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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

THE MOST BORING TEAM IN ENGLAND

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Arlesey Town Saturday 14th February 2015

It's not often that a Sussex County League side find themselves in the national news. Even if it was a dig that they were even more boring than Aston Villa, you can't buy that sort of publicity. It's bad enough being slagged off by Robbie Savage, there was also a piece in one those rags pretending to be newspapers, but it was the plug on Football Focus that nailed it for a car load of us to head to The Crouch, home of Seaford Town FC to see just how boring they really were.

Seaford is a small picturesque seaside town that at one time was touted as a potential rival to Brighton as the premier resort on Sussex’s coast. But now it has few hotels or guest houses despite having dozens of them before the Second World War. The seafront has no amusements and the beach has lost its golden sand at low tide thanks to a long arm built at Newhaven Harbour. But it's a lovely little town with quirky buildings and shops, and the view from the ground is stunning. I think Seaford residents are more than happy with its more genteel, some would say boring, pace of life. Mind you the town council has been anything but boring recently with allegations of bullying, admin cock ups, infighting, spiralling costs and then trying some poor attemtps and trying to cover it all up.

Seaford have done a lot of ground improvements since the last time I visited. They have a swanky new stand and floodlights, which didn't bring the football hooliganism some locals said would happen when they were seeking planning permission. But chatting to one of their officials the club have been in a bit of a financial black hole and cut back on the teams that represented them. You can still enter from the back of a park and the ground will need quite a bit of work if they are to reach the promised land of the Ryman League. That might be some way off, with Seafords highest ever finish fourth in County League Division One nearly 50 years ago!

So far this season they are pointless with a worse goal record than Aston Villa who are just 662 places above them in the football pyramid. And after watching them fail to score against league leaders Worthing United, you could see why their players need a little more confidence in sticking the ball in the onion bag. But really the pitch doesn't help and it seems insane that something that is so integral to a decent game of football, isn't getting proper investment from the footballing authorities. Unfortunately league ground graders seem more concerned with getting clubs to build stands that will never be full than sorting out pitches.

Not missing a trick Seaford chairman Bob Thompsett told the press "I'd like to invite Villa down here so we can decide once and for all who is England's most boring team. It would be loser takes all if you like. Paul Lambert has looked a bit down in the dumps lately so I'd like to cheer him up. I'm sure his players would enjoy themselves down here. Our pitch does have a few holes and a few dog turds but my wife Chrissie does the best teas in the division."
Failing that, they are trying to arrange a friendly against another club in the country with a terrible record. Stewart and Lloyds Corby Football Club from Northamptonshire, have lost 24 games scoring 16 but conceding 96. Chairman Thompsett added, “It’d be great to meet them halfway to see who is the worst team in the country.”
I can hardly wait for that game, it's got 'instand classic' written all over it.
As they say, the only way is up for Seaford Town and with a canny Chairman, milking the publicity for all its worth, let's hope Seaford start banging in the goals and picking up some points soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

GREENER THAN KERMITS BUM

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Poole Town on Saturday 24th January 2015. We lost 4-0 in front of 309 people.

I was reading an article the other day about what a complete mess we are making of our planet. You know, the sort of article you skip cos its too depressing and far more pressing is to find out just what José Moaninho is complaining about now.

Scientists spent five years identifying the core components needed for human life – and the results ain't pretty. Of nine worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have exceeded “safe” levels. Changes in the last 60 years are unprecedented in the previous 10,000. All of these changes are shifting Earth into a “new state” that is becoming less hospitable to human life – and there's no sign things are slowing down.
Lead author Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University said “It’s fairly safe to say that we haven’t seen conditions in the past similar to ones we see today and there is strong evidence that there [are] tipping points we don’t want to cross. People say the world is robust and that’s true, there will be life on Earth, but the Earth won’t be robust for us.”

“Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that’s a belief system, it’s not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can’t and that’s a problem...It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive.” 
 
Well, cheers for that bomb shell but what's its got to do with football? And what could a small lower league club possibly do to stop the world becoming a less hospitable place for humans? Obviously if the worlds environment collapses then most of our games would be postponed – although the old blazers that run our league will no doubt be in their bunkers trying to make clubs finish the season. I think we should put a mark in the stand, and make our club greener than Kermit's bottom. Proper building insulation, solar panels, recycled water and reduced waste. Not only should these be essential components for our new ground but would also save money. I know, I know, let's get our bloody ground first but if those solar panels knock a few pence off your pint or mug of tea (served in a cup that isn't thrown away after just one use) or enables us to sign a better player; well who'd be arguing against?

Since Dale Vince, who made his fortune from green energy company Ecotricity, became chairman of Forest Green Rovers, he has been determined to make the club 'the most sustainable football club inBritain.' Some examples include collecting water from under the pitch to use for irrigation, solar panels and the first meat-free football menu. They've also got the UK’s first electric ‘mow-bot’ putting Rovers in the same league as Bayern Munich, who use the same revolutionary technology. The ‘mow-bot’ uses GPS technology to automatically mow the pitch without the need for human intervention – saving up to 50 per cent of a groundsman’s working week – it even sends a text if it runs into trouble. Rovers next plan to create an eco-venue for business and schools with the football club a working demonstration of sustainable living.

Of course there are those who complain that this is all green nonsense, while politicians and corporations carry on us normal and tell us that buying endless crap we don't need is good for the economy. But the warning from Profesor Steffen is clear if we do nothing “History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.”
So wouldn't it be a good thing to have our club badge changed to 'Served the Planet with Honour'!


Friday, January 16, 2015

ALIVE AND KICKING

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Weymouth on Saturday 17th January 2015. We beat the league leaders 3-0 in front of 328 people.

Being a lower league football fan in London isn't for the faint hearted. Where once stood magnificent stadiums bursting with song now there are housing estates or supermarkets. Where once all the capitals football teams could rely on big crowds, now those that are left face a relentless battle with an apathetic public and an insane property market, whose vultures circle ready to asset strip until there are no community spaces left. These people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Hillingdon Borough, Southall, Hendon, Edgware Town, Walthamstow Avenue, Leytonstone, Hayes, Ilford. Enfield. The list goes on.
The once mighty Wealdstone, the first club to do the Conference and Trophy double, were rewarded with their chairman selling their ground to Tescos and getting very little money from the sale. After a financially crippling spell at Watford, they groundhopped round the capital and even had a ground half built, before contractors went bust and Barnet eventually moved in. They have now settled in the idyllic setting of Ruislip, a club who themselves folded due to a lack of interest. Ruislip metamorphosed into Tokyngton Manor F.C.and now groundshare at Amersham. Meanwhile Wealdstone are on the up, crowds have rocketed and they will now forever be synomous with the 'wantsum' Raider.
Dulwich Hamlet, whose glorious old Champion Hill, was a glorious old wreck by the time they moved out are finally bringing back some of the glory days thanks to clever football and even clever marketing. Last week 1,200 turned up for a Ryman Premier League game v Billericay! Their ground is under threat, but it was also the first London football stadium to be listed as an “Asset of Community Value”.
Meanwhile at the Old Spotted Dog, something inspiring is taking place. Clapton FC play in the Essex Senior League where many clubs would be overjoyed with 3 figure crowds and where not so long ago just 25 people would watch the famous old Clapton play. Last week against Haringey Borough the crowd was 235 and the Clapton Ultras, with flares, flags and singing are trying to bring back the atmosphere (and politics) that has been lost to the supporters of so many corporate football teams. 
The first ever supporter run club in the country Enfield Town are now back in their borough after losing their ground to a dodgy owner.  
Then there's AFC Wimbledon, whose fans furious at the franchising of football, were spitting feathers at the FA commission comment that “Resurrecting the club from its ashes as, say, ‘Wimbledon Town’, is not in the wider interests of football.” They started life at the bottom of the footballing pyramid and pitched up at Kingstonian, another club who were having an ongoing battle with their dodgy chairman. The Dons paid him cash to bugger off while Kingstonian play a small amount of rent ever since. Now they have plans to move back near their spiritual home and might sell their ground to Chelsea. Some Kingstonian fans aren't happy, and have never been. If our ground got transferred to someone else and we became tenants I’m sure we would have the hump. To add salt to the wound, the Kingstonian committee say they can't afford to stay. I'm not sure what the solution is but rather than finger pointing, we need to look at the economic free-for-all that gets us in this mess in the first place.
Football grounds need proper protection from dodgy owners and property vultures. Like pubs they are all 'Assets of Community Value' and beyond the first team, give a chance for people to not just play football but for communities to come together.
As Wealdstone, Dulwich and Clapton have shown, with a bit of nous, it is possible to pull in those punters and show that lower league football is alive and kicking in London.


Saturday, January 03, 2015

CHRIS BOXALL RIP

By Graham Kaye-Taylor

Like everyone else, I was both shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Chris Boxall. As news filtered through social media channels, I couldn’t quite believe what my eyes were reading and even now writing this some hours later it still hasn’t really sunk in. My thoughts and prayers go out to Tony and Jan, Chris’ family, friends and colleagues. He will be sorely missed by all within the Slough Town community.
Chris was an integral part of the younger generation of Slough Town supporters who helped promote the club in the digital age. A talented web designer by trade, Chris utilised his skills honed at the Slough Observer to deliver a website for the football club that was light years ahead of its competitors and among the very best in the non-league. The unofficial fans forum that he co-founded back in 2001 still operates today, providing an outlet for Rebels to share their post-match joy and frustrations. I’m not sure that we can blame Chris for the shenanigans of some of the more colourful characters who have frequented the forum over the years, but we should all be grateful to him for giving us an online platform where rival opinions can be aired.
For years Chris was part of the website match reporting team as well as providing information for the Non-League Paper. When most supporters were celebrating a goal, Chris could be found scribbling down details of the time and scorer in his notepad, or tweeting the details so that supporters not in attendance could be kept up to date with the match progress.
I first came to know Chris towards the end of the club’s tenure at Wexham Park. While he was never one of the more vociferous supporters on the terraces, he was always there at matches cheering his team on, usually in the company of his dad. Chris liked to keep himself fit by spending time at the gym, which was good news for the Supporters Team as it meant we had at least one player who wasn’t panting and wheezing after 15 minutes. Away from the club he was highly sociable and could regularly be found frequenting the dance floors of Berkshire after a couple of beverages. Looking back at photos of Chris from a long weekend in Bognor from our younger days has raised a smile. Needless to say these pictures aren’t getting published!
Just from looking at the reaction to the sad news it was clear that Chris was very popular with colleagues past and present. Former Slough Observer sports reporter Gary Chappell, who covered the Rebels during the Eddie Denton era, very succinctly wrote “Shocked, stunned and saddened by the death of Chris Boxall at 34. Many memories. All funny. Top man.” John Dickens, current Senior Sports Reporter for the Slough Observer simply tweeted “RIP Chris. Pleasure working with you.”
The untimely loss of Chris follows the recent passing of other Rebels including Dave Pearcy, Peter Riley and Chris Sliski. In a week where we should be feeling optimistic at the news of a planning application being submitted for the new stadium, the Slough Town community is instead filled with sadness that yet another of its loyal hardworking supporters will not be there to see our great club playing within the town it represents. I only hope that when the Rebels homecoming finally happens, Chris will be looking down from above in the great supporters coach in the sky.




GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Burnham on Tuesday 20th January 2015. We drew 2-2 in front of 257 people.

All Slough fans would have swapped their Christmas socks for news of a ground in Slough. So it seems Santa came early with the announcement that planning permission has finally been submitted for the ground at Arbour Vale. This time without the houses but a school with sporting facilities for the whole community. Amongst other things this will include an artificial pitch and covered seating for a least 250 spectators. There will also be a four-court sports hall, multi-use games areas for community use and playing fields for the school and nearby St Joseph’s Catholic High School. The facilities are designed to meet the ground grading requirements of the Southern Premier League with flexibility to expand.

However, this news was tinged with the sadness of another Rebel passing. The death of Chris Boxall was all the more shocking as he was only 35 years old. I can't say I knew Chris well; he was one of those more thoughtful, quieter Rebels, and the driving force behind our fantastic website; one of those unsung heroes that makes clubs like ours tick. We've lost so many of our Rebel friends over the years since we've have been homeless and its heartbreaking to think of those that have put so much into the club will never see us play back in the town where we belong.

I asked Chairman Steve Easterbrook a few questions about the ground



Q Are you confident that the Rebels really are coming home sooner rather than later

Steve “With all the setbacks we have encountered it is very difficult to be 100% confident. However this is the furthest we have got and I would like to think that there is a now determined effort and momentum to finally bring the club back into the town where it belongs. “

Q Was the decision to have a 3G pitch an easy one?
Steve “Yes.”

Q Do you think this is the way forward for lower league clubs to survive?
Steve “Absolutely – it is not only the way forward for clubs it is the way forward for communities as the pitch can be better utilised as opposed to just the couple of times a week you can play on a grass pitch. Also with an artificial pitch there is less chance that a game will be called off. If you take last New Year’s Day, which is traditionally one of the best supported days of the entire season – out of approximately 133 scheduled games at Step 1 to 4, 91 were postponed – this will have cost clubs thousands of pounds. It has taken the FA a long time, however artificial pitches are now accepted in the FA Cup, in the Conference League and it won’t be long before the professional leagues accept them.”

Q And finally, are you enjoying the Southern Premier and how do you think we are doing
Steve “Really enjoying this season and visiting all the new grounds. It goes without saying that the standard of football is higher however on our day we have shown that we can be a match for anyone. Of course if you have an off day you can get severely punished (Redditch at home….ouch!).”


As some of the development land falls in Green Belt, the development still hinges on a final sign-off from the Government. Let's hope Eric Pickles doesn't do a Scrooge and Slough Town Wanderers can finally have a home to call their own soon.

Monday, December 29, 2014

DRIPPING PANS, KNICKERS AND FOOTBALL TRADITIONS

Printed in the Southern Premier League game v Hungerford Town  Saturday January 1st 2015. We lost 2-1 in front of 310 people.

On yet another Saturday where I couldn't face the bubbling cauldron of passion that is Holloways Park, I decided to take my son to football and drag his friend along to watch his first ever live game. And where better than the Dripping Pan, home of Lewes FC. It's free to get in for Under 16's and was free for kids on the buses thanks to Small Business Saturday (as opposed to Pay No Tax Big Corporation Day the rest of the year). Although not the Premiership that so many youngsters are drugged with, Lewes does have beer, terraces, singing and swearing – all the ingredients for a perfect Saturday afternoons entertainment. It was also freezing, no goals and quite frankly the worst game of football i've seen all season, so the perfect introduction to what watching football is often like.

It also had a (free) fanzine being dished out - 'Knickers to 'em' formerly '10 Worthing Bombers' – both references to their friends along the coast – and what a great read, Now I do love a fanzine, having been co-author of 'Rebel without a Clue' during our first few seasons in the Conference. We even managed to get banned when he printed an unflattering article about our local Tory MP and even got in the national press cos we were so rude about him. Fast forward 30 years and i'm reading the intro to Knickers which is having a pop at the Lewes board. Bloody hell. This is a 100% community owned football club, with over 500 in attendance at a Ryman League bottom of the table clash with Tonbridge Angels. A club who refuses to bankrupt itself, where you can drink on the terraces, is free for kids and has the best football posters ever and food to die for. The editors might have a point about the extreme gentrification of the club, but surely the football club simply mirrors just how middle-class Lewes has become.

Having a pop isn't a bad thing, its good to keep those who make the decisions on their toes, but I always think criticism should be backed up with people mucking in. After setting up my own charity and helping re-open a co-op pub I know the endless hoops, paperwork and meetings that take place behind the scenes to make things happen. Easy to criticise, a lot harder to get stuck in. So if you're going to make a New Years resolution, how about that you will get more involved in your community?

Then I read 'With Disappointment Comes Football Wisdom' which perfectly summed up the growing up you do as a football fan. “Season after season as you stand on a terrace wondering why you bother, it is because it is shaping your life...Tomorrow can't come quick enough and with modern media demanding we live our lives at breakneck speed 24/7, there remains minimal time for thought and conjecture. Or is it just people of my era are older, wizened and frankly battle hardened through life's onslaught of sporting disappointments?”

The bit on football forums was also spot on “All you see is a forum members name but you don't need a photo to guess their age. A defeat means so and so out, a win and he is the best thing since sliced bread. You are under 25...Management is a long term art and strategy (but) young people have no patience.”

I remember at one point I had to stop watching Slough, cos when they lost it ruined my whole weekend and sent me into cat-kicking fury. Which didn't impress my vegetarian friends or the cat.

As for the kids, half an hour to go and they wanted to go home and play Minecraft, or at least watch some plonker on a computer, talk about how to play Minecraft. No way as they were bribed with another chocolate bar, your staying here to watch some blokes running round on a pitch trying to score a goal and give us some Christmas cheer. And with the final whistle, as we made our way up the windy Lewes streets in the dark, all smelling of Christmas, It felt good to be passing on a time-honoured football tradition to the younger generation.

* For copies of 'Knickers to 'em' email @tenworthingbombers@yahoo.co.uk 
* To find them on twitter @knickerstoem

Saturday, December 20, 2014

FINALLY TIME FOR A BEVY

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

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

Saturday, December 06, 2014

WHAT'S IN A NAME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

THE MATCH DAY EXPERIENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

HOPPING MAD IN SUSSEX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEDGEHOG, COWS AND ONE DETERMINED FOOTBALL CLUB

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

LEFT IN THE TROPHY CABINET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

WHO WOULD BE A REF

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

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

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

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

Why does anyone want to become a referee?   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DECAMP TO DORSET*

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


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

* This column was sponsored by the Dorset Tourism Board