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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

LAST ORDERS FOR MIKI HALL

The passing of the legendary landlord Miki Hall is a poignant reminder of just what sort of special person it takes to run a community pub. Miki was the right person, in the right place at the right time when he took over the New Kensingston in Brighton’s North Laine. Brighton's protest scene was about to explode against the Criminal Justice Act and the Kenny became the drunken wing of the Anarchist weekly news-sheet SchNEWS and its main distribution point with regular live readings on a Friday night. His pub made things happen.

But a proper pub isn't just a place where you can get a drink or a packet of peanuts. It's got to feel like your putting on an old pair of slippers. The Kenny was always a refuge for the risk-takers, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries and more than a few lost souls. Miki became our crazy father figure who was often worst behaved than his hundreds of adopted children. I hope he is proud that so many of those people have gone on to do amazing things in their lives, encouraged by his hospitality, words of wisdom and anything-is-possible attitude.

For me, the Kenny reinforced just why pubs are so important. Everytime I see a boarded up boozer 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?

Miki took on the big breweries, who've strangled pubs with their modern day tied-system slavery forcing publicans to buy their beer from them at vastly inflated prices. Along with other publicans he went on rent strike, but eventually they won and the Kenny shut its doors for the last time (scroll down to page 2) scattering a community to the wind.

As Chris Natural put it so well “Under Miki's watchful eye(!), the Kenny was the best and only pub in the world I have liked. For it was so much more than a pub. It was an extension of Miki's essence. A melting pot of weird and wonderful, anarchic, rebellious and often crazy spirits. Infamous worldwide it and he encapsulated everything that was great about Brighton at that time. A piece of me died when the Kenny shut it's doors for the last time. Brighton was never the same again.”

Never really finding a Brighton local I felt as comfortable in since, I got together with other local residents, to try and open our own co-op pub! But just like the Kenny, so much more than just a pub. After nearly 5 years of campaigning The Bevy finally re-opened and while it can never be the Kenny, we hope it is a new model of how pubs can survive and be a shining example to other working class estates of what can be done.

Of course Miki was more than just a landlord. He had a history of activism – but always with a mischievous smile and a love of gossip rather than chip on his shoulder. And before that last orders bell was rung, you could be sure he would be trying to land a moustached kiss on anyone in the vicinity. As his health worsened he threw himself into disability rights; setting up disabled friendly areas at festivals giving many people the opportunity to enjoy them for the first time. 
 
I'm gutted I never got to buy Miki a bevy at the Bevy and say thanks for his inspiration and all the good times. You were a legend my friend, who will never be forgotten.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH

Printed in the Southern Premier League game v Frome Town Saturday 18th April 2015. We drew 1-1 in front of 352 at the last home game of the season.

It's fair to say that Slough fans aren't used to seasons like this. For a decade we have either been fighting for a play-off place or battling against relegation. It's surprising any of us have any hair, nails or nerves left. We've had amazing cup runs, knocking out Walsall and apparently giving their player-manager Paul Merson his worst day in football ever. We've been stuck in an endless play off loop until we finally cracked it in the best manner ever. Followed by the best celebrations ever in the Herschel!
We've won the League Cup and been relegated with a 9-0 defeat at AFC Wimbledon.
Over the next couple of seasons it was borderline whether we would even have a club to support. We've been relegated to the Dog and Duck only to be saved by the demise of Halifax Town and more often than not 90 minutes of football spoilt a good day out.
So has this season been an anti-climax? Not a chance.
Walking round Weymouth beach on that sunny weekend in September and knowing this wasn't an FA Cup jolly but a bread and butter league game. We had arrived back in the Big Time (relatively speaking). Where locals knew that they had a football team and knew where the ground was. As Weymouth beach quickly filled with kiss-me-quick Slough Town bobble hats everyone seemed to be nodding their heads in disbelief. Did we finally get promoted or had Tom the Herschel landlord given us one to many free shots?
So I’m personally more than happy with some mid table mediocrity. Watching St Neots fans being put through the play-off mill, while we could just enjoy the brilliant 3-3 comeback without losing any sleep/nails/hair was enjoyable.
I've been really impressed with how the Supporters Trust has really raised its profile. It was an eye opener to see how much work our dedicated band of volunteers do before (and after) a game to make the club tick. And this season the Trust has doubled its membership from just four seasons ago.
So what next? I always love a cup run which is always a good place to pick up cash and more supporters. We could definitely do with some more youngsters coming through the turnstiles and getting vocally behind the team – and I don't mean all the screaming babies being produced by the Randy Rebels. If we stay in the Southern it looks like a much harder league next season, so I’d again we happy with mid-table with maybe a little sniff at the play-offs (actually, for purely selfish geographical and financial reasons I’d love us to be put back in the Ryman Premier) But more than anything I want those diggers to be moving the earth and laying the foundations for our new ground. Its amazing what we've achieved with little income and playing away from Slough for over 12 years. Just think what we could do with a community sports ground that will massively benefit everyone in Slough.
And I hope we can honour some of those Rebels that never saw us return to the Promised Land but put so much into the club. 
The Chris Sliski Stand and The Dave the Programmes Programme Hut would be a fitting tribute. And a poignant reminder that of course managers and players play a massive part in the club fortunes, but ultimately it's the fans that have steered the Slough Town ship in sickness and in health.

Monday, April 06, 2015

FANS UNITED

Printed in the Southern Premier Division game v St Neots Town Saturday 4th April 2015. We drew 3-3 in front of 354

How do you turn a protest into something positive? Sometimes there's no other option but to take the direct action response to show the authorities you mean business. But sometimes your protests can be pitched so that they help galvanise wider support. It was Brighton fans who showed the way when some bright spark from Plymouth came up with the idea of Fans United. Supporters from all over the country descended on the Seagulls threatened ground to show their support and catapult the campaign into the national headlines.

A fortnight ago, AFC Blackpool fighting off relegation from the North West Counties Premier Division and averaging crowds of just 35 decided to delay their kick off after fed up Blackpool fans said once they had protested at Bloomfield Road they would make their way to the Mechanics ground. The irony wasn't lost on the Championship supporters, that despite playing eight levels below them, AFC Blackpool had more grass on their pitch than them. But then since their relegation from the Premiership, the Blackpool chairman has lawfully been allowed to syphon off tens of millions on unsecured interest free loans to the various companies he owns. The kitman walked out in midweek, and the legalised loan sharks who sponsor the shirts will not renew. Blackpool have arguably the worst pitch in the Football League; their training ground would shame a semi-professional club and they are destined for relegation. The chairman argues his family deserves recognition and reward for underpinning the club for two decades and seems to think this gives him the green light to asset strip it to within an inch of its life. The Premiership, who have provided his family handsomely with their parachute payments shrug their shoulders, while the Football League say they have done nothing wrong. Which probably isn't surprising since the chairman of the Football League happens to be the chairman of Blackpool Football Club! In an email they argued “aside from adhering to our regulations (including financial requirements) and the laws of the land, clubs are their own individual business and can chose to operate as they wish”. Which is as good a quote as any, as why clubs should be owned by its supporters.

As for AFC Blackpool, they benefited by a bumper crowd of 503 who cheered them on to a 2-1 victory against Bootle. It also gave some fans, a glimpse of a very different footballing experience. One tweeted 'AFC Blackpool was bloody brilliant. Terraces, terrace banter, beer and great friends all together again. How it should be.'

Hereford United fans spent the season grappling with horrendous debts and dodgy owners who wanted to asset strip their ground. With crowds plummeting due to boycotting fans and owners that kept dishing out excuses, the courts finally had enough and the club that had famously knocked Newcastle out of the FA Cup were no more. But fans quickly set up a phoenix supporters run club that will be playing back at Edgar Street next season. Their aims include that no other individual or corporate body will be able to own any more than 24% of the shares in the company and that any profits must be reinvested in the club and will not return to any of the benefactors/sponsors, or be shared between shareholders.

Last Saturday Slough had the pleasure (well apart from the result) to visit our old friends Hitchin Town who ran a campaign blinder to stop a charity selling off their ground to a supermarket giant. Early in the season 2,000 people marched through the town to show their support, with the majority of them staying to watch the Canaries beat league leaders Poole.

And of course, Slough Town have cleared the last major hurdle to getting a new ground with building work potentially starting this summer. It's been a funny old season and a bloody long time since we weren't either fighting for promotion or battling against relegation, so as well as giving our nerves a welcome break, the ground news is just what our supporters needed to give something to toast at the end of the season.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A NON LEAGUE REVOLUTION

To be printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Truro City Saturday 14th March 2015. 

Maybe it was just the spring sunshine going to my head, but standing on the packed Dripping Pan terraces with Kingstonian fans in full voice, I couldn't help thinking that non league football was once again finding its feet; and the relentless crap that league supporters have to put up with for the privilege of supporting their team, was finally turning enough of them away and back to grassroots football.

Of course its not all roses; Lewes opponents Kingstonian groundshare with AFC Wimbledon and their management have said if Wimbledon get their own ground they will probably have to find a new home because Kingsmeadow is too big for them. Meanwhile FA boss Greg Duke, with his deep understanding of lower league finances, has said that he is looking at cutting FA Trophy and Vase money - the same week that the Premiership announced a 5 billion pound TV deal! Dyke’s wants £2 million per year switched from other parts of the FA budget to pay for 35 new coach educators to work in the grassroots and professional game. It's been approved by the FA board, but amateur blazers have unsurprisingly, yet to be convinced about the merits of such expenditure and the resulting 15 per cent cuts being imposed on every department to raise the cash. Do the winners of the FA Cup really need £1.8 million? Should teams be out of pocket in the early rounds of the Trophy and Vase?

Then there's that old B team chestnut rearing its head again. This time, the threats are for Premiership Under 21 teams to be put into the
Johnstone Paint Trophy. Not the most prestigious of cups, until you get to the final when every player and supporter wants to be at Wembley. Let the B teams in that and it will be the Trojan Horse the Premiership Masters of the Universe want so they can swamp the lower divisions with B-listers.

Of course clubs like Lewes, Dulwich and FC United of Manchester have worked hard to carve out a niche for themselves with the resulting surge in support. A recent trip to watch the Peacehaven & Telscombe v Lewes derby showed the flipside of non league. Peacehaven's rise up the divisions and spending on players they couldn't afford has finally caught up with them. A new chairman off-loaded 3 players which immediately cut the wage bill in half. He then initiated a Stand or Fall campaign to raise £15,000 to pay for the required 75 seats before the end of the season. Or as non league football blogger Ian Townsend pointed out 'Half a day’s pay – or possibly the price of an acceptable birthday cake – for Yaya Touré.' No seats and it will mean relegation. Piddinghoe Avenue still has the feel of a Sussex County League ground and not the Sports Arena it likes to call itself. Whereas you walk into noise when you go through the Lewes turnstiles, at Peacehaven you are strung out like pearls and the £10 entrance fee doesn't sit right. Despite it being a derby that mattered and a big crowd, there was no atmosphere and no noise until Peacehaven scored the winning goals. How do you hope to attract the disillusioned supporter with those facilities?

Of course they do things a bit different in Germany where Bayern Munich fans recently unfurled a banner proclaiming ‘No to the English model’ while their president, said “We do not think the fans are like cows to be milked. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.” So hears hoping the Premiership brand goes the way of Tesco. Too arrogant to see all the problems piling up. To dismissive of the fans protests. I doubt they will ever see the light, so let's encourage more people to jump ship and join the Non League Football Revolution (or Rebelution in our case).



Sunday, March 08, 2015

THE ONLY THING IN COMMON IS THE BALL

Printed in the Southern League Premier Division game v Cambridge City Saturday 7th March 2015. We lost 4-0 in front of 315 people

How ironic that all those years spent praying for promotion everytime I saw the words AFC Hayes on the fixtures list, that I should spend so little time watching the Rebels in our first season back in the big time (Big Time of course being relative). It all started so well with a flurry of action down in the West Country but with the groundsharing at Beaconsfield testing my patience (I’ve been to so few home games my season ticket is working out as pricey as a seat at the Emirates), endless rail replacements which means five hour journeys become ten, kids, work and a co-op boozer that has popped up down the bottom of my street. Well, its been a season of 'wish you were here' and now with no prospect of relegation or promotion, a season spent watching more Sussex County than Southern Premier.

Still, I did fancy a bit of Chippenham Town, never having entered their turnstiles. Once I left the brave new world that is Reading station (how about this for a crazy idea, get a bar and a decent place to eat in the concourse you numpties) I arrived in Chippenham with plenty of time to catch up with The Real Ale Rebels (plus Kieran). They have the knack of finding old fashioned boozers that make you feel you have walked into someone's house by mistake. Leaving them to debate the finer points of ale, I got to the ground before the usual 1 minute to spare to catch up with all the aches and ailments of the ageing Rebel population and ponder the news that the council have given permission for our new ground (not that it means we can start building just yet).

I must say I was impressed with Chippenham. Loved the ground, cheap clubhouse, friendly fans from all ages including a Swede, with obligatory crazy Viking beard who travels over to games after a group of friends stumbled across the club – like you do when you live in Sweden. He bared his chest and waved his shirt above his head as Chippenham scored twice in a terrible game of football. I was wondering if the people by the Stadium Control Room would leap into action and cover up his modesty. But I had headed back to the bar before then.

This world of football is so far removed from the Premiership that it has more in common with horse dancing (or Equestrian Dressage as they like to call it to make it sound sensible). I cringed as I watched FA say they hoped the Premiership would hand a few more crumbs to the leagues below as the biggest TV deal ever was announced. Five Billion Quid over 3 years! The Premier League currently spends £168m on community programmes and facilities, just 3% of its income. So while the top of our national sport is awash with millions, grassroots football struggles with terrible pitches and terrible or non existent facilities. These very same clubs that play footballers millions, can't it seems, afford to pay its lowest paid staff the Living Wage (and its worth remembering that people on low wages are topped up with tax credits, so in effect taxpayers are subsidizing these big clubs).

So I couldn't help smiling, when their smugness turned to horror with FIFA announcing that the Qatar World Cup could be moved to the winter. We can't have our players getting too hot, not that we give a shit about the hundreds of workers killed building stadiums in the footballing hotbed (well it is a desert) that is Qatar. FIFA are so corrupt, even the Somali government waves its arms in despair and I wish countries would just tell them to stick their World Cup up their bloated, corrupt back sides.

Yet just like the Premiership, they get away with it because we go along with it. When there are protests, such as the Crystal Palace Ultras whose banners criticised the new TV deal, they are ignored by Match of the Day when these protests should become talking points.

Thankfully the chances of Slough Town joining this cauldron of crap anytime in my lifetime is pretty much zero. And that's the way I like it. Infact the more supporters are taken on a merry dance, the more Non League becomes attractive to people fed up with being taken for a footballing ride. And with the prospects of a new ground in Slough, these are the sorts of people we need to grab with both footballing gloves and turn them into Rebels.


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.