These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. We are homeless and currently stuck in a nightmare Southern League Central Division loop, just 8 leagues below the Premiership. I’ve been supporting Slough for 33 long years, and despite moving to Brighton still go to most games hoping for promotion and our promised ground back in the town where I was born.

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).

Sunday, December 08, 2013

GETTING THEIR KNICKERS IN A TWIST

Printed in the Southern League Central Division match v AFC Hayes. We lose 2-1 in front of 240 people.

If you were a member of the FA what would be the burning issues you'd be tackling? Our dismal coaching system that is gearing up for yet another England team ready to embarrassed, outplayed and out thought at an international tournament? Betting scams? Players wages and the spiraling cost of watching football? So many clubs on the brink of administration? Grassroots football suffering from terrible playing conditions? The issue of 4G pitches?

Or what about the fit and proper rule which is so lax it has allowed a company like Sisu to take Coventry City to the brink of extinction. Sisu are one of those vampire corporations; a hedge fund specialising in 'distressed debt', using money from unnamed sources via the Cayman Islands for what they hoped would be easy money from Coventry being in the Premiership. Instead they are playing 35 miles away at Northampton Town in League One in front of the smallest crowds in the division as supporters boycott their games. Meanwhile Coventry's new council owned stadium lays dormant while Sisu play a game of brinkmanship with the council waiting for them to sell the ground and land around it for a pittance.

Up and down the country, we have clubs in similar financial distress. So you would think the FA would have their hands full. But think again. Rather than tackle these bigger issues, better to come down like a tonne of bricks on the small fry.

At a midweek League Cup game against Uxbridge in front of about 100 people, someone decided to streak across the far end of the pitch at Slough Town. Not the cleverest thing to do but no harm done, lots of discussion in the local paper, people laughed it off and everyone felt the bloke, who isn't a regular supporter, must have lost a bet or something. The referee didn't even report it. And we don't even know if the streaker had small fry cos he kept his red pants on.

But for the FA this is no laughing matter, they have warned the club and say the police might become involved.

Fair enough if there had been a punch up, racist chanting, or he'd cut the goal posts cut down with a chainsaw as the opposition were about to take a penalty.

But really FA get real. Slough Town is the same as so many small clubs up and down the country, run on a shoestring mainly by volunteers who do so cos they love their club. It has stewards who keep the 300 Dads Army at bay from ripping opposition supporters heads off and eating their brains. But often the stewards most taxing job is handing out sweets.

So what the bloody hell are the club meant to do? If the FA can't stop people running on the pitch at Wembley in the crunch World Cup Qualifying game against Poland how can Slough stop some bloke from running on at the far end of the pitch where hardly any supporter were?

This behaviour reminds me of the tax office who threaten small business with pain of death if they don't pay up on time, but have tea and cake with companies like Vodaphone and ask politely if they wouldn't mind paying the odd pence occasionally. These big companies threaten they will leave the country if they have to pay taxes, and clubs threaten they will leave for a European super league if the FA say nasty things about the Premiership so they back off.

It's much easier to pick on the Slough's of this world. No one could really care less about the small footballing fish at the bottom of the pyramid barrel unless they go all romantic and have a run in the FA Cup. They need a helping hand from the footballing authorities not a ham-fisted approach from incidents, that in the wider scheme of things, don't really matter. Wouldn't their efforts be better spent asking the government asking when we are going to get a decision about our new ground?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

What difference can one person make? When Graham Foghorn ex of Slough wandered along to see his adopted towns team play, he would stand behind the goal on his own and do what he excelled at as a Slough fan. Bellow out like a Foghorn. At St.Ives Town, playing in the United Counties League in front of gates that often didn't reach 3 figures this behaviour was a little bit special! And it didn't always go down well with opposition keepers and players; at one away game some officials tried to throw him out for making too much noise! 

Fast forward a few seasons and St. Ives are in the Southern League and for the first ever time facing Slough as opponents. There gates average over 200 and when I saw them on their FA Vase run a few seasons back, their fans didn't stop singing as they put Peacehaven to the sword. It was that cup run in the Vase that got people interested in them and after spending a day and night in the small market town, you got the sense that the club are now part of its fabric with every player sponsored by a local business. That as more people get involved, more want to jump on board and that the club is going places. It's a virtuous circle. 

Just a season ago Clapton of the Essex Senior League were lucky to get 25 fans at their famous but dilapidated Old Spotted Dog ground. Friends of Clapton were set up by a former committee member worried about the future of the club while at the same time a few football fans disillusioned with the way top football was being run, decided to adopt them and the Clapton Ultras were born “We are a group of friends who felt alienated or priced out of modern football. We decided to turn out back on something we no longer enjoyed and focus on something more community centric.”
 

As Mike Bayly on the fantastic Twohundredpercent website pointed out “Like Friends of Clapton, the Ultra's want to create something viable and long term, a true sense of community. The chance to embrace a historic club with a passionate following at a fraction of the cost.”
So if you still think one person cant make a difference, ask the man behind Non League Day which has snowballed and become a permanent and important fixture in the non league calender. Ask the fans that turned their back on Manchester United and started FC United of Manchester, now building a ground of their own in a poor area of Manchester that will massively benefit from the regeneration the ground and its fans will bring. Ask the Wimbledon fans that decided to start again. The Portsmouth fans that now run their club, the Swansea supporters that bought their club for a £1 and are now watching them play in Europe.

It only takes one person to get the ball rolling, to encourage others to get involved and things begin to change. Of course it helps if a club is winning, but to guard against the times when the football isn't that great, fans must feel part of their club.
 

As for the St. Ives game. Foghorn draped in a Slough and St. Ives scarf was uncharacteristically quiet, unable to shout for either team. Don't expect that to last. But the next time he exercises his vocal chords he wont be like some madman on day release shouting on his own, but part of something special. Part of the social glue that binds communities together.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

HELD TO RANSOM

Printed in the Southern League Central Division game v Potters Bar Town Saturday 9th November 2013. We won 4-3 after being 3-0 down in front of 231 people. 


How would you like to see the world run? By groups of people getting together to improve their communities or by wealthy individuals who threaten and bully when they can't get their own way? 

Cardiff City's Malaysian owner Vincent Tan is the sort of dictator all football clubs should chase off with a sharp stick. He's already changed the teams colours from their traditional blue to red and is toying with renaming them Cardiff City Dragons. He recently replaced the chief recruitment director with a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan who is a friend of his son. He done some work experience at the club in the summer including decorating the ground so obviously knows what he's doing! The Home Office ain't impressed tho and wont issue him a work visa. No doubt Tan would love the idea of a European Superleague with no threat of relegation for clubs that get to the promised land. 

In the US, the Tea Party, which is basically UKIP with guns, shut down the whole of the American government because they didn't like the fact that people in the country might be getting some affordable healthcare. Power companies have threatened that the lights will go out, if Labour freeze prices for two years while Grangemouth workers were told by a billionaire - agree to wage cuts and worse pay and conditions or the whole plant would be shut down. Bankers crashed the world economy. Now everyone else is told to tighten their austerity belts, thanks to half our debt being created by bailing out the banks in the first place. Yet none of those responsible have gone to jail and they carry on regardless. Imagine if me or you or trade unions had shut the country down or brought it to its economic knees. What do you think these people and the papers would be saying? 

Now I’ve got this crazy idea that a healthy society is one that supports everyone not just the rich few. And i'm not alone. There's an upsurge of of a co-operative movement that includes shops, pubs, and football teams. FC United of Manchester, the club formed by supporters who had finally had enough of the Theatre of Corporate Dreams, will start work on their new community stadium this month, funded in part by selling £1.6 million of community shares. Pubs are closing at a rate of 18 a week, and co-operative ownership is becoming an increasingly recognised solution. Residents of Moulsecoomb (where i live!) on the outskirts of Brighton are trying to open the first co-op pub on a housing estate. But The Bevendean will be so much more than just a pub with everything from cooking lessons, veg growing, health checks, job clubs, credit unions, repair workshops as well as a place to get a decent pint and meal at affordable prices. Somewhere for the community to meet, something that the community owns and can get involved in running. There are now over 300 co-operative shops with a further 30 in the pipeline. There is a phone co-op, energy co-ops, supermarket, libraries and swimming pools. And while its worth asking the question why such an important facilities like Grangemouth are in private hands in the first place, we might be holding our breath, waiting for governments to do anything to challenge the status quo. 

But we can make a difference now. Its bloody hard work and takes a lot of commitment to get these co-operatives to work; but if we want our lives not to be dominated by billionaires while making our communities stronger and better places to live, I’d like to know what's the alternative to people coming together to make a difference.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PETER RILEY RIP

Printed in the Berks and Bucks Quarter Final v Wycombe Wanderers Tuesday 5th November 2013  We lost 3-0 in front of 366 people. 

Years ago an article appeared in a Bishop Stortford programme asking for a collective noun to describe opposition fans. For the Rebels they came up with "a misery of Slough supporters".
Fast forward a few years and not a lot has changed. Our football club is awash with some right old miserable gits. But its fair to see that Peter Riley definetly wasn't one of them.
Sure Pete's forum jokes were poor and his eyesight was definitely going as he kept mistaking clubshop Sue for Cheryl Cole; but Peter was one of those people you wanted to be around. And one who I shared many a beer before and after a game. He was always considered and could see the best in things and was ready to praise. I think it speaks volumes of the man, when ex players like Jacko and our ex manager Steve Bateman come on to the forum not only offer their condolences but in Steve's case, recall that Peter was always willing to look him in the eye and talk tactics after a game.
When I heard the terrible news I couldn't help thinking just how unfair life is. He had just retired and finally got the grandchild him and Margaret had been waiting so long for. But the flip side of that, is that he had a good life. He had one of the closet families I've ever seen and he never thought anything of taking them out. The last time I saw him he was treating them to a trip to Egham Town. Poor old Margaret has had to put up with us in exotic locations such as our legendary away weekend in St.Neots where she must have been fascinated by our drunken reliving of a famous 1-0 victory in the curry house afterwards.

He loved to keep himself fit and told me about his little black book where he keep up to date details of his weight. He had walked to the recent away game to Maidenhead and up till recently was taking part in the Black Park 5 mile runs, encouraging Mark Bailey to come along and get fit, I think on the advice of Margaret. He was one of the Rebels that walked all the way to Woodford Town in Northamptonshire, as part of clubs tradition of walking to the last game of the season. Shame the game was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch when they got there. But he was always making sure people were ok and geeing them up with encouragement no doubt warning them that if they didn't hurry up he would unleash his joke book on them. He even cycled to a few games with Ian Lathey and his team on an old borrowed bike.
I know Glen has said how hard it will be to go to football now he wont be sharing that experience with his dad. But I hope we can see on the forum and today, that whether he likes it or not that Slough Town is his extended family. Not the sort you would like to invite round for Christmas dinner but one where we look out for each other and can have a good old moan but also raise a pint or two for Peter who served our club with honour.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

The top level of football has disappeared so far up it's own arse that it's hard to understand why it's still in the sports section of papers and not the business pages. It could even have it's own banana Republic news section.  
Now I know FIFA are an easy target but even they have excelled themselves with their choice of hosts for the 2022 World Cup. But as former Supporters Direct boss Dave Boyle ponders in an excellent article on FIFA's own goal “It feels awfully like the beginning of the end for the old order.”  
Qatar is getting the football authorities all hot under the collar, because presumably they didn't realise that this Feudal dictatorship smack bang in a desert, get's quite hot in the summer. Who'd have thought! So there has been discussions about moving it. Not to another country, in response to the deaths and slave labour conditions of migrant workers building the countries infrastructure. No, they mean moving it to the winter. But Premier League top boss Richard Scudamore says any FIFA decision to do this without consultation would be "morally reprehensible." Morally or financially? Don't they know disrupting the Champions League would be a crime against humanity? 

Journalist Marina Hyde nailed it when she said "I'm not totally sure about the rules of apocalypse bingo. But I'm pretty sure that the second that people care more about how a winter World Cup will affect the Champions League schedule than the fact it's being built by slaves in a non-democracy, we all move closer to a full house."

Next stop on the FIFA gravy train is Brazil, where some silly tournament in the summer was somewhat overshadowed by the plumes of tear gas. World Cup ticket prices out of the range of most people and massive spending on stadium infrastructure, while the countries public services fall apart along with mass corruption where the final straw. The biggest wave of protests in Brazilian history meant those in the stadiums could enjoy the aroma of tear gas canisters, while a latter day Gandhi in the guise of FIFA autocrat Sepp Blatter appealed for calm. With a third of a corrupt Brazilian Congress awaiting criminal trials, these are the sort of people he likes to do business with. As one of the millions of hand-written banners had it: ‘There’s So Much Wrong It Doesn’t Fit Into One Placard’.
Of course those demonstrations wont happen in Qatar or Russia. As FIFA's general secretary Jérôme Valcke pointed out "I will say something crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup. When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe Putin can do in 2018, that is easier for us organisers than a country such as Germany … where you have to negotiate at different levels."  
As Dave Boyle points out by giving Qatar the world cup, FIFA might have sown the seeds of their own destruction. As a football spectacle World Cups are becoming dull and predictable, but messing with the all powerful European Clubs main cash cow really is making some powerful enemies. If these clubs start telling them they ain't playing ball no more, this could be the nail in their sweatshop football.  
As drunk, homosexual English fans are hung, drawn and quartered by the Qatar Morality Police while players die of heat exhaustion, FIFA will tell us how they are bringing people together. Maybe through street protests isn't quite what they had in mind.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Written for Slough Town v Merthyr Town FA Trophy 1st Qualifying round game Saturday 19th October. We lost 2-1

I never managed to get to Merthyr Tydfil during the brief period that Slough and the team from South Wales played each other in the Conference. In those days, we seemed to be permanently camped up North, leaving too late, driving too fast to away games where we would often lose not just the game but our marbles. Oh, to be young, free, single and drunk again.

Now I'm always a bit confused by Welsh football. It has shown a startling Renaissance with Swansea, Cardiff and Newport, while the Welsh National league seems to operate in a parallel universe. Where the biggest force is a team called The New Saints (which is slightly more bearable than their previous name of Total Network Solutions) who are based in England.

Merthyr are yet another club who have endured some rough times. Now supporters run, Martyrs to the Cause campaigned to get rid of their old chairman who at one point seemed to be offering to sell their Southern league place to another club! After they were liquidated, the fans began again as Merthyr Town in the Toolstation Western League Division One playing home games 20 miles away in Taffs Well. But it took them just three seasons to regain their Southern League status. A league they have won more than any other club in its history. Now thanks to a £500,000 grant they have installed a 3G pitch and are doing up their ground. Company secretary John Strand said: "The club sees this development as a springboard for the club to become a hub for football development in Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding areas." More matches on the pitch, more income, more people involved in the club. I know I sound like the pub bore with my support for artificial pitches, but they just make so much economic sense.

This is something that is going to come to a non-league head if Maidstone United win promotion to the Conference South. Their artificial pitch saw just one of their games called off last year, where grounds either resembled the Somme or Narnia. They won promotion with average crowds of 1,500 and are now flying high in the Ryman Premier. Their clued-up co-owner recently penned a very sensible letter to the Greg Dyke, the new FA chairman. “Although we took the risk of putting in 3G, other clubs don’t. One major reason is that leagues from the Conference upwards do not currently allow 3G pitches in their league competitions. We understand that the FA is unable and/or unwilling to push the cause of 3G to them because of the Premier League’s influence in your committees. Faced with this strange barrier to what could be a hugely positive business option for many football clubs, we decided to set up 3G4US, a group of 50 football clubs from Football League, Scottish League and non-league who are all in favour of 3G pitches. The Football League don’t want to take any action because they might upset the Premier League, who are against 3G and the Football Conference don’t want to take action because they don’t want to upset the Football League.
And the FA can’t show an example by giving the green light to clubs to play on 3G in the FA Cup because the PREMIER LEAGUE WON’T ALLOW IT! It’s madness and a metaphor for how football is being run in this country.”
To me Merthyr Town and Maidstone United are taking an important lead and are where Slough want to be. Playing at Arbour Vale, offering more than just football and bringing the most multi-cultural town in the country together, by cheering on the Rebels. It makes sense for it be on an artificial pitch. But I would also like us to grow the lettuces for the free range meat burgers, have compost bins and compost loos. And a club-shop that sells programmes just to annoy Sue.

Clubs need to think outside the box, if they are to build a sustainable future for themselves. And with more wet and wild weather thanks to climate change, it's those that adapt that will decide whether they either sink or swim.