who to say they have fallen on hard times is an understatement. Changing their trading name, meant that the old club went into liquidation and they had to be relegated under FA rules. So this proper old school club that once spent time in the Isthmian League now play in Division 3 of the Sussex County.

Southwick play at Old Barn Way and the ground is starting to ape its name, which is a shame as the club were the first in the Sussex County to get floodlights back in 1968. It used to have a stand but this was lost to a fire in the late 1990s. A £100,000 grant from the Football Stadia Improvement Trust 10 years ago got the club new changing rooms and a directors lounge.

This was an FA Vase game against Lordswood, and Gods know where they are from. A healthy crowd, crushed into the small seated stand, out of the rain saw Southwick exit the competition. But what was pleasing to see in the programme was that all their players were sponsored and when we left (after supping a Southwick larger) the bar was heaving. The only way is up for the Wickers.

Now to the town of Uckfield, whose population of 15,000 were spoilt with two senior football clubs to chose from last season. Now after a merger AFC Uckfield Town were born and are riding high in Division Two. They are hoping their combined strength will lead to promotion as well as running teams for footballers at all levels while looking to support the development of youth team football in Uckfield.

We were greeted at their tidy little ground by a cheerful man on the gate handing out very impressive free programmes. He said they had a good crowd of 40 the other week when they beat Littlehampton Town in the Sussex County Cup while the other Tuesday just 4 people paid at the gate. The ladies at the bar were discussing how to spruce up their rather forlorn clubhouse and their main problem seems to be that they are so far out of town. The game against Midhurst and Easebourne was an abject example of not taking your chances. They should have been out of site at half time, instead they finished the match as the losing side.

You get the feeling that all these clubs are going in the right direction, and while its not the same as bellowing out my support to the Rebels, it is always a pleasure to sample the many Sussex footballing delights on my doorstep.

HEDGEHOG, COWS AND ONE DETERMINED FOOTBALL CLUB

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Hitchin Town on Saturday 22nd November 2014. We won 2-1 in front of 273 people.

This is the story of a hedgehog, a few silly cows and a stubborn football club who are refusing to be rolled over by what we are always sold as progress.

But this has become more than a tale of a football club near the bottom of the footballing pyramid losing a ground they have called home not long after they formed in 1865 and being shoved on the outskirts of town like an unwanted guest. It is a tale that has managed to galvanise local people and hit the national press thanks to a hedgehog coming on the pitch and delaying the game - even giving the lino a lesson in how not to pick up sharp objects.
Hitchin Town' Top Field is one of those magical non league grounds that make ground-hoppers go all weak at the knees – especially after you've visited a few local boozers on the way from the train station. It's surrounded by greenery and it's still called Top Field and not The Really Fast Pick and Click Stadium of Speed or some other such nonsense. However, the Canaries problem is that they rent the land from the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust. This is a charity 'for the benefit of the community through the provision of facilities for cricket, football or other sports or for other general purposes for the benefit of the inhabitants of the town of Hitchin'. Unfortunately somewhere along the way, the Common Cows seem to have misinterpreted this as 'sticking our snouts in the trough to feather our own nests whilst helping destroy what people love about living in Hitchin.'
What the football club have been clever at doing is showing that this is more than just about a football ground but about the wider community and the economic effects of shoving another supermarket on a greenfield site. On its own, the football club could never seriously mount a campaign against these juggernauts who spout endless corporate social responsibility guff, but at the end of the day is there to stuff cash into shareholders pockets.
So the Canaries organised a packed public meeting where the chair of the Commoners Trust received so much grief she resigned.
Now they are pulling out all the stops to encourage people to March on Saturday December 6 ahead of their game against Poole Town – which they have made free to get in. The march will launch 'The Save HTFC Fighting Fund' and the Hitchin manager is encouraging all their players and youth teams to go along in a show of solidarity.
Club secretary Roy Izzard said This isn’t just about the football club, it’s about saving Hitchin as a town. We need everyone to support this cause. This is a very really threat to the fabric of the town because even if people think Tesco will pull out, there will be other supermarkets queuing up to take over. We want the march to be a rallying cry to help save the town of Hitchin as well as Hitchin Town. Even if you’ve never been to Top Field before, if you care about the town we would urge you to come along to both the march and the game because apathy is a real threat.”
As for the hedgehog, as Mr.Izzard pointed out; “If he can help us to defeat the supermarket it would be amazing. He can join our committee any time."
You never know, you might see a cheeky little hedgehog sporting a fetching yellow and green top marching with the good people of Hitchin - that's if they can offer him enough slugs.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

LEFT IN THE TROPHY CABINET

Printed in the Slough Town v Merthyr Town  FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round Saturday 16th November 2014. We drew 1-1 in front of 300 people.

The FA Trophy is a funny old competition. It doesn't get the pulses racing like the FA Cup although it is more glamours than the Berks and Bucks or the League Cup. Not that that is anything to blow your trumpet about. Having a cup of cold sick thrown over you would be preferable than the Berks and Bucks, where Reading enter their Under Nines and whose early rounds should be played as part of pre-season.

As for the Trophy, last season Luton played their youth team and still beat Staines while the Cambridge United boss complained that the competition should be midweek with no replays and that really he couldn't be arsed. Then, like the annoying kid in the class who does no work but still comes first, they go and win the bloody thing.

Now teams can agree to extra time and penalties rather than a replay. How long before the Not-Really-Non-League Clubs of the competition can just bung some football team low life a couple of grand for a walk-over and a signed shirt for their clubhouse (that's if they've got their own).

So how do we revitalise it? I liked the suggestion to give the winners of the Vase and Trophy a bye to the 3rd round of the FA Cup, but i'd happily compromise with a bye to the First Round Proper (unlike the improper 6 rounds that have happened before). More money in the pot for each round would also help.

Then this happens. Slough go and win against probably the biggest team it could have played in terms of money being thrown at them. I couldn't make it to Margate and didn't expect a result. But beating a club that's threatening to sack the manager if he doesn't get them promoted, makes victory and the manner of that victory so much sweeter. So does does the £2,700 in the bank and singing 'Your just a small town near Ramsgate.' (well I was singing it to my phone as the results came through on twitter; i'm sure they heard).

So now onto round two and its deja-vu and a warm welcome to near neighbours (well just a short trip up the M4) Merthyr. As much as I respect my Welsh roots and don my coalmans cap to Merthyr i'm not sure I will be here. A trip to Beaconsfield is a bit like visiting an old aunt. You know you should, but the place smells of a bit stale and the atmosphere turns you into a zombie-like sleep. Then you have to get the train home half-cut.

But I can sing the praises of a club that was on its knees. Now supporters run, Martyrs to the Cause campaigned to get rid of their old chairman who at one point seemed to be offering to sell their Southern league place to another club! After they were liquidated, the fans began again as Merthyr Town in the Toolstation Western League Division One playing home games 20 miles away in Taffs Well. But it took them just three seasons to regain their Southern League status. A league they have won more than any other club in its history. Thanks to a £500,000 grant they have installed a 3G pitch and did up their ground. Last season they lost in the play-offs. Company secretary John Strand said: "The club sees this development as a springboard to become a hub for football development in Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding areas." More matches on the pitch, more income, more people involved in the club. I know I sound like the pub bore with my support for artificial pitches, but they just make so much economic sense. And its not like it doesn't piss down in the Valleys on a regular basis.

So a win today and the Conference North and South appear like Mr.Ben. I might get off my arse then and take a bite out of the Trophy pie.

Monday, October 27, 2014

WHO WOULD BE A REF

Printed in the Southern Premier League match v Paulton Rovers on Saturday 8th November 2014. We won in a monsoon 4-2 in front of 275 people.

 It wasn't on par with the chaos that ensured when a drone appeared on the pitch in the Serbia v Albania game, but if John Tebbit says he's never seen anything like it, you know its something that is thankfully really out of the ordinary.

As players and officials went off at half time at Banbury with Slough winning 2-1, some idiot decided to hit the ref with a half full bottle of water from 2 foot away. This led to the ref abandoning the game, van loads of police being called and headline news. 

As disappointed Rebel fans dispersed I just wondered why anyone would want to be a ref. Well Ian Lathey, one of our most loyal supporters and his eldest son are, so I felt this was as good a time as any to ask why!

Why does anyone want to become a referee?   

Ian “I think people go into it for different reasons. For some it's to be involved when perhaps they weren't good enough as players. For youngsters it's a good source of income and teaches them important social skills such as communication, people management, conflict resolution. Refs get £45 at our level. To put that into context, Tom and I are assistants at Allied Counties (Slough, Burnham, Windsor, Maidenhead under 18s etc) and we get £32 for being an assistant. Would I want the extra few quid to take charge at Southern Prem level? Not a chance!   

Has becoming a ref given you a new perspective watching games?  

Ian: Completely! It's not just knowing the laws, which I can assure you most fans do not, it's also understanding the officials' decisions and seeing things with a bit more of an impartial eye. For example, thinking back to the Rugby game at home, when Rebels fans were screaming at the ref for Ed Smith's red card, I was completely supportive of the referee. How referees pro-actively manage games is something you can't fully appreciate unless you have been in the middle and done it.”   

Football is an emotional game and we all lose all temper from time to time. How do we protect refs from abuse from players and supporters or is something that will always be there.  

Ian “Even allowing for the fact I am a qualified official I still lose my temper occasionally when spectating! As you say it's an emotional game and we love our team. Verbal abuse from spectators is always going to be there. Even officiating at kids games you get comments from coaches and parents. I will happily talk to parents after the game and explain decisions however and they usually appreciate that once the passions of the game have cooled. As for players I'm very much an advocate of a global clampdown on referee abuse. It has to be a major and well publicised campaign applied at every level of football however. If that means we have a week or two of games finishing with 8 a side so be it. Players will quickly learn. I would be amazed if it happened however.”   

What do you think should happen to Banbury. Are non league clubs in an impossible position to stop this - like when we had a bloke running on the pitch at the far end of the ground in a league cup match and were threatened with a fine by FA  

Ian “I think the Banbury situation needs a two-fold solution. Firstly, the league has to rule that the points are awarded to Slough. If not, it sets a very dangerous precedent suggesting if your team is losing you simply assault the referee to get the match replayed. I don't think a monetary fine is appropriate but I would like to see Banbury United subject to some serious sanctions regarding their stadium management. The exposed tunnel area is an accident waiting to happen and the lack of officials and stewards was very poor. If they cannot correct this to the satisfaction of the Southern League then I believe the Club should face penalties. However good stadium management is, clubs cannot stop every incidence of misbehaviour. What they should do however is take all reasonable and practical measures and Banbury United fell way short of that from what I witnessed.”  

Cheers Ian, and remember the next time your about to shout cheat at the ref, get a grip of yourself and remember that without them, as we found to our cost at Banbury, there wouldn't be a game to watch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DECAMP TO DORSET*

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Hereford United Tuesday 21st October 2014. We won 2-0 in front of 276 people.


I do like a bit of Dorset. Every May Bank Holiday Slough try and spoil our regular trip to olde-worlde charm of Knoll House by Studland Bay, as the inevitable play-offs lead to some tense i'm-leaving-the-holiday-early-negotiating skills. This is the hotel where Churchill planned D Day and I half expect Nigel Farage to appear from the bar talking to the working classes as only a former investment banker can.
Later in the summer we always take a trip to Swanage, a lovely little seaside resort that has had a massive shot in the arm from people getting off their arses. If people ever tell you your crazy idea won't happen, hit them over the head with a Swanage steam train. When British Rail decided to rip up the tracks in 1972, a group of determined enthusiasts had a dream. 40 years later, they have not only re-opened the line, but it is now connected once again to the National Rail Network. There's 400 volunteers, 50 paid staff and it contributes £14 million annually to the local economy. 
You can tell it was my missus who picked the time to go on holiday as it coincided with the beginning of the football season, but as we pulled up outside our flat on a Saturday, the noise of players huffing and puffing drifted through the air. And so on Wednesday night, I parted with a few quid to watch Dorset Premier League reigning champs Portland United demolish Swanage and Herston. I love the fact that even at this level 60 people turn up including some away fans. A Dorset official told me that Portland didn't want to go up because of the extra traveling and it was nice to hear a bit of football realism. Yes, I’m all for people working together to realise a dream, but often with football clubs, its some bloke with a big ego and big pockets that pushes clubs to reach for the stars. When the money runs out, these clubs often plummet to whence they came or worse disappear altogether.
No sooner had we returned from Swanage, when it was about turn and off to Weymouth for an end of the summer kiss-me-quick traditional Slough Town away weekend. Weymouth is a fantastic resort. A beautiful sandy beach, Punch and Judy, a lively harbour and plenty of backstreet boozers to quench the thirst. As the Slough hoards descended it felt like we were back in the big time. People had heard of their local football club rather than scratching their heads and telling us they didn't know where West Piddlington Village FC ground was. While their stadium is too out of town for my liking, we can only dream of having something similar in Slough.
With only enough time to empty the sand from my pockets, it was back up to Poole. Poole felt a bit Slough by Sea with a dreary identikit high street. They've even let those bullies Tescos muscle in on a prime spot by the harbour which should be reserved for pubs and restaurants.
Just like us, Poole had fallen on hard times, and were forced to leave their ground to make way for Poole Pirates speedway and greyhound racing. If losing your ground to such ridiculous sports wasn't bad enough, the following season they lost 39 consecutive matches winning just 1 point from 42 games! Since then supporters have pulled the club by their football boot straps, finally knocking together a ground the Southern Premier were happy with and with planning permission for a new stadium, their future looks bright. Their noisy support felt like they are enjoying themselves, whereas you get the impression from Weymouth fans they are just tolerating the Southern Premier and will be sending us a postcard from the Conference soon.
As for us Rebels, this is just about as good as it gets and rather than fleeting Big FA Cup crowds, we are back in the big time and are singing our little hearts out just to show how happy it has made us.

* This column was sponsored by the Dorset Tourism Board

Sunday, September 14, 2014

RIP DAVE 'THE PROGRAMME' PEARCY

Printed in the FA Cup 1st Qualifying round game v Ardley United Saturday 13th September 2014. We lost 2-1 in front of 230.

It was fitting that Dave Pearcy should pass away on Non League Day. A day that is a celebration of everything that is unique about our level on football.
As my twitter feed filled up with tributes to Dave, the few of us who made a weekend in Weymouth raised our glasses to the man who everyone agrees was part of the 'Slough Town match day experience.' Especially Clubshop Sue who Dave would endlessly embarrass at grounds across the country, as he launched into his 'Super Sue' song! The forum was full of praise for the little man with the big bag full of God-knows what and an encyclopedic knowledge of bus and train times who supported his club for over 25 years.
Dave was known as Dave the Programme because, well, he sold programmes. But he did a lot more than that. He was an ambassador for the club. There was nothing clique about Dave, he would talk to old and new supporters alike and it seems everyone's earliest memories aren't just full of players names and games but of Dave flogging them a programme and asking how they were. Infact I sometimes wondered just how much of the game he actually watched, as he talked to everyone and their dog. He could drive me round the bend, when I was trying to watch a game and seemed more interested in what my train journey to the game was like!
But it's not really just about the football is it? Of course we want to see a good game but as the Weymouth weekend showed, its being part of a family of friends with a shared interest in a little football club with a very big heart.
What the club and its supporters did for Dave when it became clear how ill he had become, made me proud to support the Rebels. Paul Lillywhite organised the party in the Herschel that was packed with players and managers old and new and of course the fans. Somehow he managed to make it to the game the next day, coming on as the mascot, with Ian Lathey saying the last he had seen was Dave was late in the evening necking Tom Kings special shots while singing, '1-0, 2-0, 3-0...to the mighty Slough.'
The CAMRA rebels such as Alan, Ollie, Chris, Mark Bevan and Mark Carter would make sure he was part of the team in the quest for a decent pint before and after games and at beer festivals. Or there's the image of Jacko, who got to know Dave as a fan, a player and as a friend, sitting down for a long chat on his birthday on what was to be his penultimate visit to a 'home' game. The image of Dave waving his colostomy bag around a pub in Egham asking what he should do with it, is one image i'd rather forget!
When we beat Rugby in the play off semis, Sean Fraser got the players to run over to Dave to celebrate. When we won promotion at Kettering, they went one better and he was the only supporter invited into the sanctuary of the dressing room to continue those celebrations.
While everyone is so pleased he saw his beloved Slough win promotion after only 24 years, he never got to see us back where we belong. But that promotion has really put the club back on the map and the way our club is being run, I have no doubt that we will be back in Slough soon. 
So Mr.Chairman, how about a statue of Dave selling programmes outside the ground, as a reminder of one of the clubs most loyal supporters?
Dave's dad said Slough Town is the best thing that ever happened to Dave. Well I reckon Dave was one of the best things that has ever happened to Slough Town.
The outpouring of emotion on social media, shows just what people thought of the man. And I have to agree with Mark Bailey who wrote on the forum “For me Dave embodied everything that is brilliant about non league football. What a legend, glad he is at peace now.” 


Dave with Chairman Steve Easterbrook at the end of the Kettering game just after we got promoted

* A minutes applause for Dave before yesterdays game https://www.flickr.com/photos/horshamrebel/15236476015/


Sunday, August 31, 2014

MICRO BREWERIES, NACHOS AND A DASH OF FA CUP SAUCE

I hadn't managed to watch any games in the first round of my favourite cup competition and I was getting twitchy, so rushing back from holiday I spotted the perfect fix. Fighting through the Albion hoards on their way to the Amex, my bus passed through Lewes to the biggest village green ever. Ringmer FC play in the Sussex County League Division One and were pitched against Merstham from a level above in the Ryman South. Last time I saw Ringmer play it was Non League Day and my Seagull following mate Terry nearly joined the jumble sale queue by mistake, not realising that you don't really have queues at this level.

Last time I saw Merstham, their chairman was outside the gates shaking hands with all the AFC Wimbledon fans as their usual crowd of 25 became a record breaking 1,587. There also seemed to be a desire to break the world record for most cheese rolls ever made at a non league football match. That was 12 years ago and since then Merstham have improved their ground, won promotion and average 150 a game. Dons fans still come down to visit and their under 21 development squad will now be playing at Moat Side.

Quite a few Moatsiders had made the short trek to Caburn Pavilion, where the Blues haven't made the best start to the season. Hammered 8-1 on Bank Holiday they could only muster 10 players in the torrential rain; this on the back of a 6-0 opening home defeat to Littlehampton. But they had managed to knock out Corinthian in the extra preliminary pocketing £750. The men on the gate said that they are lucky to get 40 people and that it was hard to compete against Lewes while Brighton's swanky new stadium has sucked fans and players away from them and other Sussex non league clubs.

Turners Brewery have sponsored them for the past two seasons and the players looked very smart in their new blue kits. Turners is the local microbrewery set up in 2010 named after the Turner family who have farmed in Ringmer for generations. They are diversifying their farm with a shop, butchers, smokery and real ales. The beer is brewed in a converted farm building using hay bales for insulation and will soon have a green roof and 200 solar panels. It seemed rude not to sink one of their lovely £2.50 ales to get me in the mood.

Diversity is the name of the game for any lower league club and Ringmer are lucky to have a massive clubhouse, which is open every night with rooms available for hire. The clubhouse was one of the best and as for the tea bar - it didn't just sell chips, but toasted sandwiches and nachos. Nachos at a football ground, now your talking.

The crowd of 69 were treated to a proper attacking cup frenzy, but as expected Merstham were the much better side and scored in the 17 minute. But while it stayed 1-0 Ringmer always had a chance, especially in the second half when they were shooting downhill. While the gentile fans of Ringmer complained about a Merstham player swearing, on the other side of the pitch the Ringmer management were shouting encouragement and going apoplectic at the poor old Lino, who was getting it in the ear for breathing. Eventually Merstham got their second in the 72 minute and added two more to set up a home tie with Chipstead in the next round.

Merstham have the feel of a club going places, helped by that all important diversity and a bar open every night of the week. While Ringmer I suspect will be happy to stay in the top Sussex County League and hope to prize some of those Albion fans to the occasional game. With local real ales and nachos on offer, they'd be fools not too. 


 

MY SLOUGH TOWN SUPERHERO TOP

Printed in the Southern Football League Premier Division match v Histon. We drew 1-1 in front of 291 people.

I always feel a bit sorry for Premier League football fans, walking round with their football shirts advertising scumbags like Wonga. I wonder at what point they would refuse to wear a top and just what it would have to say? The Baby Axe Murdering Society?
I much prefer my amber and blue sponsored by Slough Town Supporters Trust and MyFC. This top also gives me magical powers that no Premiership garment ever could.
It enables me to go up to complete strangers - even in London - and start up a conversation. People will cross a busy concourse to say hello. It makes me invincible and also gets many people to ask similar questions like 'but what league team do you support.'
As soon as I don my Rebel Regalia it's like moths to a flame. First game of the season and I spot an elderly gentleman at Clapham Common in a Scunthorpe jumper. We chat at the platform and I sit next to him on the train. Imagine doing that on any other situation in London without someone diving for the emergency
button or getting a restraining order out on you. I quite liked Scunthorpe until he told me their owner made all his money from helping to break the Miners Strike. And while most fans are wildly opportunistic at the beginning of the season, he told me they would be relegated! Still he was off to Swindon cos he hadn't been there for 50 years and I got a potted history of the club and town.
Everyone and their dog seems to have lived or worked in Slough at some point or know where it is - apart from one of my geographically challenged ex's who asked if it was by the sea. Er no, but I could take you to the Grand Union Canal to count the submerged shopping trolleys and see the Swans nesting in the plastic bags.
The superhero top also seems to stop me getting hit, which is no mean feat with my gob. On a packed train with a friend on the way back from a trip to Wembley FC, Chelsea fans were busy punching each other's lights out while patting me on the head and muttering 'Slough Town mate.' One West Ham fan took offence
when our discussion about race led me to my conclusion that I felt the Hammers were the team most likely to start bringing Asian players through their Academy. 'I would hit you if you didn't support Slough Town' he grumbled while his mates handed me a beer. 'I've done time for Pompey' one crazy eyed guy said as he saddled up to me at Fratton station. A charming way to start a conversation, but he offered me a beer and told me he spoke fluent Lao!
On another occasion the Brighton and Hove Albion Supporters Club wanted to hand over a cheque to the charity I run. Not on a Saturday I said. Realising that I must support another team apart from the Albion, their eyebrows began to meet in the middle until I said I supported Slough Town. They then burst into smiles and said how wonderful Chris Sliski, Alan Harding and other Slough fateful were!
So I say wear your Slough Town top with pride. You never know what avenue it could take you down. You might even meet your future spouse.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

DIY FOOTBALL

Printed in the Southern Football League Premier Division game v Chesham United Monday 25th August 2014. We lost 3-0 in front of 354 people.


I usually leave it to the last minute before I enter the heaving cauldron that is Holloways Park on a Slough Town match day. But this time, I'd promised to encourage people to join the Supporters Trust. So instead of some vocal enhancing refreshment, I was at my table, pens in hand and raring to go before the turnstiles had even opened.
And what an eye- opener. Everywhere people were buzzing around, making sure everything was ready for the hoards. All the unseen background work that takes place to make sure the game goes ahead. It's a serious operation and one that is done on the whole by unpaid volunteers, who would get it in the neck if something went wrong and get little thanks if it all goes right!
I keep banging on about how I don't think people are great at pushing the Supporters Trust and its work, so I decided I should offer to Do It Myself.
When the turnstiles did open, supporters had to seriously run the gauntlet. Entrance fee, Trust membership, golden goal, programmes, merchandise. One of the regulars complained he'd spent £53 despite having a season ticket! Still, £53 is still cheaper than going to watch a London Premiership team.
But as Steve Easterbrook said in his programme notes “We have some real challenges ahead, both on and off the field and I would like everyone to perhaps have some perspective as we continue to try and move the club forward. We are now in a league where the vast majority of clubs are established and operate from their own grounds located in their own towns. We of course do not - and I cannot emphasis enough how difficult it has been and is trying to run a club in this environment.”
Yes its great to finally be in the Premier but its going to cost us an arm and leg just to keep still and without income from the bar and all those other extras that you get when you have a home to call your own.
One regular complained that he spent more on the football club than on his wife and that we need to find different funding streams rather than pick pocking the same old regulars. That's true and having MyFC involved has spread the load. The club are always looking at getting more sponsors involved. But how? Why would some multinational corporation on the trading estate bother sponsoring us? Mars didn't even when we were in the Conference preferring instead to sponsor another local club. Er, Napoli from Italy!
The million dollar question is how to prize people away from football on the TV and convince them that watching non league is much more fulfilling than shopping.
How do Potters Bar compete with Arsenal just down the road. Well with Arsenals cheapest season ticket a snip at £1,000 they have decided to give away free season tickets to try and get a few more punters through the turnstiles. And bobble hats off to Prescot Cables for their 'Don't let your kids grow up thinking football is a programme' advert.
So I would say to all supporters – join the Trust, sign up to the 500 club, sponsor a game, encourage kids to become mascots, hassle your company to take out some advertising, put up posters and get behind the team even when things aren't going well on the pitch.
We've had a fantastic start to the season, and the council have indicated that we could be in our new stadium by January 2016.
We can all tell the club to do this and do that, but in the end it's up to all of us to do what we can to help out. It's what football at this level is all about.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

TOP FIELD NOT SHOP FIELD

Printed in the Southern Football League Premier Division match v Biggleswade Town Tuesday 19th August 2014. We drew 1-1 in front of 300 people. 

When Hitchin planners were scratching their heads wondering how they could improve their pleasant little market town, do you think someone jumped out of their seat, shouting 'how about we knock down our football club, destroy a nice part of the town and help damage our high street – all in one smart move? W e already have 3 supermarkets, but what we really need is four?' If the Tesco juggernaut gets it way, then Hitchin will have all this and more.

Hitchin Town' Top Field has got to be one of my favourite oldy-wordly higgledy-piggledy charming little grounds that make ground-hoppers go all weak at the knees – especially after you've visited a few local boozers on the way from the train station. It's surrounded by greenery and it's still called Top Field and not The Really Fast Pick and Click Stadium of Speed or some other such nonsense. However, the Canaries problem is that they rent the land from the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust. This is a charity 'for the benefit of the community through the provision of facilities for cricket, football or other sports or for other general purposes for the benefit of the inhabitants of the town of Hitchin'. Unfortunately somewhere along the way, the Common Cows have decided to stick their noses in the trough, and try to flog the land while offering Hitchin a lovely new community sports facility elsewhere in the town.

So what's the problem? Well along with Hitchin Town fans, a number of other town organisations are again the plans with Chairman of Hitchin Forum, Mike Clarke, saying: “Tesco, the original suspect, has attracted opposition in other areas because of the impact it has had on local businesses. But whether it is Tesco, or another superstore, do we need a fourth large supermarket in town? Should a Hitchin charity be making a deal to do so? We think not.”

Football clubs should be at the heart of the communities, and non league clubs especially cannot expect to survive shoved out of the way on the outskirts of a town.

Supermarkets on the other hand are the opposite of community, despite all their social responsibility guff. They even expect governments to top up their workers low wages with tax credits. You won't catch Jeff Stelling crowing that they will be dancing down the Tesco aisles tonight. Your never hug complete strangers in a superstore - well, unless you want to be sectioned. Infact you'd be hard pressed to find someone smiling. You don't applaud cos some kids done some fancy footwork with the broccoli. There's no reminiscing of the old times on that fantastic 2-for-1 deal. And while you might shiver by the fridges, it's not the same as freezing on the terraces with a nice warm cup of tea moaning with your mates that the games bloody awful. But that's it. Mates, friends, colleagues, acquaintances – people. Human beings not bloody customers.

Bill Grimsey, former chief executive of Wickes, Iceland and Focus DIY, who knows a thing or two about shopping habits reckons that we need to completely re-vamp our high streets as community hubs. With ever increasing home deliveries and on-line shopping, the way we shop is changing fast and even Tescos are starting to flog off all the land they have banked and know they will never use. So he says that people will need more good reasons merely than just than shopping to visit shops.

So let's hear it for our local pubs, micropubs, independent shops, community centres, cafes, art spaces and of course football clubs that will be at the forefront of regenerating town centres. Creating places where people can meet rather than encouraging more social isolation.

Destroying Top Field might be a short lived economic shot in the arm for Tesco shareholders but it will do long term economic, social and cultural harm to Hitchin and help send another much loved football club towards the dustbin of history. 

* For all your 24 hour a day campaigning needs against supermarkets go to Tescopoly http://www.tescopoly.org/




Sunday, August 17, 2014

FANS UNITED: BACK TO EARTH WITH A BUMP

Printed in the Southern Football League Premier Division v Banbury United Saturday 16th August 2014. We won 2-1 in front of 312 people.


I thought good things came to those that wait? After a mere 24 years Slough finally get promotion and are rewarded with an opening game at near neighbours Burnham and a Tuesday night trip to the lepers of Hereford.
But let's rewind for a moment and savour that Bank Holiday in Kettering. 2-0 down, craning our necks inbetween Kettering fans and that all too familiar sinking feeling – the Slough Town nearly men. But this is a different Slough, with a different mentality and as soon as the first goal went in, Kettering who had been so dominant, began to wobble. That third goal and the celebrations were a bit of a blur and with a few of their numbskull 'fans' threatening all second half we bid a hasty retreat. Me and my mad cousin Mark and his unruly beard arrived as the vanguard at the Herschel Arms, letting landlord Tom and the few stragglers in the bar, that his pub was about to get busy. Fast forward a couple of hours, a few shots of god knows what, the players coach blocking Herschel Street as we all sang in the street, and the party was in full swing. It was one of the best nights i've had supporting Slough.
Like many Rebels, I gave work a miss the next day. Nursing my thumping head on the train back to Brighton, it took a couple of days to get rid of the hangover and quite a few weeks to wipe that grin off my face!
Not even the stupid plans to destroy lower league football by imposing Premiership B teams on us or England's predictable dismal performance in the World Cup could get rid of that grin.
But the Hereford United game brought football reality back with a bump. Hereford are yet another Conference basket-case, a league which Bath City's director of football says is no longer “viable.”
Thrown out of the Conference and £1.4 million in debt, you do wonder why the Southern League accepted them. They didn't even get a ground safety certificate until 3 days before the season began. The Hereford United Supporters Trust believe the new owners have only one thing in mind and that's asset stripping the club. They have asked their fans to boycott the team after over 95% of their members voted in favour. Their local MP agrees with the boycott and ex-players, officials, admin staff and the groundsmen are still waiting to get paid. They have a third winding up petition at the beginning of September. Will they even finish the season is doubtful.
The Hereford Trust have also organised an alternative fixtures list with ex-players and supporters donning the kit and 821 fans turning up for a Fans United fixture against Worcester. That's more than Herefords crowd against St.Neots on the opening game of the season.
The reason football authorities and clubs get away with treating us like mugs is because we act like ones, complaining about the way football is run but still willing to go along with it because of our sense of loyalty to our clubs.
This time fans have stuck together and I think we should respect that. Just like Coventry City fans refusing to go to Northampton, Wimbledon fans setting up their own club and Manchester United fans forming FC United of Manchester, who will be soon moving to their own ground, built in part thanks to £1.5 million raised by community shares.
That's the power of football fans. And until we make that stand, then the endless convey belt of financial football car crashes will continue while we all look over our shoulder and wonder if our club will be next.
Personally, I'd love to have gone to Edger Street, but I know that this isn't just about me going to a football match. It's about standing with other supporters. I would never cross a picket line and going to Edger Street is no different for me. And hopefully it won't be long, before we are playing a reformed supporters-run Hereford United at Edgar Street.