These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. After a mere 24 years we finally won promotion to the Southern Premier, just 7 leagues below the Premiership. I’ve been supporting Slough for 34 long years, and despite moving to Brighton still go to most games. Still waiting for that bloody new ground in Slough tho.

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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WHAT HAVE THE TRUST EVER DONE FOR ME!

Slough Town Supporters Trust was formed in 2003 and since then have handed over £30,000 to the club! They currently sponsor the home shirt and recently sponsored the youth and reserve teams. They run the coach travel to away games and members volunteer behind the scenes on match days. They run the Golden Goal and 500 Club Rebel Lottery while Trust board member Sue runs the club shop. They organise the end of season walk where money raised is split between the Trust and a local charity. 3 Trust board members are also on football club management committee and so have a say in how the club is run. 

So why not become a member?
 
Why should I join?
All Supporters Trust have a pivotal role to play in the health and success of their club, so get yourself along to the Trust hut at our next home game and become a member – and don’t forget to keep throwing your loose change into the collecting buckets on the way out. You will be supporting the long term future of Slough Town Football Club.
How much is it
It's a minimum of £10 a year but more money welcome! Junior membership is £5
What do I get
If you travel by coach to any of the Rebels away games you get £5 knocked off the cost along with travel and accident insurance.
Juniors also get a discount along with birthday and Christmas cards.
How does the Trust raise its money
Through membership fees, raffles, quiz and race nights and bucket collections at the end of each home game.
How can I get more involved
The Trust always need more management committee members. Please see Ollie, Mark Hunter, Mike or Alan if you are interested.
To join the Trust please send cheques (made payable to STSA Ltd) c/o 17 Swabey Road, Langley, Slough, SL3 8NR or see the above people on match days.

But don't listen to us, this is what Steve Easterbrook has to say “Apart from all the great work that the Trust does in the community and all the benefits that members receive, being a member of the trust is a great way of being more connected to the club. The Trust also has a healthy representation on the club's management committee and therefore members have a direct input on how the club is actually run. At the end of the day...... the fans are the club and any organisation, such as the Trust, that brings true fans together can only have a positive impact on the long term future of this great club.”

SO JOIN THE SLOUGH TOWN SUPPORTERS TRUST TODAY!

Monday, August 04, 2014

HEREFORD IN THE BULL-SHIT

Football is a dirty old business and the higher up you go, the more corporate and soulless it becomes. But at our level, we still celebrate with the players, can chat to the managers and are on first name terms with the chairman. Hell, they even let some of us print our rants in the programme.
But there are times when politics and football collides even at our level and Slough fans have been debating ever since the fixtures came out whether or not they should go to cheer on the Rebels at Hereford.
Before we get to Hereford's mismanagement, kicked out of the Conference and currently £1.4 million in debt, let's look at another lower league club who asked fans to boycott their games.
Chester City were averaging almost 2,000 in League Two the season before, decided to boycott games to get rid of their hated chairman who had run their club into the ground. Their last 3 games averaged less than 470 and one home fixture with Eastbourne was postponed after 75 minutes following an on-pitch protest. A survey showed that 95% of fans supported a boycott while "99.5 per cent of respondents believed a change of ownership was essential.” Chester were eventually wound up and thrown out of the Conference.  A new club was formed by supporters who got behind their team with volunteers helping to run every department of the club, and fans turning out in numbers at matches – breaking a number of attendance records along the way. The reborn, supporter run Chester, won 3 back-to-back titles and are now back in the Conference averaging 2,366 a game.
So what of Hereford? The Hereford United Supporters Trust have also asked to their fans to boycott the team after over 95% voted in favour of the move in a poll of members. They have asked all supporters to not attend home matches, take up advertising and sponsorship with the club, or participate or contribute to any event held at Edgar Street or to the financial benefit of Hereford United until the owners make good with the promises to pay the staff and players, meet all football creditors, settle the debts owed to Herefordshire Council, and settle all outstanding winding-up proceedings. Their local MP agrees with the boycott and ex-players, officials, admin staff and the groundsmen are still waiting to get paid. They are under a transfer embargo and have a third winding up petition at the beginning of September. Finishing the season looks doubtful.
The 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 at Malvern Town.
So I would say to Slough Town and any other fans thinking of going to Hereford. Just put yourself in their shoes for a moment and wonder just what it would be like? Or how would you like to not be paid for work you have done?
Personally, I'd love to visit Edger Street, home of one of the greatest FA Cup upsets of all time, but I know that this isn't just about me going to a football match. It's about standing with other supporters.
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 we have loyalty to our club.
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 starting their new season in their own ground, built in part thanks to £1.6 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.
So yes, I support my team, but sometimes but there is a greater footballing good. It's not the end of the world me not going. And hopefully it won't be long, before we are playing a reformed Hereford United at Edgar Street soon.
 

Friday, April 25, 2014

I HATE FOOTBALL

Printed in the last home game of the season v Chertsey Town who have already been relegated and conceded 116 league goals this season. We need to win to get the last play off place. What could possibly go wrong.

Most football fans will tell you that their club puts them through the mill. As I sat stoney faced on the Brighton train after last Saturdays defeat by Rugby, my mood was not improved by realising that i'd got on the wrong train and was heading towards East Grinstead. Thanks a lot football, I hate you.

I couldn't make the Easter Monday game but thanks to twitter Slough did their best to spoil a nice afternoon by losing at Aylesbury.

Now its winner takes it all. Do better than Barton Rovers today and we will get to the play offs. A game where peoples hair will visibly grey or fall out while nails and nerves take a battering. Of course playing a team that was already been relegated and conceded 116 games will be easy, won't it. Well only if you never been to a Slough Town match before.

And this is what I do on my day off!

I had already spent Easter Sunday testing the water to see what the reaction would be to leaving a family holiday early to get to the play of final. Timing the conversation so a football fan was in the room was vital. Now if we do get to the final I will travelling by train from Studland Bay on a Bank Holiday Monday.

Why do we do it to ourselves?

Supporting Slough it can't be for the glory, but when we arrive in numbers at away games, I take my Slough Town bobble hat off to opposition fans who turn out each week to watch teams who'd be chuffed with 100 fans. To the people behind the scenes who make the clubs tick, getting to grounds hours before kick off to make sure the games go ahead. To the boards who sit through endless meetings, trying to make ends meet. To the turnstile operators, programme sellers, raffle ticket pushers.

So one last gut churning, nerve shredding game. Win it and we will have another gut churning, nerve shredding game to look forward to with the stakes even higher. Once again, an all or nothing battle to escape this level of football.

So throw away the calculator. The maths is now easy. Win our next three games and we are promoted. If only it were that easy.

And if we don't? Well whatever happens, you know most of us will be back for more next season after a summer break recharging the football batteries. Looking forward to the fixture lists, plotting our away days and new grounds, hoping for an away day or two in the early rounds of the FA Cup. Getting that cheque for the season ticket in the post.

I'm sure there's a word for this sort of behaviour but i'm not sure its printable in the programme.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

SEVEN YEAR ITCH

Printed in the Southern League Central Division One game v Rugby Town on Saturday 19th April 2014. We lost 2-1 in front of 402 people.

Apart from one Eggy hiccup, Slough have been flying this year and this has got to be one of the most exciting finishes to a season for years. There's a fight for the top spot and play off places while Egham's floodlights continue to blow a fuse.

While the football gets the pulses racing, its behind the bureaucrats desk that the real fate of Slough Town football club is being decided. The 7 years (yes, seven!) indecision on our ground is frustrating to say the least.

A while back I wrote to Sloughs MP Fiona Mactaggart pointing out the Rebels are more than just a football club; more than 22 men kicking a ball around on a Saturday in front of a few hundred fans. That the stadium will be something the whole town can get behind unlike another religious segregated free school. It will not just be a place for Slough Town to call home but have modern sports facilities for the whole town; multi-use games area, athletics track, facilities for the dance academy and of course delivering much needed housing. That's on top of the clubs football academy.

Fiona Mactaggart replied

I asked Stephen Gibson, Investment and Regeneration Manager (for Slough Borough Council), for an update and he provided the following information. 'The council remains committed to the delivery of a range of community projects including a home for Slough Town Football Club at the Arbour Site. However, the site is also being sought by the Department of Education for a free school and unfortunately this is blocking progression by the Council's proposals.'

Can I just say that I agree completely with your sentiments. I do support the principle of a Sikh secondary school in Slough, but there are other sites that are more suitable. I am a supporter of Slough Town myself and have long championed their need for a proper stadium. I knew the delay is frustrating but I hope that you are reassured that Slough Borough Council is committed to providing a home for Slough football.

Unfortunately the 'emergency legislation' that Mr Gove rushed through parliament almost immediately after the General Election gave him an enormous number of powers over local schools and local government, and his civil servants tend to throw their weight about even more than those powers warrant. But they have got a fight on their hands in Slough! Thank you for getting in touch; here's hoping that Slough Football Club have a base very soon.”

So what does our chairman Steve Easterbrook think. He told me “There is really nothing I can add. I welcome Stephen Gibsons and Fiona Mctaggart's comments. However after 7 years of working closely with the officers, councillors and residents of Slough and having delivered a scheme with potentially huge benefits which meets many goals set by all political parties, I fail to comprehend why no one will make the final decision. Indeed it was Slough Council who put forward this site and requested we do all the preparatory work in the first place! (Which we have done at great expense).”

If it was left to me I would stick free schools, religious schools and private schools into the dustbin of unequal history, but I get the feeling I might be waiting a while for that to happen.

So I will pin my hopes on a ground in Slough instead. If nothing else, a football ground in Slough at Arbour Park, will be one of the few places in Slough that can bind the diverse communities of Slough together. A jewel in the town, without burdening the taxpayer with extra cost.

Just someone make a bloody decision soon (pretty please).

Monday, March 31, 2014

MATHMATICAL TWITS

Printed in the Southern League Division One Central game v Royston Town Saturday Saturday 29th March 2014. We won 2-1 in front of 292 people.

Forget squeaky bum time. This is one of those seasons when you not only have to be close to the toilets but also a mathematical genius, as a place in the play-offs goes to the wire. Twitter goes into meltdown on Tuesday and Thursday nights as Slough fans indulge in twit-athons trying to work out all the different permutations as results from other clubs come in. Well, a few of us saddos do anyway.
Whereas the majority of Twitter is just inane twaddle, its main reason for being is for revolutions and non league football. In the not too distant past BM (before mobiles) we would have to wait till Sunday or the following week to find out the scores, now they spew forth in a torrent of finger tapping rage.
Well, at least they should do.
In my last bestseller, The Non League Manifesto, one of my key demands was making twitter compulsory for all non league clubs. It doesn't take a lot of effort and puts you in touch with people instantly. Of course its not the answer to getting more bums through gates, but when the weathers iffy its the quickest way to let people know if the game is on.
One of the revelations of our new managers is their use of social media. When there's a two way dialogue between fans, it creates trust and can quickly clear up any issues that otherwise can get out of control and set keyboard warriors off in a frothing frenzy.
And giving supporters a voice is a good thing. I was involved in one of the Slough Town fanzines ‘Rebels Without A Clue’ which was part of the wave of independent football fanzines that started demanding a right to be heard and culminated in the Supporters' Trust movement and supporter run clubs.
Of course fans being taken seriously still has some way to go, but I was particularly impressed by Hull City's owner telling their fans to go to hell if they didn't like the idea of being called Tigers.
We should also be wary of social media. Any idiot can put their thoughts out there – just look at me. And where are the editors checking their facts?
But i have to take my Slough Town bobble hat off to Sam Gardiner, a 17 year school boy who pretended he was a football scout because he wanted more people to listen to his football views. Before he was rumbled, he had 20,000 followers and was being private messaged by footballers and journalists. "When I was 15, I created a Twitter account but no one was taking me seriously. I had 300 followers. Adults don't want to listen to 15-year-olds and I don't blame them, to be honest. But I was getting really frustrated, because I love football, I love talking about football and I just wanted to air my opinions to as many people as possible."
The fact that he wants to be a journalist or an MP gives an indication to his state of mind, but at least his front is harmless compared to some of the bile and hate sent to people in the limelight, or by people like ex-Slough Town Dave 'The Doughnut' Deeney whose under police investigation for threatening to stab Kettering Town fans.
What we really need is some computer geek to invent an app which can act as a breathalyser; that can smell if you have had too much to drink and stop your postings until the morning when you can reconsider them in the cold, sober light of day.
So keep those results and revolutions coming but remember to take the rest of it with large pinch of smelling salts. And despite all this social media business, the best way of communicating is still face to face using your vocal chords. 

Some photos of the day with some cute mascots

Sunday, March 23, 2014

FIT FOR NOTHING

Printed in the Southern League Division One Central game v Leighton Town Saturday 22nd March 2014 We won 4-1 in front of 248.

It seems the job advert for owning a club in England must read something like this.
'Like a bit of money laundering and tax evasion? Have the morals of an axe murderer?
Why not invest in an English football team.'

Last week Birmingham City's owner Carson Yeung was given six years in a Hong Kong slammer for money laundering - £2.8 million of which he used the buy shares in the Blues. The fact that Yeung had been convicted of two other fraud offences before he bought the club, counted for nothing when it came to the FA's fit and proper test. Birmingham City's board now consists of Yeung's long-time Hong Kong-based associate Peter Pannu, and Yeung family members including his 20-year-old student son, Ryan. The league said after the verdict that it is satisfied its rules are being complied with and that "Premier League football is one of the most regulated and transparent sectors of UK sport or business".
Meanwhile Leeds United fans wait with baited breath to see who their next owner is. Will it be Massimo Cellino, who is currently facing court in Italy over suspicion of embezzlement and already has an impressive tax fraud record.

Never mind, what is really getting some clubs hot under the collar is the fair play rules that have been introduced by UEFA. Some are threatening court action over rules which were introduced to address the huge losses sustained by many clubs. Cardiff City won the Championship last season losing £31million while doing so, while Hull City notched up loses of £26 million and came second.

Even Brighton, who have the most season ticket holders of any team outside the Premiership, are having to cut costs to comply with the rules.

The bottom line is players are getting paid too much and it is totally unsustainable. Surely no one needs more than £10k a week to live on?

A report from the High Pay Centre in 2012 revealed that footballers at the top have seen a wage increase of over 1500%. As players’ wages take up a bigger slice of club turnover - up from 48% in 1997 to 70% in 2010 - there is lower levels of investment in the essential infrastructure that could improve the national talent pool, namely coaches.

Of course, not all footballers are on such obscene wages and it does stick in the craw when I hear chairman, managers and players moan about too many games at the top level. Have a look at non league, where many clubs are having to play 3 games a week after the winter monsoon. Or the Slough Town captain Adam Foulser who is out for six months and as a self employed plumber losing wages to boot because of an injury during a game.

So perhaps we will see more clubs like Vauxhaull Motors taking the sensible but regrettable decision to resign from the Football Conference. Their chairman said “Like many other football clubs, we are confronted with the reality of low gates and ever-increasing costs. This now unsustainable position has been going on for several years despite efforts to balance the books and to do nothing would be foolhardy. As a responsible committee administering a club that was founded over fifty years ago and a club that we would wish to continue for another fifty, with responsibilities beyond the Football Conference, to some thirty teams, youth, junior and ladies catering for over 400 children within Ellesmere Port and beyond, it has become necessary to withdraw the senior side from the established pyramid.”

That's one honest chairman who would pass any decent 'fit and proper' test.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

QUICK MARCH TO THE POTTERS BAR


Printed in the Southern League Central Division One game v St.Ives Town on Saturday 8th March 2014. We won 1-0 in front of 252 people.

I'm always a little underwhelmed when people boost that they have visited all 92 Football League clubs. So what? If I really wanted to show off I could reel off at least 150 grounds I've graced over the years - and that doesn't include league clubs. From Gateshead to Truro, Boston United to Bridgewater Town, I’ve been there, done that. Not as some sad ground-hopper but with my Slough Town bobble hat on. Thing is with football, I can't watch it as a neutral with anywhere near as much enjoyment. Which is why I can't be arsed watching games like Chelsea v Man United because I want both corporations to lose. 

So despite the pull of Lewes v Dulwich and a rail replacement service ahead of me, when I got the text that the Potters Bar game was on, I grabbed my coat and headed to boldly go where no Slough Town team had ever been before.

Three hours later, and I’m joining the fat old Rebel gits in a Weatherspoons for a pre match pint. The very ones who according to one particularly irate Dunstable player have got nothing better to do on a Saturday than grace the very same non league terraces he plays in front of.

PottersBar didn't exist until 1960 when they were known as Mount Grace Old Scholars. And their new (ish) turnstile block comes from the old Wembley Stadium and they have a certificate to prove it! The old wooden one, surrounded by mud and debris, was something ground-hoppers would go all weak at the knees for. The ground staff had done a good job at getting the game on, but getting round the ground was like re-enacting the Battle of the Somme. We lost 3 fans down a sink hole while a Scholarly official thoughtfully laid down old doors across the bog. Dashing young Rebels made a rope bridge out of scarves so Clubshop Sue wouldn't muddy her Prada shoes.

Slough really are playing some lovely football at the moment, and have also discovered that Wilko spirit with some of their tackling. We coasted to a 3-0 victory and rejoiced as most clubs around us dropped points. Oh the immediate joy of twitter; it was made for non league football. Whereas once we used to wait days to find out scores delivered by carrier pigeons now its just an endless stream of results.

The crowd was just 141, the vast majority were Slough and you've got to take your hats off to the volunteers who've obviously put in masses of unpaid hours to get Potters Bar to where it is. So it seemed rude not to have a drink in the bar afterwards and it was good to chat to one young lad who has decided to watch some real football than the soap-opera Sky sell us (and where the plot line is usually so predictable). He had hardly seen a game or goal this year and told us how just recently a coach load of Watford fans turned up to for a County Cup match only for it to be called off. We either need to stick County League Cup games into the dustbin of football history or play some of the early rounds as part of pre season.

Also joining us for a beer was our chairman Steve Easterbook. The more you talk to this man, the more you realise just how lucky Slough are to have such a clued up, down to earth chairman.

On the way back we bumped into some friendly Sunderland fans staying over night and hoping to put one over the money men from Manchester. Even the rail replacement journey that took me all the way to Littlehampton before finally depositing me at Brighton at 11pm couldn't dampen another great away day with the Rebels.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

THE GRASSROOTS ISN'T GREENER

Printed in the Southern League Central Division game v Dunstable on Saturday 22nd February 2014. We won 4-0 in front of 262 people.

You would think that our football mad nation with apparently the best league ever, that grassroots football facilities would be the envy of the world. Where muddy fields, dog poo and dilapidated changing rooms would be a thing of the past. But we all know that's not the case and that the football world perfectly mirrors our unequal society.

Last year the Premier League income was a staggering 2.4 billion – of which they gave a paltry £12 million to the Football Foundation, or 0.5% of their riches. Having initially bowed to government pressure to give 5%, the league now insists that commitment was for one broadcasting rights deal only and, despite securing a
record £5.5 billion for 2013-16, has cut its funding to the Football Foundation.

So one MP launched a petition to ask for 7.5% of the Premierships income be given to grassroots campaign rather than wasting more TV money on increasing players wages. But less than a week to go it has astonishingly only got just over 30, 000 signatures. It would have attracted more with the backing of the 50
county FAs but not one replied when contacted about the campaign.

This week the government launched 'Moving More, Living More' initiative to build on the Olympic legacy, but as sports journalist David Conn told me "it should have been issued in 1997 and incredibly the document suggests they are just thinking how to increase activity. It's too little, too late. "

Despite all fine government words about getting more people involved in sport, 100,000 people have walked away from grassroots football since April 2012 and it is now behind swimming, athletics and cycling in the participation rates. Mick Baikie, national clubs services manager at the Football Association complained "one of the biggest challenges we face is facilities. We've got qualified coaches but we haven't got the facilities for them to coach and play. The big problem now is the public sector cuts – 80% of games are played on local authority sites that have been heavily subsidised in the past but we are starting to see an impact with the cuts. One council recently raised their fees from £400 per pitch, per season to £1,600. That's happening all over the country."

Lord Harris, Chairman of the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Committee has expressed his disappointment at the lack of movement by Government. "Our report endorsed the consensus that the 2012 Games were an outstanding success. The Government’s response certainly talks the right talk, particularly on sport in
school age children, but at a time when the UK faces an obesity epidemic, costing £20 billion a year, encouraging more physically active lives is of critical importance, and I think more investment than the Government are planning will be essential in the long term."

As one football coach pointed out "We don't look at the bigger picture in this country. If kids can play football regularly that will help in some way towards the obesity crisis and the strain that puts on the NHS. And it's not just about the football but about making friends, instilling discipline and helping the community."

While Cameron tells us 'money is no object' when it comes to the floods, wouldn't it make sense to tell the Premiership that not properly investing in our national game just isn't an option anymore.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CHANGING CLIMATE


Printed in the Southern League Central Divison One match v Aylesbury United Saturday 15th February 2014. We won 5-3 in front of 272 people. 
 
I'm not sure I will ever lose that buzz of an away game. As I sit on the early morning Slough Town Express wondering what beery delights Nigel has lined up for us, as I hurtle towards hamlets and towns that would otherwise pass me by. Saturday in your colours is also the only time you can go up to complete strangers and start to chat about football without them ringing the police.
Now I always love a trip to Marlow. We were lucky the Marlow Donkey was running as the Thames lapped the tracks and flooded the riverbank houses. With climate change this wild weather is a sign of things to come and while the flooded fields looked strangely beautiful and peaceful, for the people affected it must be devastating.
After supping in one of those gastro pubs that aren't really pubs, the Real Ale CAMRA Rebels sniffed out the squat ugly building across the road that houses The Marlow British Legion club. Now I’m not too fussed about real ales and I’ve never been into a British Legion club but what a warm welcome we received as they signed us in, chatted about football and recommended ales. If this place don't tick all the boxes of what a community pub should be I don't know what does. Chatting to the management committee you also realised that they had the vision to make sure the place could adapt, with their beer festival and other events keeping the punters coming, to make sure it survives the relentless closure of our community spaces (and have you noticed that its always the village pub where residents meet and organise when floods and disasters strike – what happens when there isn't one?).
Next up was Shoreham. Thanks to another Rebels wash out I decided to make the trip to one of my favourite Sussex clubs. It seemed the right thing to do, as a group of fans from Hertha Berlin in Germany were coming to watch their game against Rye United. When they found out Shoreham played in the same colours and were formed in the same year as Hertha they decided to adopt them as their second club.
Shoreham certainty rolled out the blue carpet to their new found friends with a great atmosphere – although probably a little different to what the 10 German lads are used to with their 77,000 capacity stadium. They got invited into the board room and later officials joined them in a pub in Shoreham to watch the Hertha game and sink a few more beers. How could I resist a night learning about German football and chatting to Stuart Slaney Shoreham's young chairman whose passion for youth football has seen him take over the club. As he pointed out “They wanted to see a bit of UK football and fortunately instead of a Premiership or Championship team, they chose a grassroots club. One of our players got sent-off in the 90th minute and the Hertha supporters thought it was because they were shouting him encouragement to go into tackles, so they paid for his fine. They were shouting for Shoreham and it was one of the best atmospheres we have had in quite a while. We are hoping to return the favour nearer the end of the season and maybe try and get a friendly with their supporters club."
Just like the people behind Marlow British Legion, the chairman of Shoreham is savy enough to spot opportunities that come his way to make sure that the Musselmen continue to flourish. The German visit was splashed all over the local papers and Non League Paper, where he lamented "It's a shame that these supporters travelled 750 miles, but we can't get local supporters to come 500 yards to see us."
Now I’m all for keeping and respecting tradition but also realise that in a rapidly changing world of climate and lifestyle football clubs and pubs must learn to adapt if they are not only to survive but flourish. 

 

Saturday, February 08, 2014

NO MUGS IN THE FA VASE

Printed in the Southern League Central Division One game v Aylesbury Tuesday 4th February 2014. We won 2-0 in front of 226 people.

It was either the FA Vase or a trip to Slough to watch us play AFC Hayes. No bloody contest. AFC Hayes must rub their hands with glee when they see the fixtures. The only place where even their man on the tannoy makes remarks that we've got no ground. I know we can bring it on ourselves with our Big Time Charlie attitude and the look-at-the-size-of-your-crowd remarks but AFC Hayes have got 'winding up Slough' down to a fine art. Thing is, I would do the same if I was in their boots.

So after scouring the fixtures, a few non league merry men plumped for East Preston v Rye United, an all Sussex County League third round tie. East Preston play just outside Angmering and are currently top of Division One whereas Rye are from a pretty fishing town near Hastings.

The FA Vase really is a great competition. Unlike the FA Cup and the FA Trophy all the clubs that enter take it seriously and want to win. The Cambridge United boss called for the Trophy to be midweek with no replays while Luton played their youth team and still beat Staines!

Getting a cup of tea in a proper mug is the give away. The club are either very environmentally friendly or else their crowds rarely reach double figures. I'd like to think it was the former and that they get that throwing loads of plastic cups away five minutes after they've been used is totally insane thing to do but I it seems we've a long way to go before most football clubs cut out such waste.

East Preston were only formed in 1966 and have made impressive progress. Rye had bought a fair few fans, many more than we often see at our level, even a few youngsters had been dragged along by their fathers swelling the gate to 107. It never ceases to amaze me that clubs at such low levels attract any fans, but what is being served up is so different from the Super Sky-Premiership Package or Albion Amex Experience that it might as well be called Horse Dressage. For starters, you realise that everyone knows each other, they say hello and sip their tea from mugs which they return to the counter.

I know I whittle on about community a lot, but here it is on a December day, in all its raw glory. And its the authorities, be they local government or governing bodies, that should realise just how important it is and bend over backwards to support it.

Instead the iron fist of the FA comes down like a tonne of bricks on misdemeanors. This time its Spalding United thrown out of the competition because they played a suspended player for 5 minutes. Problem was the player was suspended under a different name so how the bloody hell were they meant to know! A competition they felt they could go on and win. A competition that is often a springboard for greater things and a way of showcasing that the local town or village has a football team.

I hate being a neutral so after too many theatrics from East Preston players and the thought of a trip to Rye in the next round, I got behind The Quarterboys. But in the end it was an injury time winner from a defender that put East Preston in the last 32 of the Vase for the first time.

There's been complaints about the Vase being dominated by Northern League clubs whose teams often decide not to take promotion because of travelling costs. But apart from needing to dish out more cash to clubs if they win a round, its the Trophy that the FA need to take a good look at. 

The FA Vase is still a warming cup of tea from a proper mug on a winters day.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

LETTER TO FIONA MACTAGGART MP

This article should have been printed in the league match v Egham Town but the game was postponed thanks to the rain. Thought I should post it now in light of the EDL marching in Slough.


I am writing to you to ask what is happening with Slough Town Football Clubs plans for the old Arbour Park school site.

It might seem a bit odd that a Brighton resident for nearly 25 years is writing to you about Slough Town; but I have been supporting the football club for so long, am still a season ticket holder and travel to most games and can't see that stopping anytime soon.

Two weeks ago there was a big party thrown for one of our most loyal supporters who is very ill. The Herschel Arms was packed to the rafters with fans, players, ex players and managers. The next day he lead the teams out on the pitch. Later his dad tweeted 'Best thing that ever happened to Dave is Slough Town. His family thank you all. He is so lucky to have such friends.'

That sentiment sums up exactly what is fantastic about this club but also why I think Slough Town is more than just a football club; more than 22 men kicking a ball around on a Saturday in front of a few hundred fans.

But I not writing to you just to sing the clubs praises, but to highlight the current impasse the club finds itself in. We have a fantastic chairman who has worked incredibly hard with the council and a housing association to deliver a new sports facilities and homes at Arbour Vale. It will not just be a place for Slough Town to call home but have modern sports facilities for the whole town; multi-use games area, athletics track, facilities for the dance academy and of course delivering much needed housing. This is on top of the clubs football academy for youngsters at Farnham Park.

Our chairman has spent nearly seven years working with the council, had political support from all main parties and in 2012 it was already to be approved. However for the past couple of years nothing seems to have happened and the club seem to be being used as a political football with no one grasping the nettle and making a decision on the Arbour Vale re-development.

If this is frustrating for us fans, I can't imagine how depressing it is for a successful businessman whose used to getting things done quickly.

Now it seems a freeschool has thrown a spanner in the works. I won't bore you with my thoughts on religious free schools. All I will say is that growing up in Slough, my Grammar school was like the United Nations and a working class one at that. I fear that by parceling up children by their parents faith we are storing up problems for the future. With the fascist English Defence League marching in Slough this Saturday we can see how some people will try and exploit these differences.

This is why a football ground in Slough at Arbour Park is even more important. If nothing else it will be one of the few places in Slough that can bind the diverse communities of Slough together. Football is fantastic in breaking down barriers – just look at Bradford City last season when they reached the League Cup final. The football club and the facilities it offers could be a jewel for the town, without burdening the taxpayer with extra cost. But the current impasse does no-one any favours.

Please could you look into this as a matter or urgency to find out just what is happening.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

POLITICAL FOOTBALL

Printed in the Southern League Central Division game v Chalfont St.Peter on Saturday 18th January 2014. We won 5-1 in front of 269 people. 
 
Whenever I feel down about our club every playing in Slough again, I think of Maidstone United. The old club went bust in the Football league in 1992 with a new Maidstone quickly re-born and playing in the Kent County League Division Four! It took 20 years for them to get their new ground, with numerous legal disputes and even a colony of Great Crested Newts looking to scupper their plans. When permission was finally given it still took 8 years to kick the first ball there. But now look at them go at the top of the Ryman Premier. Playing in their new state of the art 3G pitch their crowds went up a staggering 450% in their first season of their new ground, averaging 1,698 in the Ryman South! They are now spending £50,000 on expanding the stadium after just one season to accommodate more fans.
When we move to a new ground, we need to get it right with mixed facilities that build a long term future for the club. I have every faith in our chairman and management committee to get this right but the continuing uncertainty over Arbour Vale does no-one any favours.
So with the news that South Bucks conservative councillors decided to unanimously reject the Sikh school staying at Pioneer House what now for Arbour Vale? Under free school rules, the school was allowed to move to an empty Pioneer House for a year without planning permission. That time will be up in July. So will they appeal or look for a new home and will the government say that their new home should be Arbour Vale? And will the council take the government to court if that happens?
Of course the local Tories are being hypocritical – the free school free for all is their own governments flagship programme. But of course they don't like it when these national decisions come to bite them on the bum on their own doorstep. Especially when we all know what the elephant in the room really is. Just ask yourself this – would the genteel folk of Stoke Poges be so up in arms if it was a Catholic free school?
This government has told a load of old flannel about devolving powers and letting local people decide what's best for their area. Forget that free schools can over-ride educational authorities and planning laws. Schools can be handed to a private company even if most parents don't want it and schools can be plonked where they want and bugger the consequences. And as the National Audit Office pointed out, they aren't exactly value for money either.
Not only that, but free schools have been rocked by forced closures, heads under investigation for financial mismanagement, female teachers being forced to wear the hijab, schools teaching creationism, and able to employ people who aren't trained as teachers. Every week it seems there's another sorry story to tell. But its the segregation of children on religious grounds that worries me most and in Slough every free school seems to for a specific religion. Now you just need to look at Northern Ireland to see what a successful policy of separating children by religion turned out to be.
In the meantime our club gets used as a political football; which is kind of ironic really when if built, it will be one of the few places in the town that has the potential to bring all of Sloughs multi-cultural population together.
So for us ageing rag-tag dads rebel army, we have to keep calm and carry on. In between sucking on our oxygen masks, we must continue to cheer on the team and try to remember how to chant S L O U G H T O W N But maybe now its time to dust out that old classic we had hoped to have binned 'All we want is a football ground in Slough.'

Sunday, December 22, 2013

TIME FOR A BEVY

Printed in the Southern League Central Division game v Uxbridge Saturday 21st December 2013. We lost 2-1 in front of 275 people.

Anyone who see's me on a Saturday, will know that its the day I like to help our struggling pubs. Especially on away days, Nigel the Windsor Rebel always manages to find a little watering hole where the Dads Army can meet and chew over the Slough Town fat. Which is why 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 gossip about the days events, if there are no community spaces left?

Despite living in swinging Brighton, on my estate and the one next too it, both our local pubs have been shut for a few years. That's 18,000 people without their local boozer. So when the Old Bevendean Hotel came up for sale and looked like it might become more poxy student flats, a few of us came up with a cunning plan to re-open it as the first co-op pub on a housing estate in the country. That was in December 2010 and since then I’ve lost count of the amount of hours we've spent in meetings, wading through documents and hanging out with the local Vicar. Just how much time can you spend talking about a bloody pub?

Now co-op pubs are happening up and down the country (23 so far) along with co-op shops (over 300), libraries, swimming pools, phone and energy cooperatives. People getting off their backsides and deciding they can run things better themselves. We raised £70,000 ourselves, over half from selling community shares. Infact we have the most co-op members of any pub in the country but unfortunately not the richest and that has been the problem so far – with nearly all the co-op pubs and shops happening in posh areas.

Then we got the phone call about a month ago. We have been successful in getting a £130,000 grant from the Social Investment Business.



It will not only be somewhere for the people of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean and Brighton to meet but an example to other working class estates of what can be done. From the Brownies to art groups, Albion in the community to health services, credit union to repair workshops, the range of groups saying they will use the Bevy shows that it will be so much more than just a pub

It feels fantastic that we are not only playing our part in reversing pub closures but also coming up with a model of how pubs need to change if they are to survive.

Father John Wall, the vicar of Moulsecoomb said "This grant is an amazing vote of confidence in our vision for our Community! I have always said every decent neighbourhood deserves a good Church and a good Pub: now in Moulsecoomb we'll have both: "the Bevy" will be a Community Hub for all ages to meet, relax and join together, and now it'll happen within the next few months. I can't wait for the first pint to be pulled!"
We've still got a lot of work to do, and need money for our community kitchen and garden which is why we are re-issuing shares. But in the meantime you can also help with struggling pubs around Slough. Residents are trying to turn The Bull Inn in Iver Heath into a co-op pub and the Golden Harp, Furze Platt Road, Maidenhead is trying to stop Tesco's turning it into a convenience store.

People need somewhere to gather otherwise our communities become fragmented and people become isolated.

But for just a moment forget the depressing news that 18 boozers are closing a week – this is one that is going to re-open. We only went and bloody did it! (now can Slough get their new ground and promotion please, for the icing on the cake).