These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. After only 24 years we finally won promotion to the Southern Premier - only seven leagues below the Premiership. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time, and despite living in Brighton just can't shake them off. Oh and we will be playing in Slough next season!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

WHITEHAWK OR BUST

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Leamington Saturday 20th February 2016. I might even be able to get to the game. 

The first time I went to see Whitehawk Football Club play was in 2006 when I was served coffee in a proper mug and just 50 people watched the game, while the bar was bustling with locals more keen on the beer than the fooball. Not that it mattered and at the time I wrote 'currently top of the Sussex County League, players only get expenses so they are never going to attract players from too far away. One supporter told me, that not so long ago you had to live in the Whitehawk area to play for them. And on an estate with a bad reputation that has received millions in regeneration money, it’s more than just a football club but a proper community resource with plenty of football teams for all ages, young and old mixing, something community development workers can only dream of. The chairman was running the gate and his grandson selling raffle tickets. They’ve got plans to improve facilities, but I like the place, nestled next to the South Downs with the chalk hawk overlooking the ground. Former players still come to watch games with their sons in the squad, while the manager Ian Chapman made more than 300 appearances in ten years as a player with Brighton.'

Fast forward 10 years and Whitehawk are making headlines for all the right and wrong reasons. Fueled by large amounts of investment they have steamed up the leagues and are knocking on the Conference National League door; have a growing band of Ultras and a chairman who wants to change their name to Brighton City. This has put me off going, but with Sussex football once again falling to the foul weather, it was Whitehawk or sitting in the pub. And i've got to say I was pleasently surprised. The Ultras might be a bit to right-on but at least they do it with a large dollop of humour. They have however not seen the funny side of the plans to ditch Whitehawk. Now has their former vice-chairman and son of co-founder Ron Powell recently wrote a great letter to the local paper.

Like many other clubs, it is the influx of inappropriate levels of money in the search for short-term glory that leads to situations such as those that now prevail with the Hawks. This leads to desperate measures such as a name change in an attempt to prop up an unsustainable business plan. The Hawks should keep their name just as it is and be as proud as I am of being associated with this community. It is an asset not a liability.
Johns (Summers the current chairman) approach has alientated fans past and present and also built unnecessary tensions with Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. He may well be a very successful local businessman but leading a football club, needs the ability to manage fans' hearts as well as their heads. Changing names is disrespectuful by erasing its history and tradition as well as appearing to want to disassociate itself from the community in which it was born.
I would also like to pay tribute to the “real” heroes of Whitehawk, the small team of key officials led by John Rosenblatt who has served for the club for over 40 years and only its second secretary since 1945. These guys voluntarily dedicate so much time to the club and without them we would be not be having this debate today.
Finally, perhaps John Summers should in an attempt to reagin some much needed trust now reasure all the fans he really is in this for the long term. That if his plan for a name change is not successful, he will not walk away, condemning the club to a completely unsustainable situation. If he chose to do so it would leave the real fans to pick up the pieces just as has happening at so many other clubs. Or would he graciously accept defeat but then carefully manage the club back to a totally self-sufficient level, no doubt some way below the National League but to a point where me and many other fans can look forward to following the fate of our team for many years to come.”

I don’t begrudge Whitehawk their success its just not the way I think small community football clubs should be run. We've all heard so much trumpet blowing from money men so many times before and it almost always ends in tears. The irony is that the success that the chairmans money has brought has attracted a new generation of fans; fans that you feel would be more than capable of turning the Hawks into a supporters run club should the need arise. Fans who you know would respect the name Whitehawk Football Club.



Monday, January 25, 2016

HALF A SEASON TICKET

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Bedworth United on Saturday 6th February 2016

It definitely wasn't on my fiftieth birthday wish list, but I had been badgering my eldest to support his local team from the year dot and made him a Slough Town mascot for the first eight years of his life. So I really only had myself to blame when he said he no longer supported Arsenal but Brighton and Hove Albion. But was it my wise words or the fantastic work Albion in the Community do that they rightfully win so many awards for and who coach him twice a week?
Who knows, but every dad wants their offspring to share in their love of football, and not the frothing at the TV I-support-a-club-i-will-never-visit kind of 'support.' So what to do but bite the bullet and buy one of those frowned upon by real fans half-season tickets. Thankfully you don't have to wear a half-a-season wrist band so regulars can point you out and I hope I wont become a Slough Town outcast made to stand under the Shed guttering when its raining.
So on New Years Day I found myself in the Seagulls clubshop. It's four times bigger than the Beaconsfield clubhouse with ten staff manning the tills; no tin roof here to bang on, no old heater to keep Sue warm and I doubt there are any spiders or the need for sandbags for when the terraces flood. Two small pies, coffee, water, a bag of sweets and a Brighton scarf and I was waving goodbye to another £25 but at least I could walk home for free.
I don't like the fanzone, the twirling soggy scarves that hit me in the face as they are whirled in the air after they have been dragged in the rain and I WANT TO FUCKING STAND UP AND MOVE AROUND! Football league supporters also seem to have lost their ability to come up with original, witty songs and instead now sing from a very limited repertoire. Saying that, it can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention when you hear thousands singing Sussex-by-the-Sea but I do change the lyrics to Slough-by-the-Canal. Of course someone with a big head always manages to sit in front of my son – this time the big-heads arrived late for kick off and late after half time, talked about loft conversions for the whole game and of course left early. Really, at £25 a pop, why bother?
What is interesting is that when I think the game has been great, others are complaining about the football being served but maybe that isn't surprising when I often watch games that are nine levels below.
As for the forum, North Stand Chat is very lively but no different from others across the country, in that it is populated by too many people with unreasonable expectations and angry too-soon-after-the-final-whistle comments. Brighton went from being the only league club unbeaten to a club record for not scoring a goal (not helped by nearly a full team of injuries). And a few people called for the managers head! Obviously saw-dust is only thing in there's. I’m all for supporters having a voice, but why do so many have to be clueless morons?
In a crowd of 300 at Slough, I will know at least half the people. In 26,000 I bumped into just 3 familiar faces. I can guarantee if I wear my Slough scarf on the train, someone will approach me and ask me about the Rebels and when we are getting our new ground. That's not going to happen when thousands support the same team.
Ironically, one of the things I hate about modern football is fixtures being moved around by TV, is actually playing to my advantage. With Brighton doing well, their games are being dicked about giving me the wiggle room to go and support non league football and even, heaven forbid, the odd Slough Town game.
That's not to say, i'm not off my seat and cheering when Brighton score a goal, or muttering under my breath about a refs decision or a misplaced pass. And it wont be long before my eldest will be asking to leave his old dad and join his mates in the North Stand leaving me to crawl back under my Slough Town saddo non league rock. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

BARING AN APOCALYPSE

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Hitchin Town on Saturday 23rd 2016. We won 1-0 in front of 314 people. 

While the January monsoons were once again wiping out non league fixtures, Lancing FC from the Southern Combination Football League (or Sussex County in old money) tweeted that baring an apocalypse their top of the table clash with Arundel would go ahead. Lancing share their ground with Sussex FA and have bitten the bullet and installed a 3G pitch.
So sure of getting the game ahead they had offered free tickets to a local youth side who they hope will merge with them. So while other clubs were forking in vain, the Lancing groundsmen were hoovering and sweeping! By kick-off there were 118 paying punters and over 300 packed into the impressive facilities along one side of the ground. The game was fast and furious in the first half and by the time of the deluge in the second half came, the pitch didn't turn into a mud-bath. In the end they won 4-1 and went top of the league.
The only hiccup of the day was my complaint to the caterers that the coffee they had served me was salty. No, you idiot, you had just put milk in someones bovril.
Another Sussex club Worthing seem to waking from a long sleep since a young chairman took over and appointed an even younger manager. They installed 3G in the summer and are second in the Ryman South attracting gates between 500 to a 1,000 - so big infact that they have to work with the local council on a travel plan.
Of course Maidstone are leading the artificial way and are knocking on the Conference doors with crowds averaging over two thousand. Its worth Slough fans remembering that its just a couple of seasons back when a homeless Maidstone were averaging 300 a game.
Now Bracknell Town want to get on the 3G wagon, selling part of the decrepited Largess Lane ground for £1 million for housing so they can pay for it and carry out ground improvements. The all weather pitch will enable them to share with Ranleigh school in the week along with classrooms for sports studies courses for teenagers, a creche for students at nearby Bracknell and Wokingham college and a sports hall for the disabled. All that stands in the way is planning permission, but things certaintly look a bit brighter for the Hellenic League club with nearly 300 attending the Christmas holiday day derby with Ascot Town. So hats off to Bracknell for trying to diversify with as many income streams as possible – and you never know it might even bring in a few extra fans.
Of course I will miss the mud-baths that even up the teams in the early rounds of the FA Cup but it really is a lower league no brainer, I've heard complaints from other teams about an unfair advantage but as technology gets better, pitches get cheaper and the football authorities really get behind it, a trip to watch a game on the grass will become a novelty. And of course when we move to our Slough Town Theatre of Dreams we will be playing on the artificial stuff because as our chairman says “it is not only the way forward for clubs it is the way forward for communities as the pitch can be better utilised as opposed to just the couple of times a week you can play on a grass pitch. Also with an artificial pitch there is less chance that a game will be called off. It has taken the FA a long time, however artificial pitches are now accepted in the FA Cup, in the Conference League and it won’t be long before the professional leagues accept them.”
Barring of course, an apocalypse.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

THE POWER OF TWITTER

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Kettering Town on Saturday 9th January 2016.

This is a story about social media, never ending rain and a football chairman with his finger on the pulse – or at least the keyboard of his phone.
While the incessant rain in the north had led to homes and football grounds going under water, the South had escaped the worse of the deluges. So when the call came through that the Hungerford game was off, it was time to start searching for local games using the world of twitter as my friend. Now twitter can be time-consuming, self indulgent, distracting nonsense and I often find myself about to post something before deleting it knowing that no-one apart from my immediate family really care about the funny face they had pulled when I waved an organic carrot at them (there's an UglyFruitandVeg twitter account that covers that). But for political protests and football clubs it is a godsend and something that I put in my Non League Manifesto as something leagues should demand as essential. Forget penalising clubs for that extra turnstile that no one will ever squeeze through or that 250 seater stand that will remain empty for most of season, what the FA should be doing is finding ways to improve pitches so more games can be played on them and a crash course on twitter. In Slough, you have Robert Stevens who keeps you up to date with Berkshire sport while in Sussex we have some great non league feeds like Sussex Football and top football blogger Ian Townsend who champions Sussex teams.

Lewes proudly announced there wasn't a problem with their pitch, but just as I was heading for the bus to the Dripping Pan, the game was called off. Thousands in lost revenue and unsold food and beer for a community owned club bottom of the league is hard to swallow; and while angry tweets complained it was called off too late I think we should cut the club some slack. Lewes cant even win at home let alone predict future weather patterns.

Throughout the morning, the Shoreham chairman, Stuart Slaney had kept up incessant chat – as games were called off, he tweeted to the clubs encouraging them to come to Middle Road. It was like that voice at the back of your head telling you to ignore the Dry January nonsense and buy that pint at the bar.

Non League is a small family and Stuart knew that there are no massive rivalries at this level and fans wanting to fill the long festive period with another game, they could be tempted if he just kept chipping away. So when I made my way across the quagmire of the park that surrounds the ground half hour into the game, I became the 149th person through the gate. The best crowd of the season for a club that averages around 60, with supporters from Eastbourne Town, Whitehawk and Lewes in the crowd and no doubt others. 13 hours spent on the pitch by the groundsman last week had really paid off. By the end of the game the pitch looked like my allotment, but with no home game meaning no income for two weeks, it was financially important to get the game on.

It was also a game where you could also guarantee goals, although Shoreham hadn’t gloated about just how bad their opponents were on twitter. St.Francis Rangers are rooted to the bottom of the Southern Combination League premier division with no points from 22 games, just two goals scored and 151 conceded - officially the worst team in England. At the beginning of the season their manager had left taking all their players. With relegation a dead cert, it would be too easy to throw in the towel but with a thriving youth set-up St.Francis, just like Shoreham, is more than just about the first team. In the end it finished 8-0 and with every goal, Mr.Chairman asking everyone if he had the score right before tweeting. It would have been worse if it hadn’t been for the Rangers keeper who looked like an abominable mud monster at the end

Shoreham is now managed and populated by the team that played for East Grinstead who won promotion to the Ryman League a few seasons back, something that Shoreham aspire too. But rather than just throw money at promotion, the trick is to find the formula that lures Albion fans occasionally to populate the terraces and get more locals going to games. Which as any non league official will tell you is bloody hard work. Building your club through youth teams means at least there are youngsters at Shoreham who have to fetch lost balls and get into the habit of live Saturday football. And as they spend most of their teenage years glued to their phones, they will no doubt be getting a gentle electronic reminder from the Shoreham chairman to get along and support their team.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

FIFTY YEARS A REBEL

To be published in the Southern League Premier Division game v Chesham United on Boxing Day 2015 - my 50th birthday. We lost 1-0 in front of 438, best home gate of the season, and one terrible game!

Today I celebrate 50 years on this planet and it is fair to say that apart from my family the one constant in much of those years is Slough Town Football Club. 
 
Since my dad first took me to Wexham Park when somehow eight thousand people crammed in to watch Slough U15's lose to Liverpool in a 1975 final; to buying my first season ticket for just £12, my first away game to Carshalton in the FA Cup where I remember my dad telling Chris Sliski he'd better look after me! Too late, I was bitten by the football bug and it soon became a ritual to go to every home and away game jumping on the coach opposite The George on Farnham Road. I went to school with Terry Reardons relatives and remember wearing my Slough Town scarf all day at school after we had beaten Sutton United and won the Isthmian League (but no promotion to the Conference in those pre-football pryamid days). We all piled into the players tunnel and I nearly passed out in the crush. I played (well was mainly a crap unused sub) for Crusaders who were coached by a certain long-haired Brain McDermott. The whole team used to go to home games and join in the massive half time football matches behind the far goal. I even 'helped' build some of the terraces on the Sunday morning sessions.

As I got older and became a rather too frequent visitor of the Wheatsheaf Pub, we organised coaches to many of the bigger games – arriving so late at the Wycombe game most had to watch from the hill while a few of us jumped over the fences to watch the biggest Conference league attendance at the time. The late night lock in after we drew 3-3 with Reading in the FA Cup scoring twice in injury time to equalise. That crazy journey home after we beat Bromley in the League. Our first Conference promotion season, when we were full of excitement, only to see us get beaten 6-1 away to Barnet in our first away game. Seeing our worst ever league defeat, getting battered 9-0 by AFC Wimbledon but our non stop singing lifting us to legendary status in a season of horrors. But the following season was even worse when we should have been relegated to the Dog and Duck.

Moving to Brighton nearly 25 years ago, you'd have thought I would have shaken the Slough Town bug' but after falling out of love with football I started watching local teams until I started going once again home and away. After endless play-off heartache we finally got the promotion we craved, with that fantastic second half fight back against Kettering. The celebrations in the Herschel afterwards will live long in the memory (well, what I can remember will). Recently i've been attending and speaking at far too many Rebel funerals – including Mr. Slough Town Chris Sliski, who I still expect to see at games and who I hope will be remebered when we move to our new ground.

This is the first season in ages that I haven't got a season ticket and what with work, our community pub and two growing children have found it hard to cheer on the Rebels as much as I'd like. But they remain my team, my family of football friends. Not the sort of family you'd invite round for Christmas dinner, but one that i'd be happy to spend the next 50 years cheering on the Rebels in sickness and in health.


SUPER KEV MCGOLDRICK

Published in the Southern League Premier Division match v Merthyr Town on Tuesday 15th December 2015. We won 3-1 in front of 225

There can’t be many physios that have their own football chants. But then there can’t be many physios like Super Kev McGoldrick. Kev has been with Slough Town for incredible 30 years and has seen it all from Conference football to the club staring down the barrel of the dog and duck league to losing our ground and nearly going bust. Words like legend are branded around in football and life far too easily but I think there's one person at this fine club of ours that really deserves the title.
His very first match was something special. I was a fresh faced teenager at a packed Wexham Park in a FA Cup replay against Orient on 10th Dec 1985. We had been leading 2-0 at half time in the first game but eventually took us to our replay where they beat us 3-2 and once again a Third Round FA Cup tie alluded us.
Tonight will be his 1,619 competitive game, but if you count friendlies it's over 1,800!
Kev has been a constant for the club, an approachable, top bloke always with a smile on his face ready to help people out. Not just players now, but former players are always singing his praises on twitter – and quite a few fans have gone along with aches and pains (mainly from watching Slough, but im not sure he's come up with a cure for that yet).
I interviewed him a couple of years back when he'd just done 27 years on the sick bed, but I think its worth repeating.

Why did you become a football physio?
At 24 I had suffered a few injuries as a local footballer and I was receiving treatment with Owen Harris at Wimbledon and he encouraged me to get involved in the treatment of injuries and I became a sports therapist. After attending courses at Spurs and Lilleshall I was approached to join Hillingdon Borough to look after their 2nd X1

Who do you support?
I only support Slough Town

How long have you been associated with Slough Town and who introduced you to the club?
My first game was against Orient at home in the FA cup replay in 1985.
I was at Hillingdon Boro Youth with Alan Davies (who became Slough manager) and a young Fred Cummings and Alan recommended me to then manager Howard Kennedy.

From your perspective, who is the best Slough player you have seen
As I’m on my third decade with the club I have picked from each.
Keith White was a marvelous footballer
Les Briley such an important player for that time
Wilko and Daly 
What they all had in common was great integrity

What's your most memorable match, good or bad?
Best matches Reading at home FA Cup (Slough were 3-1 down in injury time and managed to draw 3-3). Stevenage away in the Trophy. Walsall at Windsor in the FA Cup
The worst - hanging on to a 9-0 defeat at Wimbledon - the shame!

What single thing would make your job easier?
A football ground in slough
A club doctor
All players to have private medical insurance

Who has been the best manager you have worked with and are there any that have made you not be part of the team?
Managers I’ve had the honour of serving under are Alan Davies, David Kemp, Brian McDermott, Eddie Denton, Steve Bateman, Wilko. No manager made me not want to be at the club

Are former players, especially those that come back as managers surprised your still here?
Some people may be surprised, but I am surprised that other clubs do not have longevity in their ranks

Have players attitudes changed much towards fitness and health?
Players are much more aware of preparation and conditioning

Do you ever feel threatened by the host of attractive young female physios most clubs in our division seem to employ?
I might feel threatened if I was not maturely gorgeous with blue eyes.

Did you add a Mecano set to your physio bag to keep on repairing Wilko's legs?
Wilko had his fair share of injuries but had total commitment on and off the pitch

Are you optimistic about Slough Towns Future?
I remain optimistic because of the people associated with the club and the ambitions they have to carry this club forward, but we do need to recruit some younger blood.

What do you do outside football?
I have a wife Sue who hates football so I don’t have to have a conversation when I get home! and two daughters Aimee and Laura.

Do you think you will ever hang up your physio bag?
I have never thought of quitting. I may be replaced one day for a newer model but that's fine. I have been proud and privileged to serve this great club. I have loved every minute and have made many lifelong friends.

Thank you Kev for everything you have done for Slough Town. Let's make sure he gets a song or two when he runs out at our new ground next season. 

More tributes to Kev are here 

Saturday, December 05, 2015

NO ESCAPE FROM SLOUGH

Printed in the Southern Premier League Division game v St.Neots Town on Saturday 5th December 2015. We drew 2-2 in front of 280.

I reckon if I got on a spaceship and landed on the Moon, I would bump into someone from Slough. Forget Marsbars, the towns biggest export is people. On the long train to the back of beyond, we arrived in the seventies time-warp that is Kings Lynn. I wondered aloud if this was the place you could hide from some hideous crime, where no one knew your name or cared. Until we walked into a local boozer and someone from Slough said he used to drink in the Wheatsheaf. FFS. Or 'its a small world' as they say in polite society. My cover was blown, not helped by my Rebels top and big amber and blue knitted mittens.

I love the fact that football sends you to the far ends of the earth. Too places you would never visit unless imprisoned or trying to escape detection like Wroxham or AFC Croydon (just go round the back of the crematory, down a windy old lane, you can't miss it). When I was growing up I could map the British Isles with ease thanks to my football knowledge. Maybe learning the football pyramid should be part of the Geography syllabus.

Forget the 92 league clubs. Pah! I reckon as I approach my 50th year on this earth i've visited 200 grounds and I take great pleasure in pointing out these places to my missus as we drive around the country, as she pretends to be bored stiff. From Dover to Gateshead, Truro to Boston, i've been there, done than and wiggled my Slough Town bobble hat. In the case of Boston, got stuck behind a wedding ceremony as we wound around country lanes and blew my air-horn so loud, I think I might have killed a small dog and its elderly owner. Some of these grounds are now unfortunately buried under housing and supermarkets, but supermarkets are now in internet-shopping retreat trying to offload their out of town stores. I look forward to the day when one is knocked down and replaced with a non league football ground.

A sense of belonging means everything to fans, but not it seems to the businessmen behind Whitehawk FC who have long been pining to ditch the name (and the ground) as they splashed the cash that has hoisted them up the leagues. They tried Brighton City but for some reason Brighton and Hove Albion weren't keen. The owners complaint that they are different from the corporate Brighton don't quite ring true. Both have been bankrolled by rich owners, but in Brighton's case they have 26,000 supporters coming to their games, whereas Whitehawk are lucky to get 200 in the Conference South. Sure, they have a dedicated bunch of ultras but the Wealdstone raider chant still holds true – 'you've got no fans.' The Whitehawk owners blame this on the reputation of the Brighton estate and no one knowing where it is, but with their FA Cup antics i'm not sure the latter is true anymore. The only trouble i've seen was years back in the FA Vase when some Truro fans unwisely sang 'does your boyfriend know you're here.' They think there is room for a second league club in the city but I think they need to get real. I went to watch the Albion on Saturday on a freebie, worth it because my eldest says he now supports the team of his birth town rather than the Arsenal. They are heading for the Premiership and that will attract even more supporters from across Sussex. Shoreham's chairman, a club just a few miles down the road admitting that their crowds drop by half when Brighton are at home.

If they do become Brighton Town, I don't want to be in the same situation I found myself in at Biggleswade. Wandering round their market town centre before being drowned in another of Nigel's real ale pubs, I spotted a stall run by Biggleswade football club. 'We are playing you today' I said, offering the universal non league hand of friendship, only to be told 'That's the other lot.' As they chased me out of town with a pitchfork I cursed the fact that I should have brushed up on my Geography syllabi, and seen that there was a Biggleswade Town as well as United.

CROCUS & COCKLES, ALL IN A VASE

Printed in the Southern Premier League game v Biggleswade Town on Tuesday 1st December 2015. We won 2-0 in front of 242 people.

On one of those days when winter announces itself to football fans, we were treated to the days highest scoring game in the FA Vase, a cup competition where everyone who enters takes it seriously and wants to win.
Today was Round 2 and we were off to Eastbourne as the last of the clubs entered this round. 60% of all the 572 teams who had put their name in the hat of this seasons competition had already been eliminated.
Eastbourne Town are a proper non league football club – the oldest senior one in Sussex, they are bang in the town centre, have a historic turnstile block built in 1914 and their Saffron ground is named after the variety of crocus that used to be grown for use in medicine (ok maybe flowers and football isn't that traditional, apart from the weeds growing over many forgotten terraces). Eastbourne might be known as Gods waiting room, but it is also a hotbed of football; home to not one but 3 teams. It used to be four until Shinewater Association merged with Eastbourne United, and last season that merged team had a fantastic run in the Vase losing in the semi-finals. Now in the same division, I heard mumblings all day about their league rivals, but really Eastbourne Town are not you're average Southern Combination Football League team. Third in the table, second in the attendance figures, spot on with their social media presence they should be in the Ryman League. Infact in 2007 they were promoted to the Ryman pipping Whitehawk to the title. However, they were relegated back down in 2014, but you can tell they get bigger crowds than average cos they have throwaway cups than mugs – and three different outlets to buy food to keep everyone well fed and watered.
It was the first time they had ever played their opponents Greenwich Borough, who are second in the Southern Counties East Football League and groundshare with Dartford. 'Borough' as they are imaginatively nicknamed brought along a flag which also bizarrely had Dartford's crest on it and at least one fan who could do with some lower league etiquette lessons. Eastbourne meanwhile had a drummer but no one to join in with the beats; not to say the paying crowd of 138 wasn't decent, they just weren't that vocal.
To say that the Eastbourne programme editor likes stats is an understatement; not only could you find out average crowds in their league, how many miles you'd have to travel to watch the rest of the seasons away games (17 to AFC Uckfield since you asked) but I don't think I’ve ever read programme note that not only question the oppositions official history, but do their own research and re-write it!
As we tried to warm our cockles with coffee and worried that a draw at full time would mean extra time, Eastbourne scored in the 11th minute. But as the first half progressed, Greenwich forwards were causing havoc and deservedly went 3-1 up. But a peach of a goal from Jason Taylor just before half time made it 2-3. Game on
As we defrosted in the packed to the rafters clubhouse (not just with those watching the game, but with two hockey teams; surrounded by cricket pitch and bowls pavilion, this is the beauty of being a multi-purpose sports complex) we wondered if there was a way back for Eastbourne.
The second half was even better than the first as Eastbourne clawed back the goal to make it 3-3 before they gave away a penalty to Greenwich who slotted it away to make it 4-3. But Eastbourne forwards were causing all sorts of problems and when Kenny Progue made it 4-4 on 67 minutes, they had momentum. It was well deserved goal when Aaron Capon nudged them ahead on 72 and they held on for an impressive 5-4 victory.
Nine goals for six quid, Eastbourne Town became the last club left flying the flag for Sussex in the Vase. Our cockles as well as our toes were well and truly warmed as we managed to get our train on time. The future for Eastbourne Town looks as bright as the saffron crocus flowers that used to grow their.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

RAISING A GLASS TO VOLUNTEERS

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Stratford Town on Saturday 21st November 2015. We lost 4-2 in front of 261 very cold fans.
It will come as no great surprise to some that I spend far too much time in the pub residents helped to re-open as the first co-op on a housing estate in the UK. However, it isn't all spent gulping down beer, but in meetings, organising events, showing people round, sorting out the garden and being drowned not by beer but by paperwork. As chair of The Bevy committee I don't get paid a penny and I don't get free drinks or food. And neither should I. While we have paid staff, our co-op pub relies on an army of volunteers to keep it going, not just saving money but also because people see it as their pub.
One of the visions we had when we opened was that it would feel like a front room; somewhere you felt immediately welcome when you walked thru the door. Our first ever garden fayre was the perfect example of how we are achieving that. From 3 to 83 years old, people mingled, tasted free nibbles and cake, carved pumpkins and enjoyed the banter. One older resident apologised for arriving early, saying otherwise she would just be sitting at home on her own. The old guys that populate the bar in the day raised nearly £200 through raffles and cake sales to make sure some of our elderly residents would be able to afford Christmas dinner with us. Last Saturday I missed another football match because we were at an awards ceremony where we won best community business in Sussex!
One lad with learning disabilities had a stroke recently and has lost most of his sight. He has been welcomed as part of the last of the summer-wine-club and one of the builders swapped numbers in case he ever needed a lift to the pub. It might not seem much, but those little acts of kindness, strengthen our communities and make them much better places for everyone. He told me at the awards ceremony he would be lost without the Bevy.
We live in a society that is increasingly isolated, where old people are left to rot and people live in fear of crime. We know that what we do will be needed more and more as community spaces are lost to property vultures, greedy pubcos and a tsunami of council cuts.
We have already shown that we are more than just a pub with 40 groups using the Bevy since we opened last December – everything from felt making to history groups to health MOTs, WI knit and natter, our monthly repair cafe, weekly senior tea club, community choir, running club, Spiral disability group, men and women darts teams, the list goes on. We've also held our first wedding where at one point there were 11 vicars in the house!
It's not all been plain sailing, like any new business we have suffered from cash flow problems, building problems, personal problems. When we do get it wrong we get it in the ear, but we have a suggestions box, and actually most of the people complaining do so because they want The Bevy to work as well. It's their pub.
Getting it and running has been like turning round a tanker, but we reckon we have a blueprint of how we can stop the tide of 29 pubs closing a week by making them more than just pubs. We have spoken to campaigners wanting to re-open their Brighton locals and I have met with other community pub campaigners that are springing up all around the country.
But our model is really no different to the thousands of football clubs up and down the country that rely on the same goodwill and passion to keep their teams ticking over. Come early one Slough Town match-day and you will see just how many people are involved to make sure everything runs smoothly.
So if you are thinking of any New Year resolutions this year, then I would say volunteer.
And if you're looking for an unusual gift for that awkward person then why not buy them a pub for Christmas. Shares in the Bevy are just £10 (tho obviously don't be shy if you can afford more). And while you're at it, why not sign someone up to the Slough Town 500 lottery club and help make your football club more financially stable.
Cheers!

Pre-match Slough perfectly sums up what i'm talking about. Photo by Gary House 

Monday, October 26, 2015

#NOTHINSPECIAL

Printed in the Southern Premier League match v Cambridge City Saturday 24th October 2015. We won 3-1 in front of 292

It was FA Cup day. It was Non League Day. And here I was standing by Brighton beach watching my missus and eldest having paint thrown at them in a sponsored run. This wasn't part of the deal when we decided to have kids. Saturday was carved in stone as football day, now being eroded by temper tantrums*, commitments and a community pub. (*from me, when I miss a footballing Saturday).

Once again tho Non League Day, ironically the brainchild of a football league QPR supporter, swelled crowds across the country but the one million dollar questions remains – how the hell do you get people to come back, more than just once a season?

Suffolk side Bungay Town who have hit with the headlines with their Non League Day offers, paying people 5p to watch a game and last season a free punnet of mushrooms said they would be doing nothing special for once – well apart from winning 13 nil! Bungay might play 11 levels below the Premiership but they have a top class marketing 'department'. Chairman Shaun Cole said “I love Non League Day, its a great chance for clubs like us to take on the big boys in the semi-pro game, not on the pitch but in the media. I see a lot of clubs complaining that they don't get attention but if a club that plays at the second level of the Anglian Combination make the national press then surely anyone can. Just be a bit creative in what you do.”

Bungay seem very lucky in that they have a great team behind the scenes. Their former chairman has secured over a million pounds of funding over the past 10 years, and from a town of little over 5,000 they have an incredible 25 teams.

But this years Non League Day was going to be different for Bungay Town 'What do you do when everyone is expecting something special, or at least a little odd? The answer to that is nothing. Or #nothinspecial. That's because what we do (and hundreds of clubs like us up and down the country) every Saturday is special in itself. At every club in the land at our level there is a small group of people who mark out the pitch, wash the shirts, collect the subs, maybe arrange some insurance, pump up the footballs and try to find them in the hedge after our heroes have failed to be quite as clinical (or cynical) as some of Chelsea's finest. We at Bungay Town FC think that in itself is worth celebrating and if we can persuade a few fans of the pro game to watch their local non league side this weekend then so much the better. No free mushrooms, paying you to get in, fancy dress, stilt walkers, supporters wearing onesies or pensioners riding unicycles. Just a lower level English Non-League game which thousands of us enjoy every week.'

Which reminds me of the sign seen hanging from a few lower league fences recently 'Before you complain, have you volunteered yet.'

What so many people do to make grassroots football tick in this country isn't #nothinspecial, but above-and-beyond; giving so many of us, players and supporters alike, something special to do on a Saturday. Unless or course, you have to watch strangers throw paint over your family.


Monday, October 19, 2015

FROTHING MAD

Printed in the Southern Premier League game v Paulton Town on Saturday 17th October 2015. We won 2-1 in front of 244

I can handle most things life throws at me but a tame defeat in the FA Cup and I’ve got a face like a slapped arse, looking for a cat to kick, grumbling on twitter and frothing on the train as the seats around me become vacant.
Football fans are impossible to please. It's never quite just right. We want immediate gratification and never ending success. We are like little kids waking at 4am demanding to open our Christmas presents. Spoilt brats with terrible temper tantrums.
The other Saturday I went to a stadium that is so near my house, I can cycle to it 10 minutes – even quicker if there were weren't so many bloody football fans getting in the way. The crowd of 26,000 in Brighton's swanky stadium is no doubt going to be more than the total attendance of all the games I go to this year. Brighton are top of the Championship and on this display are heading to the Promised Land of fixtures being switched at short notice, eye-watering admission prices and being told endlessly like some North Korean dictate that they are in the best league in the world. I have never seen such a one-sided 1-1 draw as the Albion played Cardiff off the park. It could easily have been 6-1 and at the death, a player missed what looked like a sitter. Reading their forums afterwards you'd never guess they were not only top of the league but the only football league club not to have lost a game yet, playing fantastic, intelligent football. Two points dropped! End of the world! We need another striker!
When Slough recently went on a five game losing run, the forum came alive with the question 'can you comment on a game you've not been at?' Slough had been beaten 3-0 by second in the table Leamington, recently relegated from the Conference South. It seemed, we had let ourselves down badly by some defensive mistakes and an offside goal. But the fightback in the second half led those that were there to praise the team effort. 'Did it get us any points' those frothing on their keyboards blubbered? Well no, but I don't know about you, but commenting on a game you weren't at, or just following on twitter or Rebels Radio is a bit like commenting on a book you've just read a review of. As Staines Rebel Junior said “Having listening to a lot of radio last year and having actually been on it a few times this year I can tell you it is incredibly difficult to put over exactly how the team are doing and how each individual player is doing. Basing your analysis of the game solely on twitter or the radio is nothing like basing it on being there for real.”
I want the team I support to put in a shift. Something I felt we hadn't done against Basingstoke who were ripe for one of those cliched FA Cup upsets.
One of my best days supporting the Rebels was when we lost 9-0 to AFC Wimbledon which sealed our relegation. Why? Because of the support for a team who all season were on a hiding to nothing with the club in serious trouble. It was backs-against-the-wall look-on-the-bright side-of-life stuff. And I’ve never had a womble bow to me before.

Lewes fans are also on the warpath, sick of five seasons of dross. Yes, they know they have one of the best marketed clubs in the land, yes they are a community club ticking all the right boxes and going about things in a sensible, sustainable manner. But fans want to see their first time play some decent football and get a win. Which is understandable, and I thank my lucky stars I don't have to put up watching them at the moment week in week out. But one fan completely crossed the line accusing one of the (volunteer) directors of having his snout in the trough. Trough full of what?

I know its hard (but easy after 3 league wins on the bounce for Slough fans) but we do all need a reality check sometimes. See how we can get involved to make our club better. We wont all agree, but what we do need to do, as supporters of Slough Town is get behind the team when it really matters. When the game is on. Let's leave the frothing on the top of our beer.

TWO TEAMS, FOUR RAILWAY STATIONS

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Redditch Town on Saturday 27th September 2015. We lose 2-0 in front of 250.

Two football teams and four train stations - Dorking has it all, plus more trees than you can shake a leafy Surrey stick at.
Dorking Deepdeene is my destination for the FA Cup 1st Qualifying round (or round 3) and time to turn my attention to my home town team, with Slough Town away to Dorking Wanderers for the first time ever.
It's not surprising that Slough have never played the Wanderers as they are very much the new kids on theblock. It's just 16 years since they were formed and they have made incredible progress and now find themselves in the Ryman League South after promotion last season.
Slough Town, once of the Conference and a non league big hitter, are now entering there 12th season homeless, similar to the other Dorking who've were made homeless after their old Meadowbank ground was deemed unsafe in 2013. 135 years old, they are currently sharing with Horley FC in the Combined Counties.
Still good things comes to those that wait and Slough Town, Dorking Wanderers and Dorking FC should all be moving to new grounds next season. In the case of the Dorking teams they could be groundsharing at a revamped Meadowbank, on a 3G pitch which will also be the new home of the Surrey FA.
How important a home to call your own comes over loud and clear from Dorking FC now a Community Interest Company. “When the Board took over the club in 2014, Meadowbank – its location, history and everything it can contribute to Dorking’s town centre - was one of the main factors that enthused the local people involved. The ground was threatened with development for retail or housing – but the Board pledged to secure the future of football. When it opened in 1953, Meadowbank was the pride of the town and the local community. We are delighted that ambitious Councillors and Officers at Mole Valley District Council shared our vision to restore it as a focal point of the town centre. The Council has committed to a fantastic £4 million pound redevelopment with a brand new clubhouse and a 3G all-weather artificial pitch (consigning the famous ‘Dorking bobble’ to footballing history). It will be a sporting facility for use by schools, youth clubs and local  people...Consequently, our ten year plan builds a holistic football club that balances football, business, community and social enterprise. We passionately believe that Dorking FC can not only be seen a blueprint for how a grassroots football club should be run, but one that people in the Football Association recognise as THE blueprint. We intend to set Dorking FC as the standard against which all other grassrootss football clubs are measured.
A dig at Wanderers or common sense? While the groundshare hasn't been confirmed and isn't exactly a match made in heaven, more a shotgun wedding, it makes economic sense. The current Wanderers ground in Westhumble is a credit to volunteers who've worked so hard to get it to Ryman League standard and with spectacular views to boot; but its just a little out of town for my liking.
So the Slough Town Rebels were all set for the proverbial banana skin. Wanderers unbeaten and just 8 places below Slough who play a level above in the Southern Premier whose season has so far been one of fits and starts.
On a perfect sunny FA Cup day in front of a decent crowd of 184 Dorkings reserve keeper Slavomir Huk pulled off 2 fantastic saves in the first half as Slough dominated proceedings. But with cup ties, you always just worry as you hit a brick wall, the opposition will deal that killer goal. Then as it looked like we were heading for a stalemate, Slough got a penalty in the 90th minute. Slotted home by Rebel captain Martin, the travelling fans mobbed him and Slough were through to the next round.
£3,000 in the bank for a homeless club isn't to be sniffed at while for Dorking Wanderers, they can get back to storming their new league and maybe just maybe kiss and make-up with their elderly statesman rivals one day soon.


THE GLUE THAT BINDS

Printed in Southern League Premier Division match v Circencester Town on Saturday 5th September 2015. We won 1-0 in front of 260 people.


It's probably safe to say that too much time is spent on football. Watching it, dissecting it, hanging on every word of players and managers who quite frankly, don't have a lot to say. But when push comes to shove, football can bring people together when it really matters.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon two young lads from Worthing United FC were travelling along the A27 to play a game for their team. A team that had just had the most successful season in its history. But fate had other plans. A hurricane jet from the nearby Shoreham air-show crashed into the road killing 11 people including the two footballers. Sussex went into shock, Worthing cancelled all forthcoming games and issued an emotional statement “At this point, we don't know how or if we will cope with this.”
Goalkeeper Matt Grimstone was a groundsman for Brighton and Hove Albion, while midfielder Jacob Schilt was a Seagulls supporter who have played for the fans' team in charity matches. The Championship club have pulled out all the stops to do whatever they can for a club whose manager said was “pretty much on its knees.” Worthing United's next game is tomorrow in the FA Vase with Albion helping with ticketing and stewarding, which as one of the Worthing officials pointed out “Will undoubtedly be the biggest game in the clubs history, sadly for the wrong reasons.”
So on FA Cup day it seemed appropriate to pay our respects at Worthing's near neighbours Shoreham who were taking on Horley Town from the Combined Counties in the preliminary round (or round two if we were being sensible about it). Non league football is a close-knit community and both clubs had agreed that whoever won the game would donate £500 of their cup prize money to the Shoreham Memorial Fund. As we arrived just in time for the minutes silence, filmed by ITV and local station Latest TV, Middle Road was busy than usual. A decent crowd of 142 – nearly double what they get when Brighton are playing away and three times what they get when the Albion are at home – had come to show their respects. The pull of the Albion has a big effect on the local non league scene, with crowds dipping and players disappearing to the AMEX - even the Horley Town supporters flag had the Albion plastered over it.
In the last round these two teams had scored 15 goals between them against their opponents but instead of a goal-fest it was still 0-0 with 70 minutes gone despite the odd chance, some good saves and wayward shots. Both teams huffed and puffed and the big Shoreham lad who had banged in 5 goals in the previous round seemed out of sorts. Shoreham finally scored in the 51st minute when Horley gave away a needless penalty that was well dispatched by Shoreham's player-manager. A horrible bobble and Horley equalised 20 minutes later and both teams go again.
Of course you could say that football doesn't matter when tragedy’s like this happen, but I think it does. Why I can't imagine the grief the families are going through, it can only help to see just how people have come together, including an amazing sea of floral tributes on the harbour bridge. The outpouring of grief, the minutes silence, the messages of goodwill from across the country, have been heartening.
They might not set the world alight, but clubs like Shoreham and Worthing United are important parts of our communities that contribute much more than just some footballers huffing and puffing after a leather ball. They are part of the glue that binds communities together and our towns, cities and villages would be much poorer places without them.

Monday, August 31, 2015

PORTCHESTER PUMMEL THE POPPIES

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Poole Town Saturday 29th August 2015. We lost 3-1 in front of 305 people.

I don't often travel to football on an open top bus. Across the sea. But then this was FA Cup day where anything can happen. From my Swanage holiday apartment I could see Bournemouth, so it
seemed only proper to play a trip to watch Bournemouth Poppies extra preliminary tie against AFC Portchester. I'd done my research, using the power of Twitter to find out the best way to get their from a very helpful official. That the Poppies best run in the cup was a couple of years back when they lost a second qualifying round replay to Truro City, the same season they reached the quarter finals of the Vase.
Bournemouth Rovers were founded by 8 enthusiastic gentlemen in 1875 one who ended up as Mayor of Bournemouth. Portchester didn't arrive on the scene until 101 years later. They are known as the Poppies so as not to confuse them with their illustrious town neighbours and moved to their ground in 1908. A former farmers field its surrounded by houses and still has plenty of space to develop. The clubhouses was opened in 1985 and has an impressive 205 seater stand and glass fronted clubhouse where you can sup your ales and watch the football in the cold winter months ahead. It still has those old fashioned speakers that managed to crackle into life to tell us about goal scorers and subs, and a couple of nesting pigeons which they have no doubt trained to shit on opposition fans. And in today's crowd of 77 there were quite a few from the suburbs of Fareham.
An open top bus across a chain-linked ferry sounds almost as romantic as the early rounds of the FA Cup until bits of tree hit you in the face while snot dribbles down your cheeks and old people hold onto their hats shivering. Eventually I made it to the bus station, where it's a change onto the yellow bus, where a combination of day dreaming and the hotel near the ground being refurbished meant I disappeared hopelessly lost into the suburbs. So I arrived late in a cab greeted by a turnstile operator so far away from the action with building works in front of him that he didn't know the score. I hadn't missed any goals but it soon became apparent that despite both playing in the Wessex League, Portchester were bossing this. Managed by former Arsenal and England international Graham Rix they seemed to be so much more assured on the ball, passing it around and winning most challenges. But it took just before half time to get their break through with a Mr.Baldacchino scoring the first goal (I arrived too late for a programme). The second half started the same with the Poppies keeper pulling off an excellent save, posts being hit until two quick goals ended their cup dream. On this showing you quite fancy Portchester to go a bit further and they play AFC Totton in the next round. (They did, beating them 3-1)
The game had everything you'd expect from this level of football. A second half pep talk from one of the players dad, goalkeepers having to hop over fences to get wayward balls, obligatory old man with a crazy beard mumbling into his beer. With neighbours Bournemouth now in the Premiership the gulf between the clubs has become a chasm, it's almost a different sport. That's not to say it isn't run professionally or that people behind the scenes don't work bloody hard to make their clubs tick. Its just so different from the 'best league in the world' crap Sky never tire of telling us. And that's why I love it.