A new dawn: Hinckley AFC

hinckley

This is a short one folks but still deserves to be mentioned for two main reasons. One is that I feel bad because I couldn’t be there due to annoying Maurice Glasman at Blue Labour in Nottingham. The second is I am very weary of being seen as a bandwagon jumper (yes, someone who attends games in the North West Counties Prem can be accused of being a glory-hunter… somehow) so I felt the need to mark the event.

That ‘event’ in question was the very first game of Hinckley AFC and the start of a new dawn for the long suffering former fans of Hinckley United FC. It’s been a long journey for the fans and on Saturday July 5th 2014 at 3:00pm, months of hard work were finally rewarded when Hinckley AFC stepped out for their first ever game against Heather St John’s, who will be their Landlords hopefully for one season only.

The former clubs demise (Hinckley United) was well documented by amongst others twohundredpercent (here) , When Saturday Comes (here) and a great piece on the final game of Hinckley United can be found here.

Anyway, this sad hobby of mine is not about the past but about what happens next. On the 7th October 2013 Hinckley United were announced dead in the high court. The Hinckley fans wasted no time in organising themselves on what to do next, before the club went down there was already talk of setting up a community owned club.

It just shows how far the fan owned movement has come that what was once seen as a crazy idea (the fans running it themselves) is now the go to option and I am sure the Hinckley fans weren’t without friends on their journey. The old owners of Hinckley United announced plans to start again but with their reputations tarnished, Hinckley fans decided they didn’t need to wait for businessmen, saviours or Mr. Moneybags to get a club, they could do it their bloody selves.

It began in December 2013 when over 150 people showed up to the Clarendon Club to witness the birth of a new club. After hearing words from James Mathie of Supporters Direct, whose support for fan owned ventures big and small has been invaluable to the spread of community clubs, it was decided it would be run by the fans. A dozen questions still need answering but it was the start.

In January of this year, another meeting led to the name Hinckley AFC being adopted and with 150 once again attending it showed that the support was still there. If 150 people were prepared to turn out for a meeting in January how many could they get to a game of football on a Saturday afternoon?

The kits colours, the name were all decided by the fans themselves, a far cry from the desperate fight that fans at Shrewsbury Town, Hull City and others have had to injure to protect or reclaim their heritage against a group of individuals determined to change it. Membership was opened up in March for just a quid and by May the new clubs fans had a chance to meet their new Manager, Carl Abbott, who had previously been Manager at Wolverhampton Casuals.

A squad was assembled and with a ground-share secured at Heather St. Johns, 20 minutes up the road from Hinckley, whilst ‘legal difficulties’ surrounding De Montfort Park (home of Hinckley United) get resolved. However, even on that front a bid was placed by Joy and Steve Jeffs to purchase the old ground for Hinckley AFC to use but as the Hinckley Times stated here) the former owners of Hinckley United, who appear to have no support, have also placed a bid for the ground.

Still, Hinckley AFC remain confident of being back in Hinckley by the start of the 2015/16 season and considering many fan owned clubs have waited close to a decade to have a home, this is great going and it gives the new owners time to get to grip with running a football club before the transition.

So after months of suffering, everything was in place for the first ever game of Hinckley AFC. Hinckley AFC ran out 4-2 winners in front of a crowd of 205, although I am assured by those who attended including players that more were in attendance. Club Captain JJ Melligan has the honour of going down in history as the first ever goal-scorer for Hinckley AFC but the day really isn’t about him.

It’s not about him, other players or the Manager. No, it was the fans day. It was a day for people who having seen their clubs history and heritage destroyed, refused to allow the ties they had made together disappear along with it. All those long days thrashing out how it would be achieved, the cold winter nights, they were all rewarded on a glorious day in July. The fans have a club they can cherish, grow and hand onto their children but it’s different this time. Because this time, no-one can ever take it away from them.

Hinckley AFC: Welcome to the family. You won’t be the last.

Links
Hinckley AFC Website
Hinckley Fans Forum
TwoHundredPercent- Hinckley United
When Saturday Comes
Hinckley United Last Stand- SaulPope WordPress
Hinckley Times
BBC Sport- Hinckley Wound Up

The completely pointless fan owned season review

Firstly, I have a bunch of posts to get up from this season which I will get up after my exam is done on Monday when I have bugger all else to do but with the last ever proper world cup starting today (because we’re all going to want to go to Russia and Qatar aren’t we?) I’d thought I put up the club by club season review before the new season predictions after the world cup. So if you are curious to see how other teams fan owned teams have fared or you just like self-inflicted punishment (looking at you FC United fans) here goes.

 

Speeling mistakes and factual errors are all the fault of yours truly. Go easy on me.

Same pattern as New Year: From the bottom of the pyramid to the top.

 

1874 Northwich – North West Counties Div 1 – Step 6:

Prediction: Promotion and Party at Anthony Rodgers (all invited)

Result: 3rd (Promoted & party now sold out)

So we begin with the youngest club on the list, having just finished their first proper season of football. Time has flown since I visited their first ever game against Lostock Gralam way back in July and despite having missed out on promotion on the last day of the season to 2nd placed Formby, news came through earlier this month that Formby were to withdraw from the League and 1874 Northwich were promoted instead.

It’s hard to argue they don’t deserve it having only missed out on goal difference and displaying an attitude completely different to that of the owner of the club they previously supported. They have averaged over 300 for the league they are in and will join Runcorn Linnets in the North West Counties Prem next season, only one league below the shell of a club known as Northwich Victoria.

The greatest thing about this is how the story has come full circle. I met Anthony at their first game and I told him when they go up I’d be there for  the party, well despite having an exam on Monday in Guildford the party is this Saturday in Northwich and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  

 

AFC Croydon Athletic – Combined Counties Div 1- Step 6:

Prediction: Head says top five, fanatic says Promotion in 3rd Place. So Promotion.

Result: 7th

A disappointing end to the season for AFC Croydon Athletic after they started the New Year with a decent if not great chance of going up but this evaporated with only three wins from their last eight games.  They finished eight points behind the three promotion places but much more importantly, they are to return to their real home at Mayfield Stadium.

With this, they will finally be able to put down some real roots, attract back many of the fans who refused to watch them play at a (soulless) sports arena and with this increased revenue the club can look forward to brighter days ahead starting with a stronger performance next season.

 

Saffron Walden Town FC – Eastern Counties Football League Div One- Step 6:

Prediction: Top Half

Result: 5th

Saffron were one of a several clubs I was unable to visit but it basically gives me the opportunity to drag this sad project out another season at least. They put in a very impressive display in the second half of the season and finished just five points off promotion. With healthy attendances combined with a clubhouse generating income, they will fancy their chances of promotion next season.

 

Newport (Isle of Wight) FC – Wessex League Prem – Step 5

Prediction: Top 3

Result: 4th

I was also unable to make it to the Isle of Wight but wasn’t far off in my prediction for the Port, being only one place off 3rd by a single point. Again, this league was pretty much wrapped up by Sholing months earlier and Sholing had only come down last season from the league above for financial reasons having finished seventh in the Southern League South and West.

It is understandable why players may have taken their foot off the gas and all Step 5 leagues only offer one promotion place, making this the hardest jump in the non-league pyramid bar perhaps the Conference Prem.  

Sholing won the FA Vase this season to go with their title and with their finances in shape have taken the promotion so Newport, having improved on last season’s result, will be confident of making a serious challenge next season.

 

AFC Rushden & Diamonds- United Counties League Prem- Step 5

Prediction: Top 3 and Wembley

Result: Top 3 and FA Vase Fourth Round

It would be harsh but true to say that the Diamonds season ended on the 18th January after crashing out in the Vase 2-0 to St. Andrews in front of a home crowd of 948, the clubs biggest attendance of the season.

Moneybags Spalding raced away with the league with a 12 point gap over 2nd place and 16 points over AFC Rushden & Diamonds in 3rd. The Diamonds were also rocked by the departure of Mark Starmer, who had managed the AFC Diamonds first ever team (youth side) and had led the Diamonds to promotion in their first senior men’s season in 2012/13.

The Diamonds only dropped nine points after Christmas in the League and they, along with Mark, can take away great memories with a victory over Cambridge City in front of 800 plus and a trip to play Dover Athletic in the FA Cup 3rd Round Qualifying.

With new man Andy Peaks at the helm and with the Diamonds only being four points off second place last season, they will fancy their chances of getting out of the toughest step in non-league with promotion next season.

 

Fisher FC-  Southern Counties East League- Step 5

Prediction: Safe, new home by 2015.

Result: Safe, new home by 2015 likely.

I did get to see the Fish this season and a thoroughly enjoyable experience it was too, despite having to run from the last minutes to catch a train back to Guildford.  Currently playing at Dulwich Hamlet, who themselves have now been brought by a property developer, (the two words as a footy fan you don’t want to hear about your owner) Fisher FC really should be dead. They were homeless and had been killed in the high court before the supporters leaped like a salmon and Fisher FC were reborn on the 28th May 2009.

Long story short, they were safe from relegation and fingers crossed should be in to their shiny new stadium at Salter Road, Rotherhithe and a stone throws from their former home of the Surrey Docks.

This is the most important possession for any football club and this is truest of all for non – league clubs in London, who are all being eyed greedily by property developers and seen as backwards relics standing in the way of progress by most politicians in London. So for Fisher to be perhaps only one season away from the safety of a secure home for the remainder of their future is a great achievement. When they have that stadium, equipped with 3G pitch then they can start to look forward to on the field success and when that stadium opens, I think a few tears will shed. A wound will begin to heal and Fisher can get a whole new lease of life.

 

AFC Liverpool – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

 Prediction: Top 8

Result: 7th

I didn’t visit AFC Liverpool this season having already visited the ground they shared this season but still plan to visit them at some point, despite my reservations over the club. They had an average season and are now moving to the ‘Arriva Stadium’ which is the home of Marine FC and is closer to the heart of Liverpool.

AFC Liverpool were set up because Liverpool fans had been priced out but stated they were not opposed to the owners (who set the prices at Liverpool) and therefore started off with a bad note. It could’ve chosen the path of FC United but instead wished to become a little brother or what I will call a ‘B’ team. As a result, they have stagnated and with Liverpool enjoying renewed success plus AFC Liverpool lacking any selling point or radical break with what’s wrong with football, it’s hard not to believe this is why they have failed to breakthrough.  

 

Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Prediction: Promotion

Result: 2nd

In a season that was a two horse race for large parts of it, it was to be Runcorn Linnets who fell at the final hurdle, finishing five points behind winners Norton United who got 100 points for the season, which left Runcorn Linnets preparing for an 8th season in the North West Counties Prem.

Over the last couple of years they have seen steady improvement and with a good FA Cup run last season, solid attendances for this level (and several levels above) plus being so close this time around there will be a lot of expectation on Runcorn Linnets to finally go up. Still, they can look forward to two games this season against 1874 Northwich and if both are doing well it could be a big crowd only matched by the Runcorn Derby.

 

Darlington FC- Evostik Div One North – Step 4

Prediction: Play-off promotion, back in Darlington for next season pushing near the 1800 attendance mark or more.

Result: Losing play-off semi-finalists, returning to Darlington (Blackwell meadows) sometime in 2014/15 season.

So in their biggest game of the season against Ramsbottom in the playoff semi-final on a Wednesday night in April with over 1900 people watching (a great achievement considering they are still playing miles from Darlo), Darlington choked.

I thought they would win and have a glorious day in the sun with over 2,000 plus watching them get promoted and they could’ve looked forward to a great game against FC. United (what a great game that would’ve been). Instead, it’s another year in Step 4.

Despite this setback,  they are well on the way to going back to Darlo and will be sharing with the Darlington Rugby Club at Blackwell Meadows, which is undergoing extensive work to prepare for the expanded capacity needed. Plus, they have a friendly against Sunderland to add money to the coffers to cover costs and as soon as they are back in Darlo they can push on ,not only next season but can seriously start to set a roadmap for their return to the top of the Non-league Pyramid. With clubs going bust left, right and centre, Darlo could be ready to re-emerge as a force just at the right time.  

However, the Evostik Div One North looks like being the hardest league at this Step of the Pyramid. In with Darlo are Spennymoor Town who have just been promoted and went blow for blow in the 2012/13 season when Darlo were promoted. Having stepped up they will be a big threat. Add in moneybags Salford, who after being brought out have started throwing cash around and will challenge along with Scarborough Athletic, who we will return to in a bit.

If Darlo thought this season was tough, next year will be even worse but if this time next year they are back in Darlo, the real goal will have been achieved.

 

Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Prediction: Play-Offs

Result: Losing Play-Off finalists

A great season came to a cruel end with Ramsbottom, who had vanquished Darlo a round earlier, did the double over the fan owned duo and were promoted at the expense of Bamber Bridge. Over 1,200 packed into Bamber’s home ground to watch them go down 3-2 after extra time but they can be proud of a great season.

With all the teams making the league even more competitive I will be surprised if Bamber can better their result next season but you never know. Besides, there’s always the FA Cup and FA Trophy to have a run at.

 

Prescot Cables- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Prediction: Staying up (Just)

Result: Stayed up comfortably

So Prescot, who although they stayed up due to league position were guaranteed their place from the resignations of Wakefield and Cammell Laird. This league could be a perfect example of football itself, some clubs will be throwing money around like water whilst others barely survive. I fully expect Prescot to be stronger next season and will be getting ready to ply their trade at this level this time next year.

 

Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One South- Step 4

Prediction: Playoff Promotion. Back in Scarborough by 2015-16 at the latest.

Result: 7th and back in Scarborough for 2016/ 17 season.

This was perhaps my most ambitious prediction (see wrong) and was not to be. Scarborough finished 12 points behind the final playoff place and only had a slender chance going into the final months of making the playoffs. Also, the ground looks like being complete for July 2016 having dug through various council development papers littering the internet.

Next season, they will be moved to the same league as Darlo, Bamber and Prescot to be another potential contender for the playoffs. It is still a great success they manage to average 350 plus despite playing nearly 20 miles down the road in Bridlington. As already stated the league they are entering is tougher than the one they just left and a top half finish wouldn’t be a bad result. If they can be back in Scarborough for 2016 then this division might have cleared up (Darlo, Spennymoor and Salford all having gone up) and they can begin their assault on the non-league game and look to join Darlo by the start of the next decade.

 

Merthyr Town- Calor League South and West – Step 4

Prediction: Promotion

Result: Losing Play- Off Finalists (ffs)

So having already covered their play-off loss I don’t really wish to dwell on it. All that can be said is that over 2,000 were there at Penydarren Park on the Bank Holiday Monday when they fell to a 2-0 loss to Paulton Rovers.

More good news is found in the fact that the football league has granted consent for clubs to use 3G pitches in it’s leagues within the next couple of seasons which means the Conference will be sure to follow suit in the very near future. This will be the first full season Merthyr have with their 3G pitch and they will be big contenders to go one better and get the promotion they should have had this season.

 

FC United- EvoStik Prem – Step 3

Prediction: Promotion

Result: Losing Play-Off Semi Finalists (FFS)

FC United made the playoffs. They lost last minute in the semi-final. Highlights are here. I have nothing more to say about this season. All that matters is next season they move into their brand new stadium and whoever comes up next season from the Evo Stik Div One North will challenge if FC  haven’t gone up. Next season is their season, they will go up.

 

Lewes FC- Ryman Prem – Step 3

 Prediction: Top 10, good bet for next season for the playoffs.

Result: 16th, wouldn’t bet on playoffs next season.

A club that had made a decent start to the season and at the half way stage looked fairly strong. They went on to have a collapse that left them only 10 points off the drop, only winning five out of their last 23 games.

Despite this, they maintained a solid average attendance of over 500 which puts them within the top 5 teams and now that two of them (Wealdstone and Lowestoft) have gone they should be in good shape for next year.

However, Margate are splashing money around like crazy and Maidstone United with their shiny 3G pitch plus 1800 average attendance will be strong. Add Dulwich Hamlet, Kingstonian and perhaps playoffs next season look a bit ambitious. Still,  bar an awful collapse second half of the season they could have been mixing it so who knows?

 

Hendon- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Prediction: Mid-table before next seasons FA Cup game away at Man United followed by Barnet Council actually getting off their arse to help the club.

Result: 8th

The superhuman effort to keep this club alive off the field by Simon Lawrence and others was matched by another impressive second half of the season on it. Despite having no permanent home or any real budget to speak of, Hendon managed a very strong finish it what was a very tough league. They were unfortunate to have such a season when it was so competitive and attention will turn to survival in the next.

When I went to Hendon it seemed very much do or die and when I spoke to Simon at the FA Trophy game which they had to win for their budget (they did) it seemed as if he was fighting a losing battle.

However, since March a new Director in Rob Morris has come in and as well as securing a lease on a potential future site located in Hendon, Hendon will also have a whole cast of youth teams playing under them which is vital for any football club that wishes to have a long term future.

It is still very much up in the air but there appears to be a chance in the future of Hendon finally having somewhere to call home.

 

Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Prediction: Relegation this season, followed by some soul searching on and off the field. Promotion the next.

Result: A Lazarus like rise and last day survival 19th

At Christmas, Enfield were buried. When I saw them twice they were underwhelming in the extreme but a new Manager came in and from January 10 out of 24 wins kept them up but only on the final day, which shows you how bad they had started. With this turnaround saw a solid average attendance for the year of 385 putting them in the top 7.

So they have their own ground and appear to have a Manager who can have an impact at this level, a good start to next season could see that crowd swell and with a community share scheme issued by the club perhaps they can start to challenge at the right end of the table.

 

Dorchester- Conference South- Step 2

Prediction: Relegation and a fresh start next season with their off field finances sorted.

Result: Relegation and a fresh start next season with their off field finances sorted.

Unlike Enfield, there would be no miracles in Dorchester and a predictable relegation followed in a season of little joy but it was a necessary pain to secure the future of the club. If Dorchester needed any reminders in why you should run a club on a balanced budget then Hereford and later today Salisbury will give it to them.

I don’t really know how to gauge how well they will do next season but I think they will stabilise and if joined by Hereford (who still could still cease to exist at all) then the Southern League may change in complexion. Still they will have a top seven attendance and that’s when they were losing every game. This coming season represents a fresh start and they have secured players from last season, most notable for me Alan Walker Harris who put in the best goalkeeping performance I had seen all season long, they will have to make a decent start though or it could get ugly down in Dorch.

 

AFC Telford- Conference North- Step 2

Prediction: Play Offs minimum. I will owe Liam Watson an apology pint for the review I gave them earlier in the season if they go up.

Result: Champions. Liam Watson I owe you a pint.

Well a great club got a great result on the last day of the season going up as Champions of the Conference North and thoroughly deserved. When I saw them earlier in the season it wasn’t pretty but on the day when it mattered they played with an aggressive direct style which got the result the performance merited.

With the nightmares engulfing many other clubs at this level AFC Telford are showing all the way to do it. They can attack the Prem with real confidence, having a man at the helm who managed to do it regularly with Southport. Trips to Wrexham, Torquay and Bristol Rovers await for the Telford faithful. You would’ve been able to add Hereford to this list but now you can add Chester to that list.

 

Chester FC- Conference Prem- Step 1

Prediction: Survival and another pitch invasion.

Result: Survival, reprieve due to Hereford United being expelled.

So a dramatic last day of the Conference, shown live on the T.V counts for nothing as Hereford are booted out of the Conference for not paying their players, staff and not putting up a bond. This story deserves a post all of it’s own and I will get around to it but the implications for Chester are clear, they are staying up. The fans have been denied a chance to win their survival on the field but it’s pretty simple.

Chester have lived within their means, run a sustainable football club and refused to spend money they don’t have. As a result they went down on goal difference after a crazy ten minutes.

They have been rewarded fairly. Hereford spent (well in fact since they stopped paying people they didn’t spend) more money than they had and cheated. They were run by a scumbag and then got sold to a convicted criminal who either can’t/won’t pay the money that Hereford owe, they deserve to be kicked out. I have immense sympathy for the fans of Hereford and fully back the HUST in their bid to seize ownership or start again but when so many times it’s the clubs who are run the right way which lose out to the money men and sugar daddies, this time it’s the good guys who are staying up.

I’ve barely spoke about Chester on the field at all but as this season was decided off the field it seems pretty irrelevant now. Next season Chester will have Steve Burr in charge, a proven Conference Manager and could look forward to more games against Wrexham. I suspect Chester to be comfortable and establish themselves as a Conference Prem club in the eyes of the non-league, ready to mount a challenge at the playoffs in future seasons.

Wrexham- Conference Prem- Step 1

Prediction: Mid table and go again next year

Result: 17th, an awful season.

Andy Morrell bit the bullet and left the club late in the season and Kevin Wilkin has come in from Nuneaton having guided that club successfully for almost eight seasons. This season has been one to forget after always looking down and not up, never able to put a run of results together but the new Manager has had a chance to assess the squad.

Next season Wrexham will be in a Conference that has got rid of Luton and Cambridge which certainly opens up room at the top. Bristol Rovers have dropped down and will challenge to go along with Grimsby, Barnet and Halifax all around. Wrexham can’t do any worse than they did this year and a play-off challenge looks reasonable. Plus they have a chance to get a win against Chester. 

Plus Andy Morrell did one final act for Wrexham, in going into Shrewsbury (my club) as a sleeper agent to help them confirm their relegation. Well played you twat, well played.

   

Into the football league clubs now, all who I have visited and yet to post. I’ll get round to it, relax.

 

AFC Wimbledon – League 2

Prediction: Mid-table safety, no last day drama here.

Result: 20th. Safety, no last day drama.

Despite a 3 point deduction which could’ve had serious implications as Wimbledon only finished 3 points clear from going down because of it, Wimbledon have retained their Football League status for another season at least. Former Wimbledon player and now AFC Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley had his first full season and the helm and did a solid job of it. With only 10 points separating 23rd to 9th in League Two, next season is going to probably be another mentally draining affair for all involved at AFC Wimbledon.

 

Portsmouth FC- League 2

Prediction: Survival

Result: 13th … somehow.

When I went to see them play it was a narrow victory against Accrington Stanley in a game which reminded me just how boring football is when you have to sit down. Pompey and the Supporters Trust were having the season from hell when on their third Manager in Andy Awford, who played for the club for a period of 11 years and has been involved in the Academy for several years since 2011.

So Andy a club man through and through then proceeded to win his first five games all the bounce and dispel any fear of relegation with some notable high scoring feasts in there as well. He drew the next two games and remains undefeated as Pompey boss.

So with Pompey having done what was needed and secured their football league status this season, they can look forward to next year with optimism. League 2 hasn’t got any easier with Luton the bookies favourites to make it back to back promotions but Pompey have gone the lowest they are going to go and I fancy them for a play-off push at minimum. Plus, with Southampton appearing to have gone into meltdown mode maybe in a couple of years they could be squaring off again.

 

Exeter City FC- League 2

Prediction: Mid table, looking up rather than down.

Result: 16th. Mid table, looking down rather than up.

For a while it looked like Exeter City FC would be the fan owned club most likely to drop out of the Football League but they made a late rally to secure their League 2 status another year. More worrying for the Exeter fans is what is happening behind the scenes as covered in (you guessed it) this post on twohundredpercent.

It appears a counter revolution has taken place with the executive board (not the fans) seizing control of many of the decisions affecting the club with the Trust, who are the owners, donating money instead of loans and losing real power at the club. It seems the trust needs to act quickly with Exeter having taken a PFA loan out. It could be a very long and bitter struggle next season in Exeter, not only for their league status but for the clubs very soul.

 

 

Wycombe Wanderers – League 2

Prediction: Mid Table consistency.

Result: 22nd, a final day miracle.

Going into the last game of the season, Wycombe looked destined to return to non-league and to be stuck there for a very long time. However, they had hope by playing already relegated Torquay in their last game but had to pray that Bristol Rovers would be defeated.

As luck had it, Bristol Rovers fell at home to a 1-0 defeat to Mansfield, a club with nothing left to play for this season meaning it would be Wycombe who survived. The trust were planning to sell the club but withdrew from this and have now embarked on an ambitious share scheme to preserve the future of Wycombe Wanderers. I guess with Greg Dyke wanting ‘B’ teams potential investors didn’t fancy buying a club that may have their products attendances decimated by such a crass plan.

The future of Wycombe remains in the balance but with more and more clubs facing financial difficulty across the League for fan ownership to grow within the Football League clubs like Wycombe need to keep faith in the model and be part of the vanguard of clubs who refuse to be brought.

 

So that’s your lot, I will get through posting my many overdue blog posts that need to be uploaded and I hope you enjoy the football, before we get ready for some pre-season football followed by some football.

 

If you think my review was poor/unfair, feel free to tell me with as much abuse as you can muster behind the safety of your computer screens @eddyman00 

Playoff Dreams and Nightmares

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Over the course of the last two days, four fan owned clubs went into semi-final playoff games with their whole seasons coming down to a single game. Below the Conference North/ South, playoff games are just one legged affairs, meaning there is no chance of a second chance should you fail. Three teams (Merthyr Town, Darlington & FC United) headed into their play-off games having finished second in their respective leagues. The smallest of the four in Bamber Bridge had come third in the same league as Darlo and if both were to win, we would be guaranteed of another fan owned club having success.

 So first up then was Merthyr Town…

 

Merthyr Town vs Swindon Supermarine (Southern South & West, Step 4)

Having thrown away the title when they looked to have it sown up, the playoffs have a tendancy to become a graveyard for teams in similar position. Dejected by their failure, they often find themselves up against a team which is riding on the crest of a wave having got into the playoffs at the death.

This was the situation here, Swindon had confirmed their play off place on the final day with a 5-3 win over third from bottom Bishops Cleeve. So they could expect to be full of confidence and having beat Merthyr 1-0 just three games earlier, could go into the game full of confidence. However, letting in three goals against a team who were fighting relegation for large parts of the season should’ve given Merthyr plenty of hope of getting goals on Tuesday night.

Over 900 people crammed into Penydarren Park to watch two Step 4 sides on a Tuesday night with Champions League football on the telly. As it happens, Swindon made more of a game of it then Bayern did.

Merthyr though, after going 3-2 in the 47th minute were to run out 5-2 winners on the night and reach the same stage as they reached last season. Only this time, they will have home advantage on their fancy 3G pitch. They remain unbeaten at home all season and the odds have tipped in their favour even more with their opponents in the final, Paulton Rovers, had two players sent off.

So the omens are good, a crowd of 1,500 is expected to be at the game on Bank Holiday Monday to cheer on Merthyr to victory. They have boasted a higher attendance all season than any other team, they go into the game with a full strength team and you really have to fancy them.

If they do go up, they will be back at the level the old club folded at but this time they will have a fantastic community 3G facility which not only brings in revenue but has kept postponements to a minimum. They will for the time being be allowed no higher up the pyramid as the Conference still bans 3G pitches but Maidstone United have applied heavy pressure to see this ban overturned.

By the time Merthyr are ready to challenge for promotion from the Southern Prem I don’t think their 3G pitch will be an issue. Monday represents a great chance to remove the pain of last year’s play-off final defeat and the ultimate vindication that not only can the fans of Merthyr run their football club but they can do it better than anyone else.

One team who knows all about play-off heartbreak are FC United of Manchester, having lost in the Evo-Stik play-off final three times in a row. FC United this season came second to Chorley with it going right down to the wire but once again having to fight it out in the play-offs and a sense of dread must have gone through all FC United fans. Nevertheless, they had beaten their play-off opponents Ashton United 3-2 in their last ever league home game at Bury, with a last minute winner so must have been in full confidence heading into the game…

 

FC United of Manchester vs Ashton United (Evo-Stik Premier , Step 3)

Now normally, FC United go out in the final so most people showing up for the game attended by roughly 3,000 people could be confident of a win and then a play-off final defeat to Flyde. At half time, the game remained 0-0 and there’s always a chance that someone can sneak a goal in the final minute to send you crashing out. However, on the 59th minute FC United slotted a penalty home and my double of FC United and Wigan looked to be going smooth sailing. More importantly, I could start getting ready for a trip to watch FC United in another playoff final.

Despite appearing in control (well on the Twitter feed they appeared inn control) FC United do what FC United are getting a horrible reputation for doing, which is conceding huge goals in big games right at the death. Just like Bradford Park Avenue many moons ago, Ashton United score a goal in the final minute of normal time. And roughly 3,000 people must have thought “Here we go again.”

Extra time commenced and it stayed level till the final minute of extra time when, you guessed it, Ashton United scored another last minute goal to send FC United crashing out of the playoffs again and stuck in the Evo-Stik Prem for the sixth year running. So despite their highest ever finish in the league it all added up to the same thing.

I have to be honest, I really thought this was their year. Going to the new ground next season, having already beaten Ashton and 16 points ahead of them in the league I thought they would win here and beat Fylde to give the perfect send off to Bury before they move to their own ground in Moston. Once again, the playoffs had been the graveyard of another FC United season.

Next season may still seem far away for FC fans still raw from yet another playoff collapse but it won’t be long before the disappointment is washed away by the glee and pride of playing in their own ground of Broadhurst Park, which really will be the game changer for the club.

They will finally have a ground in Manchester to call their home and it’s going to make a massive difference to the club on and off the field. They will no longer be paying a penny to Bury in rent money, which opens up some more cash and attracting the players that Karl will look to bring in will be easier when they see the brand new facilities and stadium they will be playing in.

They will have the highest crowd in the league by some distance, with the most passionate fans combined with a higher level of income and reduced costs with far fewer postponements as a result of being the only team who needs the pitch for first team football and if Fylde go up it removes one of the money men from the division.

All this does mean that next season, there really is no excuse. They have to go up really next season and looking into my Crystal Ball, it means they should avoid having to play Chester in the Conference North the season after. One club that may give them a run for their money who could be coming up who also just happen to be another fan owned club also moving home next season, is Darlington FC…

Darlington FC vs Ramsbottom United (Evo-Stik Div One North, Step 4)

So after last season’s promotion from the Northern League and just ahead of Spennymoor Town (who have now been promoted to the same league as Darlo played this season), Darlo found themselves going for back to back promotions.

It hasn’t been easy for Darlo, having had cash flow issues earlier in the season but since I have been there they have received a certain sum of money from Dan Burn who having played games for Fulham has activated a clause in the deal which took him from Darlo to Fulham. This combined with a concentrated drive for investment has meant that Darlington after just two years away is heading home to Darlington. So would they be back in Darlo with the chance of facing FC United or would they be saying hello to Spennymoor Town once again?

Like FC United, they came second in their league and like FC were strong favourite. Sadly, just like FC United they were to fall at the first play-off hurdle and signed off their final game at Heritage Park in Bishop Auckland with a defeat, 2-0 to Ramsbottom United. The night before the opponents who would face Ramsbottom had already been decided, with Warrington Town taking on Bamber Bridge.

Warrington Town vs Bamber Bridge (Evo-Stik Div One North, Step 4)

Now I have to admit I know little about Bamber Bridge bar the fact they are fan owned and they for some strange reason have a fan club in Macedonia (no idea why). They are in many ways your average club at this level, a 200 plus average attendance puts them around everyone else (Bar Darlo) but with no big money backers this seems the level Bamber were destined to play at forever more.

However, Bamber Bridge went on an 11 game unbeaten league run which was only stopped by Darlo and despite people expecting them to fall away they have remained in and around the playoffs since the turn of the year. The run was supposed to come to an end on Tuesday and cap off a season that all could be proud of.

Luckily, no one from Bamber had read the script and they promptly proceeded to dump Warrington out of the playoffs in Warrington’s backyard. This means the 3rd and 4th placed teams in the playoffs are in the final and it’s a repeat of the final game of the season, where Bamber played out a 0-0 draw with Rammy.

Only this time, Bamber have home advantage and as I missed seeing them last Bank Holiday Monday it seems the footballing gods have given me a chance to go watch them after all. If they don’t go up this season it is unlikely to happen next time around so Bamber are going to get one shot at this and hopefully a day in the sun.

So all the best of luck to Merthyr and Bamber in your playoff final, I don’t know how many times I can say this FC United fans but next season *will* be your year. The club that may have the most trouble next season is Darlington FC.

Yes they are going home to Darlo and can look forward to hopefully pushing an average of 2,000 a game but Spennymoor Town who have just been promoted, averaging 435 with one game left to play. This will put them only behind Darlington in terms of attendance and they will be around the playoffs. Plus, Salford City FC will begin their first season under the ownership of ‘The Class of 92’ led by Gary Neville and it could either be a project they get bored of very quickly or they will be a big threat next season. Regardless, Darlo will be looking for playoffs again minimum.

So that’s it, I hope I get to watch Merthyr Town next season at Step 3 and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a visit to FC United having their first league game at Broadhurst Park, if all goes well Saturday, it could be Bamber Bridge who line up against them.

 

If FC United fans need a virtual shoulder to cry on, I’m here… Hello. @eddyman00 

 

Links

http://www.footballwebpages.co.uk/

Final Day drama: Winners & Losers

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Yesterday was the last day for those plying their trade in many steps of the non-league pyramid and as we headed into it there were many fan owned clubs on the edge of relegation, promotion and championships. So to get me back in the swing of write ups, let’s have a quick recap of what went down yesterday from the bottom to the top as fan owned clubs seasons went down to the final day.

Step 6- North West Counties Div 1: Atherton Collieries vs Formby

Neither of these clubs is fan owned so why should we care? Well, with 1874 Northwich winning their final game on Thursday night, Formby had to win to be promoted. Anything else and it would be fan owned 1874, formed only this season to break with the egomania of Jim Rushe and his one man mission to destroy football in Northwich. Alas, Atherton would concede and own goal in the 62nd minute and it would be Formby who went up… on goal difference.

It’s a sickening way to end such a fantastic season but 1874 fans need to remember the fact they exist at all is the real achievement , you can head into next season full of confidence and pride at this year plus I have no doubt they will be promoted next season. What remains the most important though, is getting back to Northwich pronto. Still, hats off to a great season.

 

Step 4 – Southern League South & West – Thatcham vs Merthyr Town

So after what can only be described as a collapse, having dropped 8 points in their last five games against teams who they should’ve beat, fan owned Merthyr went into their final game needing a win and Cirencester Town to lose to go up or it would be the playoffs for the second season. Merthyr did their bit but Cirencester won and so Merthyr will be in the playoffs.

This really was Merthyr’s league to win with five games to go and would have completed a meteoric rise since being reformed four years ago and starting in the Western League Div 1, in three seasons they have had two straight promotions and a playoff final which is decent going by anyone’s standards. It’s Groundhog Day with Merthyr playing Swindon Supermarine in another play off semi-final, the same as last season where Merthyr went though. Swindon recently beat them 2-1 and Merthyr will have to get over their disappointment fast otherwise they will spend another season stuck at Step 4. If they go up, they will defiantly hold their own against anyone making the visit to Wales and will be back at the level the old club played at before going bust.

If they do stay down, they have a brand new 3g pitch which is generating a good income for the club and with an average attendance of around 350,  they can only get stronger from here on out.

 

Step 3 – Northern Premier: Barwell vs FC United

I went up to see FC United play Chorley a couple of weeks ago on a Tuesday night trek with the FC United Southern Branch from Guildford and I was starting to wish we hadn’t. Two nil down and it all was going Pete Tong but as FC United always do, they made it a great experience with them fighting back to 2-2 in the dying seconds with an 86th minute goal by Tom Greaves. Then they lost the Saturday after against Barwell to undo all their good work. They needed a win today and for Chorley to choke, that way they’d go up as Champions and avoid the playoffs where they have been the victim of three straight playoff final defeats.

Again, they did the business and were top of the table for 20 minutes but Chorley scored late in the first half and won 2-0 in the end to put FC United in the playoffs again. When I spoke to Karl in January he was determined that FC United would win the league and at one point FC were 16-19 points behind so to come within a single point of winning the league is a great effort. However, the reality is that FC United will have to overcome their playoff curse to go up to the Conference North. They recently beat their playoff semi-final opponents, Aston United, 3-2 after going 2-0 down with another last gasp winner.

Karl will be hoping it’s a smoother ride in the semi-final and then with home advantage in the final, surely it’s got to be the season FC United go up, say a memorable goodbye to Bury before opening up their brand new stadium in what looks like being a very tough Conference North. So FFS FC United, just go up!

Step 3 – Ryman Prem: Cray Wanderers vs Enfield Town FC

It seems fitting that the first ever fan owned football club in the English Pyramid (have I mentioned that before) found themselves in final day drama, this time at the wrong end of the table. Both times I went to watch them this season they were dire and I felt at the half way stage they were sure to go down and rebuild. They then proceeded to go on a miracle run under old new manager George Borg and since January have won 10 matches out of 24, which is pushing for  a win every other game and when your team is near the bottom of the league that’s a huge ask.

Still, they could’ve had it wrapped up before today as they had played Wingate & Finchley plus East Thurrock, the only teams they were fighting relegation against. A win against either would’ve seen them safe but then only got 1 point from those two games and it went right to the wire. They couldn’t have got a better opponent in Cray, bottom of the league and relegated a long time ago; if you can’t be them then you don’t deserve to stay in the league.

Ten minutes in, Enfield were 1 nil down and despite a 39th minute equalizer, they went into half time staying up only on goal difference by three goals. It would get nervier when Wingate banged in two more by the 66th minute meaning they were one goal behind Enfield on goal difference but needed two more due to Enfield having scored more goals. Plus, one mistake by Enfield and all that hard work since January would be for nothing. Enfield went 2-1 in the 74th minute to secure their place in the Ryman Prem in the most memorable circumstances. As Enfield put it themselves… “Enfield Town Football Club: Doing things the hard way since 2001.”

Most crucially, they’ve been doing it the right way since 2001 and it’s nice to see the good guys get the result they deserve. I’d like to say that Enfield could challenge next year but if you look at the Ryman Prem and the teams in there it’s harder to see that happening. Maidstone United with a 3g pitch and averaging 1700 fans even at this level couldn’t get into the playoffs. All the teams in the playoffs who don’t go up will be just as strong next year.

However,  despite a nightmare start Enfield have got the 7th highest average attendance in the league and with clubs like Dulwich perhaps going to be in danger due to (yet again) concerns around whether they will have a home in the long term, now they are owned by a property developer, the one thing Enfield have in their favour is security. Next year though, I think they will settle for a nice boring mid-table season but with Enfield, you just never know.

Step 2 – Conference North: AFC Telford vs Gainsborough Trinity

So the league that FC United are desperate to join, AFC Telford are desperate to get out of. Liam Watson had dropped down from Conference Premier team Southport to take up the helm at the start of the season, with the aim of taking Telford straight back up and on paper it looked a hard task. A league with Stockport County, Boston and Altrincham in, who all averaged around 1,000 with Stockport getting 2,500. Plus, Hednesford had just come up from the playoffs beating (who else?) FC United in the Evo-stik Prem 2013 playoff final. So it looked like a tough job.

However, Liam Watson was up to the task and Telford headed into the final day knowing a win would put them back in the Conference Prem or as I know it, Football League Division 4. A draw might even be good enough but that was unlikely. It was also the game I had chosen to attend as it was one of two clubs close to me whose destiny was in their own hands, the other being Chester. So I popped on the train from Shrewsbury and got into what was fast becoming a packed ground.

In the end, an attendance of just over 3,700 piled in and three sides of the ground were full, maybe if Gainsborough had something to play for they may have brought more but if Telford could win than the vast majority of those 3,700 would be going mental.

The fans were in good voice and a decent atmosphere was being created but although Telford huffed and puffed the goal just didn’t come for the first fifteen minutes but it looked likely it would. Then on the 18th minute the scrappiest goal I’ve seen in a while was bundled into the net for Telford and we were off. Being from Shrewsbury, they were far too many songs obsessed with what Salop were up to on the day and I have to say that no one in Shrewsbury particularly cares what Telford get up to (bar me).

Anyway, it remained 1-0 at half time but in the 63rd minute Telford were awarded a clear penalty in front of the Hutch and Sean Clancy banged in the penalty to get the party really going. I ended up being next to ‘that’ group of 4 or 5 lads who always show up to games like this to be nobheads (i.e. the kind that isn’t even watching the game but is happy to throw pints of lager over half the stand) still as the celebrations started and most of the fans made their way to the front for the customary pitch invasion, Shaun Walley nailed a 3rd goal in the 89th minute right into the corner of the net I was standing next to and a load of fans bundled over out onto the pitch.

I like most people wasn’t one of them because the game isn’t over and it’s incredibly selfish as the club can get fined for that plus you are going to be on the pitch in a couple of minutes anyway. Once all the fans were cleared off the game got restarted and then five minutes later it was time for the pitch invasion for real.   People poured on from everywhere and Telford had secured their first Championship in 60 years.

Telford managed to stay up in their first season back in the Conference last time and with Liam Watson in charge they look a good bet to do so again. The difference this time as Mark Berry told me way back at the start of this season, is that before when Telford got back to the Conference Prem the first time there was a sense of “What now?” and a lack of a continuing strategy. This time, with two years Conference Premier experience already in the bag and a Manager who knows what he is doing, Telford fans can maybe start to dream of solid finishes in the Conference for some years to come.

But who though would be replacing them in Step 2, would it be fan owned Chester FC or Hereford United, a club buried under debt owned by a man who instead of trying to keep the club alive sods off on holiday to Barbados, thereby showing that he has enough money to pay for holidays for himself but not his own players wages. Any clues about who I would rather go down?

Step 1 — Conference Premier: Chester FC vs Salisbury City

So Chester kicked off with their destiny in their hands, needing a win against mid table Salisbury, whose season was over and themselves having recently announced they needed an injection of funds to continue at this level (running a loss and spending money you don’t have to enjoy success).

Plus, they could stay up if they drew but Hereford failed to win. However, noone was thinking about relying on another team when they headed to the Deva Stadium. 14 minutes in, Chester were on their way going 1-0 up and it would be irrelevant want happened down at Aldershot, who themselves had only secured survival the game before.

As new must have started to filter through of Hereford going one up , Salisbury tore up the script and scored in the 36th minute to make it 1-1. At half time, Chester were going down. Chester went 2-1 in the 58th minute through John Rooney and looked to be holding on for a famous victory. It got better as Aldershot had equalised in the 76th minute to mean that even if Chester drew they would stay up.

Then in the space of ten minutes, it all went horribly wrong. Chester conceded in the 86th minute, less than five minutes away from safety and, wouldn’t you just know it, Hereford scored a winner with about two minutes left to play. When the final whistle came, there would be no celebration for Chester, no great escape. Just the disgusting feeling of being so close only to see it snatched away.

What makes it worse, is who stayed up in their place. Now Hereford fans this isn’t meant as a slight on you but your ownership and one man specifically. I should also do some throat clearing and say that I’ve been in contact with Hereford United Supporters Trust and was very pleased when they set up last year.

However, none of this changes the fact that Hereford have not paid their players in donkeys, are crippled with debt gambling money they clearly didn’t have on going up last season and what takes the biscuit is how they got the tax bill payed off.

David Keyte has presided over a collapse in attendances down to an average of 1,700 which is the same as AFC Telford. He gave an interview on Talksport whilst sitting on a beach on holiday while the club burned around him and the fans raised money to save the club.

My hatred is why? Why should that prick get bailed out, many thousands of people and Heineken giving £10,000 but all this money that came in, nothing was given in return. The club is still loaded with debt and yet his assets aren’t under threat. If he’s got money to go on holiday and own racehorses then he can pay wages. By giving all this money that scumbag gets away with it, I’m so very sick of people getting to socialise losses and unless people like him are held responsible for the damage they create, (as in any debt is held against his assets like houses, cars, horses) then people like him can keep getting away with it. Why should Chester lose out because a man has managed to have players that he won’t/can’t pay? Chester lived within their means, Hereford under Keyte cheated and the cheaters won. That’s why I hate it.

However, none of that changes the fact that Chester are down. Next season, they have to build again to get back up. For now it will hurt like hell but the club has to look to the future and remember just how great an achievement these last four seasons have been: Three straight promotions and within 10 minutes of Conference survival, everyone at the club should be immensely proud of that record and the fact you exist at all.

If Steve Burr stays then I fancy a straight bounce back up, if not then it could be a lot harder. Telford are gone which is a help but Stockport and Boston are going to be strong next year, Chorley won’t be a pushover and if FC United finally come up they will also fancy their chances of making a run for it. Come next Saturday, we will know the challenge that faces Chester and whether they can come straight back up.

So we’ve lost a fan owned club from the top of the Conference but added another and by the start of next season it could be three. Hereford Supporters Trust have done what I’ve been begging them to do and have fired the gun in declaring the aim to takeover HUFC. It will be a tough ask and they would be in the bad position of having to clear the mountain of debt on the club whilst making sure that the clubs inevitable retrenchment, which could easily lead to relegation, isn’t associated with the trust. Again, they will have to pick up the pieces and take all the stick from the terrible ownership before them.

I had hoped relegation would make it easier for the fans to take over Hereford and be competitive in the Conference South but the main thing will now be to make sure they seize ownership. The trust says that donations have come in which give them confidence of a takeover. I feel that they owe it to the fans of Chester to take the same path of being run on a long term sustainable basis and wipe away the stench of terrible ownership that lingers over Hereford. If they fail to do this, or some multi-millionaire walks in and clears the debt, paying the players whilst using the Conference as a basis to push on but wouldn’t have gone near them in the Conference South, then I will consider Hereford United FC as nothing more than cheats.

So that’s your lot, only it isn’t. We’ve got a whole raft of fan owned clubs in the playoffs this Tuesday night and hopefully some playoff final win to toast this coming Saturday. Darlington, Bamber Bridge, FC United and Merthyr Town are all gunning for glory over the next week and I wish all of them the best of luck.

Plus, I’ve got to find a way to get all my Footy League fan owned clubs posted before Wycombe face one of their most important games otherwise they could be joining AFC Telford, Wrexham and hopefully fan owned Hereford in the Conference next season.

 More footy ranting @eddyman00

Links

http://www.footballwebpages.co.uk/

http://1874northwich.com/

http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/merthyrtown/

http://www.enfieldtownfootballclub.co.uk/

http://www.fc-utd.co.uk/home.php

http://www.telfordunited.com/

http://www.chesterfc.com/

Hereford United Supporters Trust Website

Raising a glass to Prescot: On the terraces with Prescot Cables (vs Mossley 1st Feb 2014)

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Prescot Cables have a long history spanning over a century. I could repeat it all to you now but Prescot themselves have covered their own pre and post war history with aplomb here. The club became run by a group formed from the supporters committee in 2005 and were transferred into a community interest company (CIC) in March 2009, going to amateur status in 2011 to secure the 130 years of history the club has. My focus is, as always, on the fan ownership part and this season they share the same league with Darlington and Bamber Bridge, both fan owned clubs very much in the playoff hunt.

On the pitch since 2009, the club has occupied the same division for the last five years. Prescot have witnessed many reformed clubs of former glories and others now higher on up visit Valerie Park since then. Chorley, AFC Fylde and Skelmersdale United who are now busy challenging FC United for promotion in the league above have graced Valerie Park. The Cables have also seen both Halifax and Chester, both on the way to being established Conference Premier clubs, face off against them.

However, success was to be for others and Prescot Cables have spent the majority of their time in the last five years in a no mans land, safe from relegation but never able to do much more than mid table. This season however Prescot find themselves fighting in a relegation battle, having only picked up three points in the five games before I went to see them. So I took the trip from Liverpool out to Prescot on what was turning into a miserable day weather wise, to go and tick them off my list.

I’d buggered off from Guildford (shudder) as quickly as possible after getting my exams out of the way to go and get this game done. I was also up in Merseyside to meet up with two mates and abuse our friendship by sleeping in their residence, without paying rent. One of them is Justin, previously mentioned in his role of undermining Shrewsbury Town FC here but the bloke I’d be going to watch the mighty Prescot with is Owen Witherow (@OwenWitherow14), who has an unhealthy obsession with Italian football. So if that’s your sort of thing you know where to find him.

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After arriving in Liverpool early Saturday morning I dumped my bags and prayed that Prescot would get their game on. As a back up, I’d planned to go meet Justin watch FC United play Marine and part of me feels bad that Owen has been denied a chance to experience the FC United atmosphere. However, I felt I would be making a journey to watch FC United in the playoffs come the seasons end so, with Prescot giving it the thumbs up on twitter, it was on the train to Prescot.

Our first sight after getting out of the train station was a boarded up pub, which looked like it had lying empty for far too long. It was safe to say it didn’t seem the most prosperous area but what staggers me more is that perfectly decent buildings are left to ruin, whilst we are constantly told the rest of the country has to be buried in concrete for housing… Never mind.

After making our way through the retail park, which is a better way of saying a plastic warehouse designed to destroy the soul of anyone who enters it, we climbed the steep hill at which Valerie Park sits atop. By this time the weather was cold but it hadn’t started bucketing it down… yet.

We entered the ground and after picking up a program which was packed with adverts from local businesses, a good sign of a club making the effort to get out and make links in the local area, we headed for the bar. The clubhouse itself is a very decent size and the club will need to start making the most of what is a sizeable place with a great opportunity for it to become a community hub.

Pints down, we made our way into the terrace that lie in front of Prescot Cables wonderful entrance gates and settled in for what would be my first football game since I saw Croydon Athletic play in miserable conditions way back in December.

It’s fair to say the harsh weather didn’t make for a particularly skilful game and nor did it make for a massive attendance. The club itself allows under 16’s to get in free but in this weather it’s hard to tempt out seasoned veterans, let alone young fans, although I did see one lad with his dad and others dotted around. Hopefully if a couple of them pick up the bug now, it’s a way to securing the future of Prescot Cables FC.

The pitch was just a mudbath before too long but Prescot were making most of the running and Connor McCarthy hit a shot from 20 yards out which had to be pushed over be the Mossley goalie. Ten minutes before half time it was Mossley who found themselves 1-0 up after Tom Pratt had got on the end of a through ball, rounded the oncoming Prescot goalie, to mean that Prescot headed in at half time needing a big turnaround second half.

The second half with the conditions worsening meant that the game was starting to resemble a re-enactment of the Christmas day truce, with a pitch decimated under the deluge of rain and cutting up quite badly. However, Prescot still huffed and puffed carving out a good opportunity but unfortunately their striker panicked and ballooned the ball high and wide.

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With ten minutes left the game started to get a little bit tasty but it wasn’t to be the Cables day. Another defeat and the relegation fears were no closer to being put to bed. Despite having arranged to speak to someone before the game and waiting in the bar no-one had made themselves known and we made a quick getaway to Liverpool in preparation for a night out with some of Britain finest drunks.

I have also emailed those at Prescot if they want to fill in the blanks of my knowledge but no reply, so you can’t say I didn’t try. There seems to be many good reasons why those at Prescot haven’t got back to me as they push ahead to make the town aware of the club in a variety of positive ways.

Firstly, at their home game against Ramsbottom United at the start of this month, Prescot pledged their support to eradicating the loan sharks who leech off the lives of others, especially in poorer parts of Britain where people on small incomes often find themselves turning to the worst sort of people.

It shows the club is continuing to make an effort to be more than just something to watch on a Saturday, it’s a serious statement about how the club sees themselves playing a positive role where they are based and I’m sure this will only grow in the future.

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The club also runs a plethora of junior football teams, providing opportunities to play football to the next generation. The ground itself has the protection of an ACV on it and who knows, with the FA finally starting to see sense on the 3G pitches, perhaps a community club like Prescot is in the perfect position to apply for funding and perhaps get a 3G pitch of their own?

As I write this, Prescot Cables are going to be making good use of their clubhouse by holding their fourth beer festival which will continue into tomorrow when they play another club who look like they will be passing through, Darlington FC.

Again, the club are exploiting fully the facilities that are available to them, perfectly timed to make sure what will hopefully be their biggest gate of the year entices more Darlington fans down for beer tomorrow and in doing so help support another fan owned club.

On the pitch Prescot aren’t safe by any stretch of the imagination, 3 points ahead with three games in hand but despite beating they who shall not be named the game after I’d gone to watch them, points are still hard to come by.

Perhaps there is a sense of fate about the club, destined to be a marking post for others as they move on their way up. They have said hello to fan owned Chester, tomorrow it will be Darlo for perhaps the last time and hopefully they can be greeting Runcorn Linnets next season as well. Whether that’s in the Evo-Stik Div One North or the impossibly-hard-to-get-out-of North West Counties Prem remains to be seen.

The club is facing challenges, with AFC Liverpool moving away which will hit the rent they receive and they still need to put some more points on the board to preserve their place in the Evo-Stik leagues. Despite this, there is still plenty to be positive about.

The club is run by people who are dedicated to not only ensuring the club survives but with it’s expansion of community activities and junior teams, thrives. Bar Darlington FC, no club has a huge attendance and if Prescot can continue to broaden revenue streams then there is no reason why they can’t challenge next year.

Overall, all non-league clubs will face the task of attracting new fans and staying relevant when the Premier League seems to consume all before it but the folks at Prescot can raise a pint tonight for doing their very best to ensure Prescot Cables Football Club has another 130 years ahead of it… Cheers.

If you’ve got nothing better to do, find me @eddyman00 or you can follow @PrescotCablesFC

Notes

All photos taken were by yours truly bar the badge courtesy of the club website and the final photo, which is promoting the campaign against loan sharks run by ‘one ark’, whose work in Knowsley can be found here. To report a loan shark you can click here.

 

Links

Prescot Cables website

Football Web Pages League Table

A pint or four with Karl Marginson (FC United Manager) 1st January 2014

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So where do you begin with FC United? If you are reading this then you probably already know the story of FC United and their formation. It’s a fan owned club who have generated more publicity and visits from media organisations as any other fan owned club in this country, perhaps only second to AFC Wimbledon.

I’m not going to link you to anything here, all you have to do is type in FC United into google (other search engines available) and you will be hit with a constant stream of reports, posts and articles all praising the club till the end of the earth and rightly so.

Both of these clubs can take responsibility for me embarking on this journey, with my visit to the last day drama at AFC Wimbledon to secure their Football League status followed a week later by an heart breaking play off final defeat for FC United the week later (here).

Perhaps those two results encapsulate in a nutshell the gulf between the two in league status. Since forming in 2002, AFC Wimbledon has managed five promotions rising from Combined Counties Premier all the way to the promised land of League 2. In this time they have had two playoff final wins, the most dramatic a penalty shootout win against Luton at the home of Manchester City in the 2010-11 season. Plus, of course, last season’s dramatic win to ensure survival in the Football league.

Contrast that with FC United, who playing their first ever season in 2005 and starting one step down from AFC Wimbledon by going into the North West Counties Div Two (which 1874 Northwich have also started their journey), managed three straight promotions.

Since then unfortunately, FC United have remained stuck in the Evo Stik Prem and in their last three seasons have seen promotion snatched away in playoff final defeats. Both AFC Wimbledon and FC United are Clubs that are run excellently, do phenomenal community work but it’s in those small moments which make a big difference. A penalty scored, a free kick missed and clubs can diverge so dramatically.

Anyway, the focus here is FC United and since I last went to watch them the club has seen what will perhaps mark a new era for the club and the lasting proof of the clubs longevity and success. As I write this, work will be going on in Moston to build FC United their own ground and there is finally a structure up at the ground (here).

The stand being used was previously the property of Northwich Victoria and 1874 Northwich fans can at least be proud that the place they used to stand and sing for their team will now be a massive part of the history of FC United.

So off the field the progress is real and FC United are on course to have somewhere they can truly call home by the start of next season but of course the question many have is: Which division will it be in?

The last five games before I headed up to watch them on New Year’s Day FC United had gained 10 points, losing to Aston United 2-1 who themselves are fighting for promotion.

So I headed up to watch FC United, still feeling rough and tired from last morning’s adventures in C21 to meet up with my mate Justin, pop on a train and watch FC United take on Trafford. Justin greatest claim to fame is setting up a petition to ask Shrewsbury Town FC to change their badge back to the famous loggerheads and stop using a crappy piece of clipart.

The club, my club, then put out a public statement saying that Justin (who was currently 17) was responsible for the clubs first promotion in the Football League  in 18 years being ‘curtailed and demeaned” here. All because he started a petition about the badge…

So I am of course delighted to be friends with someone who holds such extraordinary power and Justin can be followed on twitter @Salopian95 with the ‘Bring Back the Loggerheads’ campaign website here.

It is also a sad indictment of a club which has become such a sad shell of its former self. An identikit ground, with a clipart badge and a soulless atmosphere all for the price of £24 on the day. I can guarantee if my Stepdad had taken me to watch Shrewsbury for my first ever game at the New Meadow, I would have zero interest in football. I consider myself immensely lucky that I got to watch Town play at the Gay Meadow.

Anyway, back to New Year’s Day. As we headed on to the train at Salop we saw people who were also heading off to Manchester but they were going to watch the ‘other’ United. What saddos I thought, to be going to watch a team miles away you have no connection to in a soulless stadium, as I travelled even further to watch another team who wasn’t my own even further away, even lower down in the leagues.

Now we had not received any news the game was off and going from the twitter feed it seemed like it would be touch and go but we had already booked our train tickets so we took the chance. As we arrived in Manchester, I went to get some money out of the cashpoint but as we wanted to make sure we got to the ground I left it and got straight onto the Metro link to Bury. I’d remember to do it later…

It was as we were about to board the metro to Bury that we bumped into a bloke, who on hearing Justin go through the FC United song sheet had a chat to us. Unfortunately, he was off to watch the other team as he had got a cheap ticket to watch them and I wondered just how people could still support both. When I had previously been to watch FC United there wasn’t anyone who admitted to following the other United anymore and the youngsters were actually passionately against being associated with anyone else. For them, it was FC United or bust.

Perhaps though there are still many who still try and attend the other United and FC United is still some ‘little brother’ (a hideous phrase) but when that stadium goes up, it will be a real line in the sand for the unique identity of FC United. It would soon turn out however that the bloke we met off to Old Trafford would be feeling pleased about his decision.

It was on the metro link that doubts arose about whether game would be on, with the clubs Twitter page announcing a pitch inspection. As our phones were running low we spent the next half an hour praying for the game to be on. At this point Justin informed me about how he had twice travelled up to Bury, once on a Tuesday night, to have the game called off. The omens were not good.

We got off and it would be fair to say that Bury looked like a ghost town; the only places that were open were the bookies. Yes I can accept it was New Year’s Day but it really seemed to be a place with the life sucked out of it. The weirdest thing we saw was a bus going from Bury for Bolton Wanderers football ground… empty.

I have no idea why anyone from Bury would want to go and watch Bolton, a club in free fall and in massive amounts of debt with all the gruesome details covered by twohundredpercent here.  So we made the walk towards the ground still unsure if the game was on and into the Staff of Life, five minutes’ walk from the ground, for a pint and to wait on news.

Justin had been in this exact pub when his previous game had been called off and he was about to have the same experience when half way through my pint a man came over, asked if we were here for the FC United game… “Sorry lads, it’s just been called off.”

Needless to say, although we had started to expect it, I was devastated. Having dragged ourselves from Salop to Bury to watch what would have been a great game. New Years’ day versus Trafford, a massive atmosphere in the FC United stands and a big crowd. It was alright for Justin, being a student in Liverpool to go and watch FC United as and when but I was pretty much buggered. I would have to hope FC United made the playoffs and I could look forward to another 4:30 am start to watch them.

We tried to search for another game that we could make it to in time but despite our best efforts it looked hopeless and as I finished my pint we were about to head back to Shrewsbury, Justin wasn’t even up for drinking as he was ill. So all in all: a total disaster of a day.

However, I had already arranged to speak to Alan Hargrave who is a Board Member of FC United so I crossed my fingers and walked to the ground in the hope of catching someone. As we walked through the back entrance we bumped into Alan and it was at this moment the day finally got better.

As me and Justin were waiting around Karl Marginson came through the doors and I thought bugger it, I might as well say hello and tell him about my sad little journey this season. Karl to his credit said hello and gave me what was now a defunct match program before checking his phone for a game to go to that was still on.

After also meeting Andy Walsh, General Manager of FC United, both Andy and Karl were in conversation about a game to go to and at this point I piped up to ask if Karl fancy giving us a lift to watch Chorley vs AFC Fylde in the top of the table clash.

To his credit, Karl could’ve just told us to piss off but after realising that game was on he was talking it over with Andy. In the end they settled to go watch Salford City FC which was a bit easier to get to then Chorley.

“Fancy going to the game?” Karl asked us and since we had come all this way we thought we might as well go and watch a game of footy. Plus, from my point of view it would give me a chance to pick Karl Marginson’s brain about how this season was going in a relaxed environment. Bluntly, if the FC United Manager is going to give you a free lift to the game you aren’t going to say no are you?

So me, Justin and some German bloke who had come to watch FC United (made my journey look a little bit better to be honest) bundled into the Karl’s car and we set off down to Salford. Here’s our horrible mugs.

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We would be joined in the car by Garry Vaughan, Trafford Manager and so I started my attempt to have a chat with Karl without a) Stopping him from talking to Garry b) Pissing him off and c) Sounding like an arse kisser. I probably did two out of three.

Now, most of it snippets but the first impression you get when you meet Karl is he is just a normal bloke who happens to be a football manager. A former football league player turned fruit and veg man, he’s now full time at the club which enables him to devote a lot of time to joining in the clubs community work.

Whilst in the car, Karl let us in on a couple of his own views about formations “It’s not about a single formation but how the team plays in transition” and as it was around the time of the Malky Mackay episode at Cardiff, he was quick to point out some hypocrisy.

Brendon Rodgers had come out and said that these businessmen don’t understand football but instead of voicing support for Rodgers comments, Karl put it bluntly “Well why doesn’t Rodgers resign then?”

You could immediately tell that Karl has no time for what he sees as the hypocrisy of those taking part at football at the top of the game and I back him on this. If you are happy to take their money then why are you complaining? If Rodgers really believed in what he says then he’d manage at a club not run by ‘businessmen’ but he doesn’t, so it’s fair to call his comments hollow and meaningless.

We moved on to talk about money and FC United’s budget. Karl was quick to confirm what most of us knew in the car but those who only look at their attendances don’t, which is that FC United aren’t flush with cash.

Although, he did point out that one of his main cards to play in the deck when trying to sign players is the fact that at this level, there is no better club to play for in terms of atmosphere or support of the fans. It’s the difference between scoring a goal for FC United and having a thousand plus fans cheering and chanting your name or a couple of hundred for anybody else.

The most telling comment from Karl was as precise as it was short. “Any player that mentions money first, I put the phone down.” Again, that old school mentality that playing for the shirt and wanting to play for a big club should be worth more than a couple of extra quid.

There’s an argument that this is cutting your nose off to spite your face but it’s clear that Karl wants his players to have the same loyalty and commitment to the club that he himself shares but also that FC United have shown to him.

We arrived at the game and got out of the car. I went to my wallet to get out some notes but nothing was there, having not remembered to get any cash out earlier. I felt like a complete tit but Justin came to my rescue and I told him I’d pay him the fiver back later. What’s worse is I’d only be able to grab maybe one pint.

“Do you think they’ll take Visa at the turnstile?” I said jokingly, morphing immediately into the worse type of human being imaginable: A middle class student. “I’ll think they’ll tell you to fuck off” was Karl’s honest response.

Anyway, through the turnstiles we went and I wondered around to have a look at the ground. No sooner had I done that then me and Justin had lost where Karl was. Great I thought, there goes my meal ticket and only way back into town.

But I reasoned he’s a big bloke and you’ll be able to spot him if you see him so we headed into the club house, where we spotted him, at the bar. I grabbed myself what would have to be perhaps my only Guinness of the day until we got back to Shrewsbury and wondered over to see Andy Walsh.

I was keen not to be tripping over Karl’s toes because if you’ve now got a day off you probably want a pint or two in relative peace and not have some lanky 20 year old piss you off. Again to his credit, Karl properly introduced me to the Trafford Manager and what I was doing this season. It got better, Karl also brought Justin and me a pint so I was in my element:  In a warm clubhouse with my Guinness in hand and having a chat with the Trafford Manager and Karl. All that was missing was a dartboard.

I can’t remember everyone we met in the bar but everyone at Salford were decent people and it was a proper non-league game so hats off to all at Salford, who recently of course have had some ex-United players having some nice photo ops with rumours of a possible investment.

Anyway we headed outside and the players looked a little bit, shall we say, bleary eyed. Not all of them but plenty had clearly been out on the piss the night before. Again, Karl put it bluntly. “I can’t be too harsh on them, I did the same thing.” When he was a player of course…

Karl handed me a hot dog which had been brought to him by Garry Vaughan but had mustard on and he wasn’t a fan, so in his words he gave it to the student. It seemed appearing skint had advantages but it did mean I couldn’t buy Karl a pint back.

So we headed to sit in the art deco terrace that Salford have and me and Justin for the first half stood up at the back whilst I finished my hotdog. Unfortunately, the beams in the terrace made watching the game standing up not great so we parked ourselves on the benches in the terraces, near Karl but not next to him.

I figured that I could annoy him in the second half and Justin had come all the way out so I didn’t want to be like all those tossers I’ve met at political events, who speak to you and as soon as they see the person they actually wanted to speak to, bugger off.

The game itself, first half anyway, wasn’t great. I’ve become accustomed to watching bad football but this time it was just so frustrating. I was getting more and more annoyed at the predictability, the aimlessness of the balls. It would be passed back to a defender who would then hoof it forward, to the opposition goalie who would then hoof it up.

It got so bad that I started doing what I normally do when I watch bad football, which is comment on how shit it is. “Oh back to the goalie, I wonder where this is going then … hoof maybe?” The ball is hoofed down field. The defender has the ball. “Pass it to feet maybe, nah just fucking hoof it into the corner” The ball is hoofed into the corner. “There you go.”

My mood was not helped by Karl quite visibly pissing himself at how animated I was getting at a Evo Stik Div One match, which annoyed me even more, which led to Karl pissing himself even more and so it continued for the majority of the first half.

 Anyway, we headed back into the bar at half time and I found enough shrapnel, somehow, to buy myself a third pint. At half time I was told stories which still I find hard to believe. I can’t for the life of me remember the blokes name but he was a mate of Karl and Garry who if they were telling the truth, has some serious issues. The bloke was there with us and told us two stories from his time in the game.

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On one occasion, when he kept discovering a teammate was nicking his sandwiches before the game whilst on the team coach devised a clever plan where he would smear the contents of his baby’s nappy into the sandwiches so whoever nicked them would then be crunching on baby faeces. Nice.

The second, as a coach, was when deciding to sign a player. As a United fan, he took a player who he was interested in signing to a game to have a chat. They went in the opposition end of the ground and after watching a bit of the game then proceeded to reveal a United shirt and belt out a few songs. The player ran away and because he didn’t stay and show some bottle, he was never signed.

Like I said, it doesn’t sound likely and I take these stories with a pinch of salt, especially as Karl and Garry could think telling a few tall tales along with the aforementioned bloke in question to a gullible student would be quite amusing. But who comes up with the idea of smearing baby crap on sandwiches off the top of their head?

We headed out and had already missed a goal at the game. I had decided to try not to get angry although I had remembered that with Prescot Cables in the same division as the teams on show, I preferred a Salford win to keep Radcliffe Borough below Prescot.

This half I sat down to annoy Karl some more and we discussed the recently departed Jon Worsnop which won’t be repeated here and conversation moved onto various shenanigans on a FC United tour of Germany (again, not repeatable here). I also asked Karl whether he felt under more pressure next year with the new stadium and the expectation that the club now have to push on.

Karl was quick to acknowledge that the club had been fantastic to stick with him despite not going up the last three years. It says a lot about the club that all the statements about loyalty and commitment to the long term is backed up by how Karl has not joined a long list of managers, who are disposed of at the earliest opportunity.

Karl himself was quick to say that yes there would be more pressure next year but then stated that next year the club itself would be in a better financial position. The club will have a new ground and when I asked Justin whether it would be largely seated Karl looked at me as if to say ‘no chance’. “Holds 5,000, only a couple of seats, the rest will be terraces.” Karl said it with a grin and you can tell that again unlike others who harp on about the atmosphere of the fans then stay silent when the terraces are knocked down, Karl loves being at a club where the atmosphere is always fantastic.

Financially, the club will no longer be paying out dead money to Bury FC and all the sales of food & drinks in the ground can go straight back to the club.  Also, fewer matches will get called off with only one team using the pitch and the drainage will be top quality so less called off games plus the club will be in Manchester itself.

So yes, Karl admitted there was pressure but again reiterated that he will not bring in players who are looking for the money and still believed they could win the title. I’d asked about how losing in the play offs the last three times would affect them in the play offs this year but he wouldn’t have it. The aim was still the Title.

Now I was happy to tell him I didn’t think they really would catch up but I could tell wasn’t joking so I said I would buy him a crate of beer if they went up as Champions and we moved back to the new ground plus the community work. At which point, Karl told me about the project he’d been involved with in his time at FC United.

Karl had been working with kids from both our backgrounds, kids who hadn’t had the silver spoon upbringing and had fallen into drug and alcohol abuse. You could tell that Karl was really passionate about this work and took pride in being involved with it. He was quick to stress that the biggest benefit of the ground was the ability to expand this sort of work, have a base to work from to increase the coaching and community programs.

I know this is turning into a ‘Wow, isn’t Karl a great bloke?’ but I don’t care, because he is. He really lives his values and is therefore the best sort of old school left winger. Unlike the champagne socialism of Alex Ferguson, who proclaims himself to be left wing as he gladly took the Glazer shilling, Karl would call that sort of behaviour what it really is, the behaviour of a hypocrite.

  So, the game ended and had passed me by to be honest. The score ended three- all and we headed back to the bar where Karl got me one last pint before me and Justin headed off to find a bus that Karl ‘assured’ us would run (lying bastard). We managed to get a taxi before my phone died and headed back to Shrewsbury. A day which could’ve ended as a disaster ending up being a great day out in the company of Karl, Andy Walsh and a host of others. I have no idea what happen to the German…

So I know it’s been now over three months (which has flown by) but let’s try and sum up FC United progress since I’ve been there. In a word: Solid. It didn’t look likely to be so good after dropping 7 points in the three games after New Years’ day but since then FC United have won their last six games with a massive win over Chorley.

And Chorley? Well they’ve only picked up five points in their last five games and it looks like they are choking and with Skem also having problems it means if FC United win their game in hand, they will be only six points behind Chorley who they have to play again. It seems I shouldn’t have written Karl off so soon and will need to start ordering that crate.

Off the field of course the good news keeps coming. The new ground is taking shape nicely and although the club stated they need to average 2,000 each home game to stay on budget, with the run Margy has got the boys on, plus the good weather coming in that shouldn’t be too hard.

Well that’s about it, I didn’t ask Karl the five year plan question so I’ll have a stab. At this point I will say I know I’ve heard some people, say Radio Swampy, say ‘of course we want success but we’d be happy at this level.’ That’s maybe a little a very shortened version of his view but I say: Bollocks to that.

I know those following FC United now will do so through thick and thin but my interest is mainly in pushing fan ownership forward. To do this, we need fan owned clubs to succeed and that way more fans can have confidence this is the way forward. The more fan owned clubs that are winning strengthens our hand, we can’t afford clubs like FC United to underperform. Football is a zero sum game, we have to win and that means other clubs not fan owned have to lose, end of.

So my hope is that the new ground will of course mean that more people will come having being spared the trip out to Bury and potential for games to be called off, FC United break the 2,000 plus barrier as standard every week.

They are promoted this season so attendances are boosted further by playing a brand new set of clubs, plus away fans wanting to go visit FC United to sample the famous atmosphere. They get on a good winning run at the start of next season and the game against Stockport at FC United passes the 4,000 attendance mark. After a great first season they again suffer the disappointment of the playoffs before promotion to the Conference in the 2015/16 season. They join a growing list of fan owned clubs competing for promotion to the Football League.

That’s got to be the dream but we’re a long way from the end of this season. I really hope that Karl is able to get them up this season as I can’t think of a club that deserve it more. I was perhaps thinking that my FC United game would have to be another playoff final but I’ve managed to squeeze in another game which if Karl continues to keep FC United on this run may be a title decider.

Tuesday 8th April: FC United vs Chorley. I’ll see you there and if anyone sees Karl, tell him I owe him two pints.

For more bitter rambling you can follow @eddyman00

Notes

The photo of the badge, programme cover and photo of the four of us is included here with the kind permission of Andy Walsh of FC United.

 

Links

http://www.fc-utd.co.uk/

http://fcumforum.org.uk/FCForum/viewforum.php?f=2 (FC United forum, must register)

http://www.footballwebpages.co.uk/northprem

Refusing to be victims: On the Terraces with AFC Croydon Athletic (vs Dorking Saturday 21st December 2013.)

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So where do I begin with AFC Croydon Athletic? Well it is another example of a phoenix club having to be reformed from the ashes of the old but whereas other clubs went to the wall away from the public eye, the previous club found itself splashed across front and back pages in national newspapers.

I am referring of course to the (now defunct) ‘News of The World’ expose’ of the then Croydon Athletic owner Mazhar Majeed telling an undercover journo exactly which balls certain Pakistani ‘cricketers’ would bowl a no ball on. He had been boasting about how many cricket events he’d been fixing and you can see some of the video evidence here. Most disturbingly for the club, he stated that he only bought the club for money laundering purposes.

As always I am not going to go through the whole story as others have done it far better than I could and this whole series, as it were, is about what is happening now and in the future. It is that time again where I point you towards the always excellent twohundredpercent whose articles on Mazhar Majeed (here) and the whole sad story of Croydon Athletic can be found here.

Plus I have an interview with Paul Smith who is Chairman of AFC Croydon Athletic and he goes into a detail and depth from a fans eye view, meaning most of the murky story is far better told by him. What of course did happen was that after a long drawn out process (which is in bite sized form here), Croydon Athletic played their last ever game on December 3rd 2011.

It should be said that from what I’ve read and asked around there was little sympathy or perhaps less than we might expect on Croydon Athletics demise. This was largely down to the fact that Croydon Athletic had been promoted in 2009/10 season from the Ryman South to Ryman Prem on crowds which were not massive. Other teams felt after the scandal that they had been cheated out of a promotion, so solidarity was perhaps not forthcoming.

However despite the disaster of losing their club, the fans dusted themselves down and on the 6th February 2012 got together to start the process of forming a new club. They had to ground-share with Croydon FC with difficulties in getting their old ground back but they headed into the 2012/13 season with a clean slate, starting at Step 6 of the non-league pyramid in the Combined Counties Div One, two divisions below where the old club finished.

Last season probably went as well as the club could’ve hoped, a solid eighth place finish combined with the first ever silverware for the new club having won the Division One Cup 5-0 against Staines Lammas on the 6th May 2013 (Highlights here). So all in all a good season on the pitch but they still found themselves nomads, as the clubs old ground had the club house set on fire and destroyed by mindless vandals, which put back AFC Croydon’s plans to move home.

Before I went to see them the club had just played four games against all the teams that they were competing against for promotion and despite only being beaten once; they only gained three points out of those games, making them an outside bet to get promoted. So it was on a miserable and atrocious day that I made my way to Croydon for some ‘gloryhunting’ in the Combined Counties Division One.

As I arrived the weather was worsening and walking towards the ground I passed a pub packed with Palace fans who were at home to Newcastle, I was tempted to pop in for a pint but wanted to make sure I found the ground.

My biggest problem on the day was one of my trainers had a massive crack in and the other was also no longer as durable as it once had been. By the time I got to the ground my feet were absolutely soaked and to make matters worse, as I walked through the gates Paul and others were in discussion with the referee whether the game was to go ahead.

If the rain didn’t stop it’s monsoon like downpour then I would have been a drowning rat for nothing. I headed to the toilets and spent the next ten minutes ringing my socks and holding them under the drier just to give me at least a couple minutes respite from future trench foot. As I stepped out expecting it to still be bucketing down, the rain had stopped and I’d come out to a totally different day.

Confidence restored, I headed into the changing room/gym room/ cakes and tea room which was to take on another function as the interview room for me and Paul Smith. Paul, I don’t think will mind me saying, is a bit of a big bloke but doesn’t come across as aggressive at all and since the old clubs demise devotes a considerable amount of time to the football club.

So we sat down to begin and the first thing was to ask Paul to outline the demise of the old club. Paul was keen to stress the demise had its roots further back than one scandal.

“Back in 2005, Chairman Keith Tuckey who had been generous in supporting the club for a long time suddenly died. His funding dried up and the club had to find new ways of funding itself. Initially the club was sold to Roy Price, a local business man who took on the clubs debt and wiped it clean. It was only ever a short term position and he continued to look at new investment , so he owned the club fully and in the 07/08 season he sold the club to (the now infamous) Mazhar Majeed.”

So another story beginning with the drying up of an unsustainable business model, the wealthy benefactor, started the cycle of decline for the old club but initially as Paul would explain, Mazhar didn’t look like your typical villain.

“Mazhar took over a roughly 90% share in the club and Roy Price held onto 10%. So from being very much a community club, where there were a number of shareholders, the club was now effectively controlled in the hands of one owner.  Mazhar Majeed was a man of considerable wealth, he seemed to have plenty of ambition and was happy to put significant money into the team and eventually new management. From the fans point of view, everything seemed to be pretty straightforward.”

“He wasn’t interested in the club pursing any other commercial activity, he seemed to be happy to fund everything and clearly at that time could afford to do so. That enabled the club to climb up into the Premier of the Ryman League and things looked very good.”

Then for a lot of the supporters on that Sunday morning, they opened up the News of The World and there was Mazhar Majeed on the front page.

So what was Paul’s reaction when he read it? How did he feel about the whole situation? The fans had been told one thing by him and then read what he said about the club, namely that Mazhar had only bought the club for money laundering. Of this claim, Paul was sceptical.

 “Well I think what he said about the club was a load of nonsense, you couldn’t launder money through Croydon Athletic because we didn’t have sufficient incomings, so all he was doing was spending money on the club.  So I’m not convinced by that… Now whether he had the ultimate ambition to grow the club then use it for that end, who knows?”

“Essentially, it was a great shock and it put into question: Did the club have any sort of future at all? He had funded the club and it wasn’t a question that people didn’t know anything about him but what we didn’t know was this side to his activities. It came as a great shock but our concern was less for Mazhar Majeed and more for what did this mean for Croydon Athletic.”

Paul went on to explain the impact on the club after and the desperate attempts of Croydon Athletic supporters to keep the club alive until the end of the season.

“Well we played two more games under the Mazhar regime and we played on the Bank Holiday Monday, the day after the story broke and there was lots of… interest, obviously. We then played the Saturday at our ground and clearly there was a lot of discussion in the week.”

“It wasn’t the last game, at the time we thought it could be but there were those who decided it probably would be the last game. Myself and others said that no, we didn’t see this as the end. The team and management all left but we got in a team who had been involved with the club before, we negotiated with the league to give us a period of 11 days to get the club back on its feet or at least playing and it was less than 13 days later we played with a scratch side.”

“It was people who had been invited along the day before on the basis that people knew them or they came to training so we turned out a team. I have to say at 78 minutes it was still nil nil, we went on to lose 3-0 but we were very pleased. Of course that season was one of great difficulty, there was no money for the players or management. We were able to keep the club afloat on a day to day basis but we couldn’t deal with any debt that was from the Majeed regime.”

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So with a success of sorts achieved the club was in a position to look for a new owner and clear some of the debts left by a previous owner, an almost exact copy of the situation they had been in before Mazhar came to the club but just on a far worse scale.

And Mazhar Majeed?

He effectively emerged from a period of invisibility for a while and agreed we could do that.

The next owner was to be … Fodboldselskabet. They are the group which acted so disgracefully against the fans of Chester FC who had set up City Fans United and tried to do everything to prevent the fans from gaining control of the club. It could be said that Croydon Athletic fans should’ve known better but alas, beggars can’t be choosers.

What did Paul make of them?

“They were very naïve in their approach and of course they were in business with Mazhar Majeed rather than with the fans.”

As we know, that groups involvement ended leaving the club in no better position than when they had arrived and the success of Chester FC under the ownership of the fans tells us everything we need to know about this organisations (lack of) abilities.

However, we are moving ahead now to the plans of the fans to get a phoenix club up and running, as that of course was the reason I was sat in Croydon with trench foot. Croydon Athletic fans gathered themselves for what they realised would be the end.

“They (plans) were in motion before the old club failed and we knew it was going to fail. We’d had some discussions, we knew there was interest amongst the supporters, they wanted the club to live on and they didn’t want it to die. The practicalities of that were going to be tough but overall we were determined once the club failed.”

“The first issue was whether we were going to stay at the existing ground in Thornton Heath, the owners had stripped out the ground after the old club folded and took everything that was of value that wasn’t bolted down. Then they unscrewed anything that was bolted down and had taken that as well. The lease was significantly in arrears and although the council made an offer to relinquish the lease, effectively writing of any of the debt, they refused.”

So before they even begun, their old Keith Tuckey Stadium at Thornton Heath (named after their long term benefactor) was denied to them and they had suffered their first set back. Not disheartened, the fans found a solution.

“We’d spoke to the council and using this ground came up which we accepted. So we got an agreement that we would be playing here, we met with supporters and we felt that if we didn’t start playing any delay would see it die. We had our first AGM in May 2012 and we were delighted on May 10th we got confirmation form the FA they’d placed us in this division.”

 Six months after the old club had folded we knew we were back up and running playing football again in the 2012/13 season.

It was far from job done though as Paul would go onto explain, in fact you could say the real work had only just begun.

“That then starts the next challenge which was of course we have to fund it, secondly we didn’t have a team or manager so in May and June that was the priority but we were able to secure some generous donations from supporters and others. With fundraising we could meet that obligation we had to fund the club through the season as we don’t play here for nothing. Of course without a bar and a social club it’s very difficult to raise money.”

So with a ground in place and a team on the pitch, Paul summed up AFC Croydon Athletic first ever season and it’s small part in the fan owned history of British football.

 “On the 4th August 2012 we had our first game here and we felt that was quite a significant success. We flirted with the top half most of the season but our results against the teams at the top weren’t good enough but we were very comfortably placed and went on to win the cup which was a real bonus.”

Although as I’ve already mentioned there have been significant problems with getting back to the old ground Paul was confident they would be in by the start of next season. I asked him just how important that would be for the club. The first point was its massively improved opportunities for developing cash for the club.

“Currently, we gain no income out of this stadium or the clubhouse. Croydon FC has been very generous about us using the clubhouse and being able to use it for a couple of fundraisers, they obviously benefit from the bar but they’ve not charged us for that.”

The clubhouse at the Rams home is following the same design as the one burnt down whilst being brand new and Paul explained how the new clubhouse would benefit the club.

“We know it lends itself to being hired out for local events and our own fundraising, we know we’ll be able to maximise our own income from any fundraising we do. Then it opens up issues around sponsorship in a much more meaningful way then we can here, we can’t have perimeter sponsorship here and nor can Croydon FC even though there’s plenty of space. We can look at those opportunities and I think in Thornton Heath, in that area, we’ve got huge opportunities at our level.”

“We can also exploit the wider facilities with not just the stadium but we’ve got the adjacent fields which the council have confirmed we can have use of. That’s excellent for the development of our junior program.”

I have to say, I have very little hope for non-league football in London surviving but this just all sounded too good to be true. The club was heading home soon and already there seemed to be a clear plan about how to utilise the facilities that will soon be available to them. I didn’t know this until I started to write this up but Paul is a local councillor in Croydon.

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I haven’t put this to make it seem that there was some back handed deal and that’s why AFC Croydon Athletic have got the stadium back, though of course having someone who knows how to cut the bureaucracy is undoubtedly useful. No, I mention this to make a far deeper point.

It shows how a sharing of power and a greater sense of a common good allows far better outcomes then both organisations (Council & Club) operating aloof from each other. The council own the ground and it’s this fact which is the reason why AFC Croydon Athletic will have a home next season and why Hendon FC does not. However, the council will have goals of participation in sport that are far better delivered by countless local free-running organisations like AFC Croydon Athletic than the council could ever design in any office.

Paul announcing how AFC Croydon Athletic was now working in association with a thriving junior football team was a great example of this point.

“We’ve started a partnership with Wallington Wanderers Juniors FC so we’re already in partnership with a club who have previously played on the pitches adjacent to us, who are desperate to get back to playing on those pitches because it’s a nice facility and somewhere they can call home, rather than being spread out on the local parks. From our point of view we don’t have to start from scratch, we can come in with effectively a section of 8-9 teams. 

(Me) Is there going to be a clear link in terms of development with the club?

“Very much so, the intention is for it to be a partnership. It’s not us saying “Right you’re going to become our juniors and change your name” but the important thing for us is we can develop a sustainable junior program of football that’s associated with the club and we’re confident we can do that. Wanderers are very much on board with that and once we can develop geographically, so using our stadium and using our club house effectively, then I’ll feel they will be on board. One of their officials is a Director of AFC Croydon Athletic to reinforce that bond.”

So here we have it, two voluntary organisations working together to create not only a good result for both of them but for the wider community as a whole. They will both be in a position to strengthen and access grant funding, develop a skill base of coaches and a sense of vocation amongst the lads they can get grants to put youngsters through coaching courses themselves. Everyone benefits and they can do this by being supported but not subsidised nor controlled by the council.

It’s a model of mutual ownership and shared responsibility that should be spread across all forms of service provision, rather than council’s obsessions with either selling everything off or imposing reams of pointless targets to show they (the council) have obtained their goals. It relies on trusting that ordinary people are far more capable of running programs and services which create a common good than a University graduate in their office cocooned from reality ever could. Hopefully, the success that I’m sure AFC Croydon Athletic will have in their partnership will offer more proof of the superiority of the mutual model.

That doesn’t mean its all good news. I am not going to repeat my spiel about the demographic changes of London and their negative effects but Croydon itself didn’t give off the impression of being a happy place.

It was, at face value, incredibly segregated in the streets as I walked to the ground and there was no mixing or integrating of people between different colours, it manifested itself in the absurd site of white and black people not even using the same hairdressers but one for each of their separate groups.

The problems in Croydon are touched upon in BBC Three Tough Young Teachers (here) and as I discovered whilst in Croydon, the chronic shortage of school places placing a massive pressure on land availability.

With all this in mind, did Paul have confidence that they could build on the clubs now ageing and limited fan base in what is a demographically challenging situation, made harder that Sky Sports/ BT Sports have proliferated football from the sofa?

“Well I think there’s great potential and I think you have to be realistic. I know clubs have done the sort of ‘everyone comes in for nothing’ for a game where they get a big crowd and it looks attractive. It’s not something I’m ruling out but that’s not how you build a fan base, it’s to actually get people to come on a cold winter’s night rather than a sunny afternoon when they get in for nothing.”

“First thing is you’ve got to make sure you’re visible and known. We’ve worked quite hard that we’re known as a football club and that’s not easy when a neighbouring team has got into the Premiership because they dominate the local papers. Palace playing at home today will hit our attendances even more but what we can do is to make sure we’re known, increase our involvement with local business which is absolutely essential and you know I do think we’ll have something to offer.”

“The population in the vicinity of Mayfield road (the old stadium), if you took a half mile radius would be around 25,000 and I think what we can do is make sure they all know we’re there, that we’re the local team. If we have some success than people will see the facilities and what we’re offering and they’ll come back.”

So drawing this interview to a close, I asked Paul to imagine where AFC Croydon Athletic could be in 3 to 4 years’ time.

“We’ve got to look to establish ourselves at each level and it’s only at a firm foundation we can move forward. First instance, we can sustain Combined Counties Premier football, we’ve got the club to do that. We’re in the mix. Teams above us have to play each other, we’ve recently had 5 games against teams above.”

“So in 3 to 4 years’ time I’d say we’re in a position to be in Combined Premier, of course the ultimate aim would be to say we’re a club that had been in the Ryman league for a long time and that’s where we want to get back to.”

And with that Paul headed off to consult with the referee and I headed back out of the stadium to the clubhouse for what was a scandalously priced Carling. At something like £3.50 I nursed that pint before heading back into the stadium to watch the Rams fight for three points.

The ground itself is an incredibly bleak and desolate place even in the summer I was informed, the day I was there it looked like the kind of place you’d see in Children of Men. Devoid of any way of making an atmosphere and with the main stand miles away from the pitch, it didn’t surprise me that many of AFC Croydon Athletic members would not watch them until they were back at the old ground.

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 Nevertheless, on a bleak day in the middle of winter combined with Crystal Palace at home, there were a few hardy souls who had come to watch AFC Croydon Athletic and we kicked off. Now it’s safe to say the quality of the game was not of the top draw but still I was at least glad it was on. Ten minutes in, the ball was scrambled around the Dorking box before hitting the post and staying out.

It was Dorking who went into the lead with a ball in from the corner catching the wind and bouncing in the box with neither the goalie or defenders claiming it, the ball was bundled in for Dorking to make it one-nil. Before half time though the Rams were level as they put their own cross in, which hung against the wind and was headed in by Jordan Martin.  

Second half and the game was given its first moment of class when Gareth Williams, who has been on the books at Crystal Palace and Colchester in his career, proceeded to walk his way through the Dorking midfield before whipping in a wonderful goal from the edge of the box.

Williams again showed he was the best player on the pitch by some distance when he lofted a through ball over the Dorking defence with Daniel Penfold running through and burying the ball to make it 3-1 and the game looked like it was petering out. However, it what goes down as the worst Goalkeeping (or lack of) effort I have seen for a long time Dorking found themselves back in it.

In the 83rd minute a rather tame shot was hit by a Dorking player for the bottom right corner and the Rams goalkeeper proceeded to literally stand and watch it go in. He didn’t even move for it, I could’ve saved it and what’s worse I was sat by his Dad so I couldn’t lament how dreadful his goalkeeping was.

However, another goal befitting this level of football came in the 88th minute to kill the game as a Rams player crossed the ball in, caught the wind, which then floated over a back-peddling keeper to give Lewis Goddard the easiest tap in he will ever get. So closer than it should have been but 4-2 to AFC Croydon Athletic and us few brave souls who had come to watch it could at least be glad it wasn’t in vain.

So that was me done with another adventure in the bowels of non-league football in the English Pyramid and another fan owned club ticked off the list. Since I have been there AFC Croydon Athletic have won two more games, losing one and have had a dozen postponed by the weather. I have also bought a pair of proper boots and my feet are grateful for being warm again, they had to put up with cheap holey Patrick trainers for too long.

This season, the Rams have nine games left with the majority against those in the lower half and are still in with a chance of defending the Division One Cup they won last season. In the league, three go up and one of those places looks beyond AFC Croydon Athletic but they are definitely in the hunt.

So after Croydon Athletic was effectively destroyed by one man and his ability to control their destiny, by having total domination over the club and therefore the fans, we have a story of great hope.

It’s the hope that a fan owned AFC Croydon Athletic will be able to engage the community in a way the old club never did, the hope that they can have success on a sustainable level whilst growing their work off the field but perhaps most importantly, it’s the hope that the next time you read about them in the papers…

It’ll be nothing but good news. 

 

You can follow more football ramblings and other general stuff @eddyman00

The badge is used with the kind permission of AFC Croydon Athletic and all other photos were taken by yours truly.

 

Links- Old Club

Mazhar Majeed – Video

Mazhar Majeed – Twohundredpercent article

Croydon Athletic – Twohundredpercent

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F91jlAnt3CY

 

Links- New Club

AFC Croydon Website

Rams Army

Combined Counties Div One Table

Winter Blues- On the terraces with Dorchester FC (vs. Concord Rangers Sat 14th December)

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So it’s been almost two months since I went to see Dorchester Town FC and how they were getting on in their transition to community ownership. Apologies for the delay but unfortunately with Christmas and then January exams, football write ups have had to take a back seat but I will be posting regularly from here on out till the end of the season. Anyway here we go…

 Dorchester Town FC is playing at the highest level they have even been at. Yes, it’s a long way below the glamour of the Premiership but Step 2 represents an achievement for a club used to playing lower down and also with the Conference Premier effectively becoming League 3 of the Football League, it’s something to be proud of. Last season, under the management of Phil Simkin the club finished 8th just seven points behind Chelmsford City who got the last playoff spot.

Off the field, change was afoot and in May 2013 the Chairman Shaun Hearn transferred 27.5% of his shares to the Supporters Trust, making them both joint majority shareholders and working towards full community ownership. The playing budget was subsequently reduced down to £1,750 a week and the Manager came out and said what everyone knew, that it would be hard to build on their 8th place finish.

The club clearly had to cut its cloth and once again it is another example of a club unfortunately spending beyond its means. The difference here is there was no hostile takeover but an owner recognising the situation and taking steps to ensure the long terms clubs future, by working with the Trust. For this, Shaun Hearn should be applauded.

It’s never something that people really want to do but as we have seen so many times, if football clubs aren’t run on a long term sustainable basis then they will crash and burn. So this season with the budget set, the club headed into the new season and into the unknown.

However, in one of the more troubling aspects of this story there were further budget cuts after the club were knocked out of the FA Cup. After losing 1-0 to Shortwood United (who would go on all the way to a 1st round home time vs Port Vale) in the Second Qualifying round on the 28th September, the club announced further budget cuts the very next week. The budget was to come down to £1,300 and that meant all players were on the transfer list.

A clearly frustrated manager went on non-league show to talk about the financial position of the club, saying he didn’t know if he was going to be able to pay players and stated he may even have to name himself as a sub (Here).

On the same Non-League Show, Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct went on to defend the club and assure the listeners that finances were stable. After I spoke to him via Twitter he asked me if I wanted to take it outside (well off twitter and onto the phone). We had a slight disagreement for reasons I will outline below.

 My big issue with this, in fact my outright opposition is the reason the budget cuts had to be made again. The reason given in a statement (here in the Dorset Echo) by the club was that the budget had been ‘front loaded’ to allow the ‘best possible chance of FA Cup and early league success’.

‘Front loading’ is an interesting term for what can be called something else… gambling. In this case gambling money that you don’t have. There is nothing new about this practise but I despise it. Firstly, no club has a divine right to win a game of football and it’s incredibly reckless to bank on money which, if you don’t win (and they didn’t) you are desperately trying to find. This is how clubs go bust.

Secondly, its goes against all the principles of sustainability that fan owned clubs (in this case a club moving to fan ownership) are supposed to stand for. Did AFC Rushden bank on cup money? No. Do FC United? No. Do Runcorn Linnets, Merthyr, and Chester bank on money? No they don’t. Cup money should always been seen as a bonus, never a god given right. They don’t bank for a run because it’s not sustainable as you will have a year, maybe years, where there is no cup run and what happens then?

You end up like Macclesfield Town, who two seasons ago reached the FA Cup 2nd Round before being knocked out by Bolton, last season they got to the 4th Round by knocking out Cardiff in the 3rd before losing to Wigan. They would have made a very good sum of money from the last three FA Cup runs, at least £100,000 last season and will have done far better than expected.

This season? Yet again they had to win in the FA Cup to survive till the end of the season. They won in the 4th Round Qualifying vs Vauxhall Motors, battered Swindon 4-0 in the first round which they ‘had’ to win. Then it was another must win game in the second round against Brackley which they just squeaked past 3-2. Third round they got a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday with the Manager Andy Scott saying he had to hold on to the draw for the cash.

So you’d think they are finally in the clear right, healthy financially? Well after all these heroics over all these seasons it still led to Efe Sodje (Assistant Manager at Macclesfield) going on the Non-league Show and saying it’s given them enough money… for the next couple of months. The miracle runs will end soon and it’s done them no good, except delay the inevitable.

The underlying problems weren’t solved and in all honesty they should have gone bust years ago. So relying on Cups runs is an inherently flawed model as it is means not giving your club a long term future.

Finally, it’s just dishonest. The players at this level aren’t millionaires and to be told a couple of months through the season by the way you may be out of a job next week, when they would have believed that the budget was set for the season, is just a poor way to treat people.

It immediately puts the club on the back foot instead of being tough enough and honest enough so that the Manager, all players but most importantly fans know just how tough the season will be and to be able to look forward to FA Cup games, as opposed to needing them for cash.

Oh and Dorchester got to Round Two of the FA Cup last year but are still in debt so I would’ve thought that they would already know Cup runs are no substitute for a sustainable business model but there you go.

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Right, now I’ve got that off my chest we can carry on. By the time I went to visit the club, they had moved on 24 year old Neil Martin to high flying Poole Town of the Southern Prem and the budget was now at a ‘level the club can afford’ (Statement here). All players were off the transfer list and with no budget cuts coming for the remainder of the season everyone at the club could finally concentrate on climbing up the league. In this time, former Chairman Shaun Hearn resigned from the clubs Board which was seen as a sign that Mr Hearn was perhaps losing some faith in the decision he had made.

So, with all that behind them I went on a trip to Dorchester to see if the Chairman Neal Butterworth’s belief that Dorchester ‘belonged in the Conference South’ would get a boost against Concord Rangers.

Heading down to Dorchester on the train, I got there early and it was a short walk to the ground from the station with the weather cold but alright. I got into ground and managed to grab a pint of Guinness for guess how much… £3.50? No. £3.00? No. Ok I’ll tell you, £2.00 for a pint of Guinness. I nearly died of shock when the girl behind the bar told me. All pints were £2 before 2pm.

The reason for this deal is to try and get people into the club house before the game to start to make more use of the facilities at the ground and the clubhouse itself is a wonderful size, very homely as it’s adorned with memorabilia. With two full screen T.V’s, people can come in and watch the rubbish in the Premier League before going to watch the mighty Dorchester.

As I went to grab a chair, Dave Ring who was to be my victim for the next twenty minutes popped up and we headed out of the club door into the main stand to conduct the interview. The players were already warming up and I have to say I was surprised by just how good the ground was in terms of its maintenance and infrastructure. It’s a solid base to build from when they sort out the financial problems they have.

I asked Dave Ring, a Director of Dorchester Town FC and Trust member, to outline where the Trust had come from and how it was now partly running the club. He laid out the long road the Trust had come down.

“The Trust got involved in buying shares in 2008 when the majority shares were transferred to a property developer, alarm bells started ringing and that’s when we decided to set up Dorchester Town ST.”

“We’re very close to the current Chairman at the time Shaun Hearn; he was quite keen that the football club goes in the direction of more community ownership so we started talking to Shaun about how we would achieve this. Shaun joined the Trust board and we came to an agreement where Shaun would transfer half of his majority share to the football club to the Trust. So we both ended up owning 27.5% of shares.”

The case of Dorchester offers a different example of moving to community ownership. Instead of being a club which broke away from the tyranny of the old (1874 Northwich) or a phoenix rising from the ashes (Chester FC), this was a case of a Chairman bringing the Trust onto the board.

So, why did Dave think that Shaun Hearn had made this offer?

“Shaun still wants to be involved with the football club but the model meant that he couldn’t afford to sustain it at that particular level. What he needed was the backing of the whole community and he felt the only way he could get that backing was by involving the Trust so we all come together to push the club towards community ownership.”

“There’s no doubt that Shaun was putting money in to the club and the club was running at an artificially high level. One other things or disadvantages where someone does put money into a football club, when that runs out, the clubs tends to be in a bit of trouble and unfortunately at the end of last season, for whatever reason, the money run out.”

Dave laid out where the money was going and the gap between what was being spent and revenue streams coming in.

“The club was burdened with contracted players on high wages, the club didn’t have a lot of commercial sponsorship due to the fact football clubs run by benefactors don’t need a lot because there’s someone to  put money against the losses. Trouble is when the money runs out… you end up on the edge of a cliff and start to fall off.”

Dave moved onto explain the budget decisions this year as a club moving towards community ownership and mention what should be a banned phrase, see if you can spot it.

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“Well when we looked at the options as regards to community ownership, obviously when you build a business plan you look at projections if what the likely income is going to be and you set the budget accordingly. You can basically ‘front load’ the budget to try, if you like, to win cup games to bring in revenue. That didn’t happen, therefore the revenue that we assumed we were going to get, didn’t come in. Then we had to cut the budget accordingly and we had no option but to offload a few of the most expensive players to get a manageable level.”

I asked Dave to clarify what manageable meant and I got a philosophical rather than a concrete answer but it was all the more true as a result.

The club currently is run at a sustainable level, which means its run at the level the local community is prepared to buy into.

It was at this point I went into a repetition on my attack on ‘front loading’. Did Dave feel that the situation could’ve been managed differently or if he could go back to start of season would state: “This is our budget and if we win we’ll increase it” as oppose to being in a position where the club had to backtrack and let players go?

“In hindsight we can do many things but one of the problems the Trust had when it got involved was… when most Trusts get involved with football clubs, it’s because of a crisis situation. Usually, it’s the end of a crisis situation that the Trusts take over clubs and they start from bottom and work their way up.”

“Whereas in our situation, it’s completely unique and we’ve taken on a club which is perceived to be run well. Therefore, when the Trust got involved there were certain players on certain wages that were contracted that we had to live with. What we didn’t want to do was in the first few weeks of involvement was just slash the playing budget and disrupt it, we wanted it to be managed.”

Now I can understand the logic of a gradual transition as it were and I can appreciate the difficulty that the Trust has got. Clubs like 1874 start again and they get that virtuous circle: that positive vibe. Whereas, when they were put in a situation where instead of being able to build attendances, start winning games etc., the Trust actually were in a position where they did need to cut the budget. Without trying to put words into Dave’s mouth, did he feel that the Trust was given rope to hang yourself?

“Absolutely. When we first got involved we knew we were on a hiding to nothing. The only way DTFC could go was down and when I say down I don’t mean down through the league.  I mean it would be a struggle because the money is not there to pay for the running costs of the club when the trust got involved with the management.”

“What we’ve had to do is gradually get the club into a position where it has to start living within its means. We had no choice; there is no one out there who is prepared to throw money at it. We could’ve opted not to do that, we could’ve opted to walk away but if we did do that I honestly believe we could’ve lost our football club.”

It’s the stereotype about fans, that they always want money to be spent. Now, I’m becoming to accept this is perhaps true in a lot of cases and I lament the amazing double standard of fans who demand new ownership but only just to spend more money, basically a version of “The King is dead. Long live the King.”

At fan owned clubs however that’s not true but the Trust came in at a tough situation so I can sort of understand the front loading,  but I asked Dave that wouldn’t it have been better if you’d just been honest and said “at the start this is what’s going to happen: We’ve got to cut. If we win games, then we’ll put money into the budget.” That way the management know, the players know that they’ve got to win games to earn the right to have more money?

Dave seemed slightly frustrated with the question and I did regret my use of the word honest after his answer.

I don’t think we deliberately set out to deceive anybody.

 “When we came in, everybody knew that the money wasn’t out there anymore and the club would have to cut back. Everyone knew the club would have to cut its cloth. It’s just a shame that when it did happen, people weren’t happy about it.”

“But now there is some really good work that is going on, there is some really good management going on at the football club now and everything’s being to settle down. We fell off the cliff and we’re beginning to work our way back up again.”

With the front loading issue and difficulties exhausted, I moved onto the positives. One: Dorchester Town still have the ground and that’s not going anywhere. Now they are at break even, everyone’s been taken off the transfer list. Did Dave feel now that the club is in a situation where it’s survival this season and then we go from there?

“Everyone involved with the club and the Trust is in no doubt that everyone is working really hard to ensure we stay in this league. No one wants relegation when we took on the management of the football club, the club had quite a lot of debt, a lot of director debt, director loans, there were invoices which needed paying urgently, HMRC, Npower, Carlsberg.”

(Me): The world and his wife by the sounds of it. What were attendances last year and what were they roughly?

“To be honest the attendances haven’t dropped a lot. Attendances, barring the Plymouth cup game, were around 450.”

This season, Dorchester has a home attendance of 398 on average so it’s not been a massive drop off. I asked Dave why he thought the club hadn’t seen a dramatic drop in attendances.

People are beginning to understand what we are trying to do; they are being to understand sustainability is not such a bad idea.

Of course, the club is by no means resting on its laurels in how it is trying to engage the wider community and Dave outline some of the very positive steps.

“The actually people we’ve brought in is a good blend. We’ve been speaking to the local council as regards to sponsorship; we’ve been speaking to the local college as regards to coaching courses and working with each other, forming a partnership. And we’ve been talking to the Duchy of Cornwall who owns the stadium we pay a peppercorn rent to upgrade facilities. We’re out in the community in the schools.”

“Also, because we are moving towards community ownership we’ve actually got Dorchester Town Youth on board. They have 34 youth teams, nearly 500 kids that play football and they are partners of the football club now and it’s the first time in their history that they feel connected and part of the club.”

This does represent a massive step forward for the club and since I have been there the club has put forward proposals to turn the bar into a community facility which can be used throughout the year and not just match days. It’s all these activities which will make the club something which really is rooted in Dorchester, making it about something greater than 90 minutes a week.

Dave summed it up “It’s about engaging and making partnerships with all local business, the local authority and supporters.”

We moved onto the debt and whether attempts to pay it off were still on course.

“Yep, we’re on course to make this club debt free by the end of January 2014. It’s negotiating down director loans, paying down critical debt. Dorchester Town FC is probably in the best position financially it’s been in for a long time.”

I asked Dave to envision where he felt this club could be in three years’ time.

“Well the minimum is to play in the Conference South, that’s where we want to be in 3 years’ time. Sustainability doesn’t mean a lack of ambition. Providing we can get the community buying in, community engagement etc, we’re in no doubt that we will be fighting for promotion to the Conference. I don’t see why we can’t achieve that.”

It’s my own belief that there will be other clubs which have to cut their cloth in the coming years and some, like Hinckley, have had to start completely from scratch. So I said to Dave that it was refreshing to see a club making the tough choices now. At this point, Dave was quick to praise Shaun Hearn for his foresight.

“Well I have to take my hat off to the previous chairman Shaun Hearn. What he has done is secured the long term future of this club, he really has. He could’ve hung on like so many do, have got to the point of no return where the debts were unmanageable and possibly liquidation. Fair play to Shaun, he stopped that and we’re going to keep this sustainable.”

Dave last words encapsulated everything owners should believe in.

“We’ve got a duty of care, not just to the football club but to the whole community and we can ensure that with our and Shaun involvement we are working to make sure this club is in the best place it can possibly be in.”

With that, I asked Dave what he thought the score would be (2-0 Dorchester) and shook hands to head back inside and finish my pint. After finishing that and watching a bit of the Arsenal vs City game that was on the telly, I headed back out to see if Dorchester could find a result which would massively boost their survival chances.

The thing that did hit me was how empty the ground looked. I wasn’t expecting it to be packed but all the Dorch support seemed to be in clusters and not in a big enough groups to make an atmosphere. Most had chosen to sit down so slightly despondently I headed over to get some photos before kick-off. It was at this point I bumped into some Concord Rangers fans that had travelled on the team coach to support their club. After chatting to them I went to watch the game with them and got ready for kick off.

Chips, Coke and Concord.

Chips, Coke and Concord.

The highlights are here if you want to skip past some rambling commentary of the game… No? Alright then.

About ten of us were behind the goal and one was in an incredible dapper suit and shiny shoes which certainly not suitable for an open terrace in the middle of December but there you go. Despite some huffing and puffing from Concord who largely dominated play, having one cleared off the line, the weather wasn’t making for a top quality game.

More interesting was the Concord fans taken the piss out of a Dorch player, and to their glee he was to spoon several clearances which of course made it worse for him, the poor lad. It was also to be my first interaction with some ‘dedicated’ stewards on the day.

I had been taken a photo and five minutes later a steward came across asking who had been taken photos. I said me and he pointed out flash photos were prohibited and went back to his spot… by the half way line. He had come all the way to state that when the photo was taken at a goal kick. Like I said, dedicated.

Bar a good nature conversation with the Dorchester goalkeeper, it was nil nil at half time and we trudged our way over to the terrace by the burger stall. I grabbed a burger and chips and went to stand with the Rangers fans once again.

This time, the stewards came for someone else. A bloke was having a crafty fag with his coffee on the far side of our stand and he had purposely moved away so no one else was near him. A steward then came over and asked him to put it out. Now, I know he was technically wrong to have a fag but it was such a pedantic thing to do.

I mean, just say you thought it was the blokes coffee where the hot air was coming from. The person refuses to put it out saying he was just going to finish it. Again this carried on until the steward called over someone else. At this point it’s just been blown out of all proportion.

“You know that bloke” said one of the Concord fans. “Well he’s our Chairman.” The ridiculous situation continued and it culminated in the Chairman of Concord being ejected for having a fag and the best moment was when the steward tells him he should put it out to not hurt other fans.

Now none of us cared, he was nowhere near us and no one was anywhere near him but in the funniest thing I’d seen for a while he clears his throat and states “What, you mean all these fans?” and turns around to face the row of empty terraces all around him.

We all pissed ourselves, it was incredibly funny and the Chairman was ejected which made the atmosphere far more touchy then it should have been. While all this had been going on a football game was being played.

Dorchester went ahead in the 63rd minute with the linesman judging that Josh Wakefield’s shot had crossed the line, to the general protests of the Concord players. Five minutes later and only two minutes after Concord had their Chairman ejected a long ball was played forward, flicked on and Steve Cawley produced an audacious lob to level it up at one all in the 68th minute.

Concord barely had time to celebrate as Dorchester got the ball, raced into the Concord half and it was pulled back to Josh Wakefield who conjured up a disgustingly good shot which curled its way into the top right hand corner to put Dorchester two- one up and on for a vital win.

For the rest of the game it was Concord who were in control, ball after ball came into the box with the Dorchester Town keeper producing a commanding display to win the aerial balls and produced scrambling saves, diving in at the feet of several players when it looked like he would come out with suds imprinted on his face, to keep Dorchester in the lead.

Unfortunately, Dorchester conceded a free kick in the ninety first minute and as the ball swung in James White got his foot at head height and the ball found its way beyond the despairing dive of the Dorchester keeper into the top corner.

Concord could have gone onto win it as well but for another string of saves by what was now an incredibly busy Dorchester keeper who again flew in at the feet to make a big save for his team. Seven minutes of injury time was played but no more goals and the game finished, probably fairly, two apiece.

Yes Dorchester could say the equalizer was a foul which it probably was but the defender ducked out of it. When you are down at the bottom you need to be prepared to put your head where it hurts, take the pain but get the win. If the defender had displayed the same attitude as his goalie in the challenge, Dorchester would have won. Simple as that.

I was going to grab another drink but the amount of injury time meant it was a dash to the train station after some quick farewells to the Dorchester keeper, who was a class act throughout the game, the Concord fans and Dave to get on my train back to Guildford. It had been a great second half, the bar was great and it was a good day out all round really.

DSCF0170

Since I’ve been to Dorchester results haven’t improved. They have managed just three points from their seven games since I went along and are rooted to the bottom of the league, four points from safety but having played far more games than those around them.

So, it does indeed look like this season will be one of disappointment and that yes, Dorchester will probably go down. I don’t want to predict too early as Enfield Town who I had predicted for the drop have just won two in a row and now look like they can stay up. It only takes a small run of form and the picture changes but I don’t think Dorchester will climb out of this.

However I am not worried about Dorchester’s future at all and here’s why. Firstly, other clubs are going to have to cut in the future and football as a sport, at all levels, needs to realise it must live within its’ means. I won’t name them all because there are far too many close on the brink but Ebbsfleet, Farnborough and most dramatically Hinckley should give all fans pause for thought.

Chelmsford in your own league this year have had to slash away after making the playoffs last year and they are only six points off the drop having played far more games than those below. Take the pain now instead of not having a club to support.

Secondly, let’s say the club goes down. Well if you look at the attendances the club is getting now and compared them with the Southern League, Dorchester will have an attendance in the top four easily. Plus winning teams will get a boost in attendances, you can get that positive vibe around the club.

Second, you are clearing or have I should say cleared the debt which means next year you can start from a completely fresh slate. So many clubs who go down find themselves in dire finiancial straights but that won’t be the case with you. We are still coming out of a recession so local businesses may have more cash to put into a club who would be winning games weekly in the Southern Prem.

Finally, the club is going to become greater than the 11 players on a Saturday. It’s going to have a thriving youth section, Dorchester FC is building links with local colleges, schools and working with the local authority to improve the whole of Dorchester. It’s going to be a club that everyone can feel involved and extremely proud of.

In conclusion then, yes I think you are going down Dorch fans BUT… Next season will be a fresh start for the club in so many ways. I am predicting a club which rediscovers how to win games, is right at the top of the table and with higher attendances coming into the club. New businesses will want to get involved and the community work will expand greatly.

I think you will come straight back up and in a good position to challenge for the Conference South playoffs over the next couple of years as others veer towards administration and instability. I am so confident that next year you will come back up I am going to bet on it at the start of next year. The difference here though and it’s a lesson that Dorchester FC have had to learn the hard way is…

I am only gambling with money that I can afford.

Notes

The club badge comes courtesy of Dorchester Town FC. All other photos were taken by yours truly. You can follow more fan owned related outbursts by me @eddyman00

 

Links

Dorchester FC Website

Dorchester Forum

http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/sport/localsport/10454401.Simkin_s_vow_to_Dorchester_fans/?commentSort=score

http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/sport/10712029.MAGPIES__Simkin_forced_to_put_players_on_transfer_list/?ref=ar

http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/sport/10709743.MAGPIES__Dorchester_forced_to_make_cuts/

Dorchester Highlights- Youtube

Football Web Pages – Conference South

Half Season Review and Predictions

Alright, we are bang half way through if not further for some clubs this football season. So it’s a quick fly threw of all the fan owned clubs in England and Wales, how they have got on so far and my (what will be terrible) predictions for the end of this season. We are going from down at the bottom of the Pyramid to as high up as League 2. I am not putting them in alphabetical order because this has taken long enough. All mistakes are down to me and apology for the inevitable typo. Off we go then.

1874 Northwich – North West Counties Div 1 – Step 6:

Since I went to see them in the summer for their first ever game, they have wasted no time cracking on in their first ever season. Boasting an average attendance of 333 for the level they’re at is a fantastic achievement and as they play away from Northwich, this is all the more reason for those involved to be proud of the success.

They are currently 2nd occupying the last promotion spot with four other clubs around them right in the hunt to go up as well. They are in for a fantastic end of the season if they can stay in the race and finally the long suffering fans of this team, free of Jim Rushe, can just enjoy the football. Off the pitch, the community work continues but hopefully plans are in place to get back into Northwich ASAP and then they can really fly.

Prediction: Promotion and party at Antony Rodgers (All invited.)

AFC Croydon Athletic – Combined Counties Div 1- Step 6:

The most recent club I have been to and as I don’t want to spoil the write up I shall not put much. Short story is this is another fantastic phoenix team after the previous club was given a death sentence related to the spot fixing scandal in Pakistan cricket and lumbered on until its death.

Last year was their first season and they won the League Cup, are now getting ready to head home from playing at an athletics track to their previous home at the Keith Tuckey Stadium at the start of next season, provided yobs stop setting fire to it. On the pitch they are in the hunt for promotion in 5th with three going up and having got the toughest games in the league out of the way, this season they look well placed to have a chance of going up.

So they are going back home to a proper footy ground, building community links and have a great base to push on up the league at a sustainable basis, so everyone at that club needs to take a bow.

Prediction: Head says top five, fanatic says Promotion in 3rd Place. So Promotion.

Saffron Walden Town FC – Eastern Counties Football League Div One- Step 6:

I had never heard of this club before this season but it’s one I am very much looking forward to seeing. The club pulled out of the league in 2011-12 due to not being able to guarantee having the money in place to survive. They were back last season as a fan owned club in July 2012. After a solid year last season they seem to be going from strength to strength off the pitch. A Clubhouse generating income for the club and averaging around 150 for home league games is a good base to build from. On the pitch, they lie in 6th and with plenty of clubs around them with games on hand this could mean they drop further. Still, a good second half of the season and who knows but they will be one to watch next season.

Prediction: Top half.

Newport (Isle of Wight) FC – Wessex League Prem – Step 5

Onto the Step 5 clubs then and onto Newport, who I have no idea how I am going to get to this season, being on (as the name suggests) the Isle of Wight. Fan Owned since 2008 and have plied their trade in the Wessex Prem since the 2008 season. Last year they came 6th and this year are third but as a Step 5 league only offering one promotion place it makes it very difficult for any club running sustainably to go up (You’d be amazed at some of the money washing around clubs at that level).

Still they look like they will improve on last year’s finish and with Sholing, who only came down from the league above for ‘financial reasons’,  looking like winning the league this year (ahead of Newport IOW by 6 points and with four games in hand) then it looks like a battle for second place for the Port this season.

Prediction: Top 3

AFC Rushden & Diamonds- United Counties League Prem- Step 5

Well it’s been a great year for the Diamonds and it can still get a hell of a lot better. A memorable cup run in the FA Cup where they saw off Cambridge City of the Southern Prem (two levels above them & who are in the playoffs of their league), so a great achievement. 815 people saw them that day before they were knocked out by Dover away.

Off the pitch, the academy is in place and they seem to have solid foundations by helping their landlords Wellingborough make considerable grounds improvements. They have an average attendance well over 400 and not playing in Rushden makes it difficult. On the pitch, they are 13 points off money bags Spalding (despite being the only team to beat Spalding all season) but look well placed to be best of the rest.

More excitingly is another cup run in the FA Vase. They are only four rounds away from Wembley and if they can avoid the Northern giants of Spennymoor  Town and co, then they have every chance. It shows have far they have come with this only being their second season and they look a good shout to go up next year. When they get home to Rushden, they are really going to fly.

Prediction: Top 3 and Wembley.

Fisher FC-  Southern Counties East League- Step 5

Well the Fish have had some tough times lately and regular readers will know my hope of non-league London sides surviving is very small. Hemmed in by property developers on all sides, in communities where the traditional football fan are leaving seemingly as fast as they can and if you are homeless football club then the writing appears to be on the wall.

All the more amazing then that Fisher FC, having been formed in 2009 after the old club went bust and subsequently homeless, have managed to put themselves in a position where they could be going home to Bermondsey.

The club needs to raise a big chunk of money (£250,000) to move into their new home after they have a supportive council who approved planning permission and a property developer who have put aside a space for the club to exist.

If successful, it will be a brand new 3G surface allowing the club to generate income, a base to reach out to the community and build a fan base. With this, they will get into a spiral of success. If that get that stadium, it will be a testament to the heroic work of people to keep their club alive and thrive. I should note they have been blessed with a supportive council and a property developer who aren’t wankers. So hats off to them.

This season, they started badly but have pulled clear and with only one going down they look safe. All that really matters though, is getting that new ground.

Prediction: Safe, new ground by 2015.

AFC Liverpool – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

A club which I remain most sceptical of and I am just not sure of what the reason for existence is. Described as Liverpool FC’s ‘little brother’, they wish to be a friend of the main club but are against high ticket prices. Against millionaire owners but not Liverpool’s it seems. FC United this certainly isn’t, as they have not and have no intention of carving out a unique identity. They currently play at Prescot Cables home, another fan owned club.

They are currently 5th in the North West Counties Prem and are some way off the pace in a very competitive league.

Prediction: Top 8

Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Now this club is the real deal. Having been to see them earlier this season where they won a memorable game in a great FA Cup run, the Linnets have shown no signs of slowing down. They have a great stadium, building and strengthening community coaching plus a women’s team. With strong attendances for their level, it’s a club that are a blueprint for anyone else wanting to do things the right way.

On the pitch, Manager Joey Dunn has given them every chance to achieve their goal of going up. With Norton and a resurgent Glossop North End the two other clubs who look like being the main threat, they will have to stay strong till the end to achieve promotion to the league that the ‘old’ club finished in when they ceased to exist.

Prediction: Promotion for Joey Dunns ‘YellowGreenArmy’

Darlington FC- Evostik Div One North – Step 4

After playing dire when I went to watch them, Darlo have started to fly in the league and even managed to beat fan owned Bamber Bridge, who were on an 11 game unbeaten run in the league. Off the pitch, the move to go back home to Darlington gathers pace with a ground share at the Darlington Rugby Club on the cards for next season. They don’t look like catching Curzon Ashton for the title but they will be in the playoffs and it all looks rosy for Darlington from here on out.

Prediction: Play-off promotion, back in Darlington for next season pushing near the 1800 attendance mark or more.

Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Same league as Darlo and in a similar position with far lower attendances, they occupy a play off spot with teams below them having games in hand. Can’t wait to find out what they are putting in the water up their after a miracle run. I fancy them to make the playoffs but they can count themselves unlucky to have had such a good year when to go up they will almost certainly have to beat Darlo, who have beaten them twice this season. Still, playoffs represent a huge achievement if they get them and then you always have a chance…

Prediction: Play-offs.

Prescot Cables- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Prescot Cables are in the same league as the two above but a very different story. The club is in a relegation fight to stay up just two places above the relegation spots. Getting back up from the league below is notoriously hard so they will be doing everything they can to ensure they don’t drop through the trap door.

Still, it’s in their hands and they know that whatever happens this season they will have their club’s ground, history and heritage preserved for many years to come, which is more than can be said for most.

Prediction: Staying up (Just)

Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One South- Step 4

If there is one club which may make me fail my fan owned journey, it’s this one. Since being formed in 2007 after the old club went bust, they have played at Bridlington FC meaning a 34 mile round trip for the dedicated fans of Scarborough.

However, plans are in place for a sports village back in Scarborough being built by the council. Seeing what I can snoop up, a return to Scarborough could be a while away yet but it is certainly on track. When they do return they will, like Darlo and Rushden & Diamonds,  see a boost to their attendances and I wouldn’t bet against them being back in the Conference before too long.

With the best named Manager of all time in Rudy Funk, the club managed to get out of Step 5 last season and are one league below FC United, this season lying one place outside the playoffs with games in hand. So I fancy them to be in the playoffs come the end of the season. It would be a very good day for both Darlington and Scarborough if they both meet up next year in the league above, to see what both have achieved.

Prediction: Playoff Promotion. Back in Scarborough by 2015-16 at the latest.

Merthyr Town- Calor League South and West – Step 4

The Martyrs, since going bust 2010 had a phoenix club rise and have enjoyed great success with only one real heartbreak. They have been promoted in their last two of the three seasons, with last year being a playoff final defeat against Hungerford Town.

Off the pitch, they had a shiny new 3G pitch put in at Penydarren Park and with the revenue streams coming in from that plus less games being lost to the weather; they look in the perfect place to ensure a strong sustainable football club for their area.

This season, a great run of form followed by a recent wobble seems them in the play-off places. They are in the hunt for the title and the playoffs will be the minimum this season so hopefully they will go one better.

Prediction: Promotion.

FC United- EvoStik Prem – Step 3

Well what do you say about FC United? Having just had a pint with their Manager Karl Marginson at Salford City FC, nothing bad is the answer. On the pitch they have become a bridesmaid of the playoffs, having been beaten playoff finalists by a single goal in their last three seasons.

Off the field, the club will not compromise on its principles to cheat their way up the league but are determined to have sustainable success and do it the right way. The clubs fantastic community work has been rewarded with planning permission and work starting on a ground of their own in Manchester at Moston.

It will mean that the club will be free of high rents at Bury FC, able to keep all the money spent on food and drinks in the ground and by not being miles away from Manchester, will lead to an increase in attendances and it will be an injection of energy for a club stuck in the Evo-Stik Prem for the last 6 seasons.

You have to think it will be either this year or next that they will go up. Karl won’t like me saying it but I can’t see them catching Chorley for the title, so it will be forth time lucky in the playoffs and this will be the one… surely.

Prediction: Promotion with a playoff final win. Opening the new ground in the Conference North.

Lewes FC- Ryman Prem – Step 3

Lewes can count themselves unlucky to have such a good year when the league is so strong at the top with Dulwich Hamlet, Wealdstone and of course Maidstone United all boasting big attendances and in the case of Maidstone, a 3G facility which further boosts income streams.

Still, they looked good when I watched them and have just got to a break even situation after previous mismanagement. A strong top half finish represents a massive improvement on last year’s woeful campaign and as the club starts to generate a profit the club is only going one way in the future, up.

Prediction: Top 10, good bet for next season for the playoffs.

 

Hendon- Ryman Prem- Step 3

The club with the toughest circumstances of any club I will visit this season, everyone involved deserves huge credit for battling on. With no signs of any support from the council or even councillors who represent Hendon, they find themselves in a very hard place.

An FA Trophy run which ended disappointingly in the First Round at home to Whitstable, it still (to my knowledge) has given them enough in the kitty to be around in this league for at least another season. Without help from a council or outside body, it remains to be seen how long Chairman Simon Lawrence and co can hold back the rising tide.

Still, on the pitch they have done remarkably well in the league sitting one place behind Lewes and can spend the rest of the season looking up, not down, at the table. Then next season, another cup run will be needed.

Prediction: Mid-table before next seasons FA Cup game away at Man United followed by Barnet Council actually getting off their arse to help the club.

Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

The first ever fan owned club on these shores (of the modern kind) have not had the best of it recently. A terrible season led to the removal of Steve Newing to be replaced by George Borg, who at a recent game ended up with both being involved in a slanging match.

This season, I can’t see them getting out of the relegation places on what I saw and they haven’t picked up too many points since the switch. They lie nine points from safety without a win in a very long time.

Still, they have a secure future with the stadium and a line of youth teams and development teams playing, attendances are holding up remarkably well averaging 370 a game despite the performances and debt incurred in getting the stadium is gradually being cleared. I fancy them to come straight back up and be in a stronger position for it.

Prediction: Relegation this season, followed by some soul searching on and off the field. Promotion the next.

 

Dorchester- Conference South- Step 2

So not fan owned but moving towards it with the Trust playing a big role in the running of the club. Having had their highest finish last season, it was inevitable that there was always going to be a bit of stick heading the trusts way when they had to cut their cloth. Unlike many other fan owned clubs, they didn’t start from the bottom and instead had to struggle in the same league.

Off the pitch, they have now stabilised after more budget cuts and can approach next season, whichever division they are in, as a fresh start and get an air of positivity around the club. This year they are six points from safety and (heresy) perhaps going down wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Prediction: Relegation and a fresh start next season with their off field finances sorted.

AFC Telford- Conference North- Step 2

Despite a slowish start to the season Telford, under Liam Watson who dropped down from Manager of Southport (an encouraging sign), are beating all comers. Off the pitch, the club is run by fantastic people and is in a great position plus recently hosted Women’s International football to much praise from all involved.

10 points from the last four games having played Boston, Brackley and handed out a football lesson to Hednesford in how to be successful (got a point away and won at home) and they are now the team to beat.

Still the league is incredibly tough with Boston, Altringham as well as Hednesford all with big followings and 6 points separate the top six. Remember, this is the division that Stockport County find themselves in and they will be lucky to finish mid-table. Telford will be in the playoffs minimum and I will stick my neck out to say: If they go up to the Conference Prem this season, they will stay up.

Prediction: Play Offs minimum. I will owe Liam Watson an apology pint for the review I gave them earlier in the season if they go up.

Chester FC- Conference Prem- Step 1

Since I’ve been to see Chester, they have been battling tooth and nail at the bottom of the Conference Prem and the gulf between Step 2 and 1 has been revealed. After some shenanigans which I can’t comment on, they lost a bit of money not related to the clubs management and will post a financial loss but are in good financial health.

They are ahead of schedule in getting back to the Conference Prem before they had planned with three promotions in a row, an amazing achievement. They have a right to feel aggrieved, as they run the club prudently clubs higher than them in the Conference (Hereford, Macclesfield and others) are financially in the shit. Chester fans have to take the long term view of this and if they do go down, the club will still be in a very strong position.

I’ve made it sound like I think they will go down when in truth I think they have every chance of staying up. They have a lot of away games against those around them in the table with a home game against Wrexham on the 19th April which could be a season defining game.  If Neil Young manages to keep them up then he deserves a statue to go along with those three medals he already has. Whatever happens, I bet if you told Chester fans in 2010 that they would be back in the Conference and beating Wrexham at the Racecourse ground, they would have bitten your bloody hand off.

Prediction: Survival and another pitch invasion.

 

Wrexham- Conference Prem- Step 1

Poor Andy Morrell, one game away from a double Wembley success in a single season and hero status as the man who took Wrexham back to the Football League, he now faces lifting his players for a season which is all but over.

Too much inconsistency combined with some painful results (lost to Chester at home and drew against Hyde). They look like being safe but they could get dragged into a relegation battle if they are not careful.

Still, look at Northampton who lost their playoff final last season, Leeds a couple of years ago who lost a playoff final then relegated the year after and this play-off blues is not just a Wrexham problem.

Off the pitch, two years of fan ownership has seen the club debt free and the FA Trophy win by Andy Morrell was a big part of that. The club celebrate its 150th year this year and considering how they might not of existed this is a huge achievement.

So, this season is a chance to bleed some new players and make the 2014 season one where the club has a clean slate. Plus, they could end up sending Chester down, at Chester, which may soothe the pain of this season.

Prediction: Mid table and go again next year.

 

We move away from non-league now to the four fan owned football league teams. I have to admit, I have been delaying visiting these because I thought that they might find themselves in playoff games or games for promotion. If I had been cynical, I should have gone to these first to build a bigger readership but meh.

AFC Wimbledon – League 2

So probably the most famous of fan owned teams with a fairy-tale story to match. 5 promotions in twelve seasons, with the most special days being a play off final victory against Luton in the 2010-11 season to see them back in the Football League. The fans saw justice done masterminded by the legend that is Terry Brown (now back in Management at Margate).

Last season, the club stayed up on the last day with a win against Fleetwood which has a lot to do with me taking up this project this season after I went to watch. After the game, Neal Ardley got the plaudits he deserved for keeping them up.

Off the pitch, the difficultly of being in London is once again shown with the club ten years away from being back in Wimbledon according to their Chief Executive Erik Samuelson, with an application to turn Wimbledon Greyhound Track into their new ground.

What the demographics of Wimbledon itself look like, (as areas such as Enfield and Hendon will testify to) means for actually attracting fans is a question in itself but it is another step in a long road for the Dons.

Other moments of contention since reformation was of course the game against you know who at their home in the FA Cup, which led to much soul searching about the correct course of action by fans and a lot of ignorant media coverage by the tossers at Sky Sports about how this was somehow a great game to see.

This season, AFC Wimbledon started well and looked in the playoff hunt but with only 3 points from their last six games they are looking down rather than up. Another year at this level would be a great achievement for the club and the thing about League 2 and it’s four promotion spots, is that the playoffs at Wembley and League 1 is only one good season away.

Prediction: Mid-table safety, no last day drama here.

Portsmouth FC- League 2

Well it’s been an interesting season for Pompey already but not in a good way. They have sacked Guy Whittingham after a very poor start to the season. I’ve heard off some ‘sources’ they gave him a playoff budget and he struggled to keep them mid-table. Surely after the collapse in recent times mid-table should have been the aim and it certainly is now.

The club is still having to fork out millions to ex-players which will take till May 2016 to clear, with many small businesses receiving a fraction of what they were owed so millionaires like David James and Kanu can still pick up money.

That is a just part of the debt they need to clear so Pompey fans need to be patient and realise that now having finally got ownership of the club, securing it’s financial future is the most important thing.

Eventually, the club will rise up the pyramid but a relegation this year would be a massive hammer blow and make no mistake, they are in a relegation dogfight. If they lost the Football League money as well, it may get even tougher.

So, survival is the aim of the game and I do fancy them to stay up partly because all else is unimaginable.

Prediction: Survival.

 

Exeter City FC- League 2

The club which has the accolade of being the highest placed fan owned club in Britain whilst they were in League 1 for a spell. Since taking over in 2003 they can consider themselves rightly proud of their achievements with promotion from the Conference achieved in a playoff final in 2008 at Wembley in front of over 40,000 people.

The season after they went up again after finishing second in League 2 and enjoyed three seasons their until relegation in 2011-12 season. Last year they finished 10th just five points off the playoffs and long serving Manager stated that the club ‘had to look at its ownership model’ if they want success.

Ignoring the fact others clubs around them are in debt left, right and centre and all lower league clubs are going to have to cut there cloth, Exeter City started strongly this season but have fallen off the pace in 13th, six points off the playoffs.

Too strong to go down and perhaps not enough firepower to get in the playoffs but the last 10 years of fan ownership have been a roaring success and long may it continue.

Prediction: Mid table, looking up rather than down.

Wycombe Wanderers – League 2

In June 2012, the fans took over at Wycombe and appear to have given the club stability and security as an established League 2 club. I don’t know what to say much really about Wycombe apart from they are doing a solid job this season after Gareth Ainsworth steadied the ship to finish mid table last season.

They are five points off the relegation places but with two games in hand and if they win one of those they are as close to the playoffs as they are to relegation, so I think another mid-table season beckons for Wycombe as Gareth Ainsworth has his first full season in charge to put under his belt and look to next season.

Prediction: Mid Table consistency.

So that’s it. Except of course it isn’t, with the mighty Barry Town and Monmouth both fan owned and both doing well in the League of Wales. Barry Town is a wonderful story of fan heroics and they will get their own piece soon, as will Monmouth.

If I have missed anyone out let me know. I am going off Supporters Direct plus others that I definitely know are fan owned, like Barry.

Plus, they can look forward to being including in the Fan Owned round up of Scottish and Northern Irish clubs which will get done at some point, so you haven’t been forgotten Dunfermline fans or Gretna, or … and on it goes.

All I will say for now is that I wish all fan owned clubs all the best for the rest of the season. I hope some of you prove me right, some of you prove me wrong and I look forward to some wonderful games for the rest of the season.

In fan ownership we trust, amen.

If you want to tell me where I have got it right or wrong, or just call me a bellend you can do so on Twitter @eddyman00

We get the owners we deserve

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Firstly, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year. Also, a quick apology to Dorchester and AFC Croydon Athletic whose posts I still haven’t got done but they are on their way folks so rest easy.

This is a quick post before I put up a quick review of fan owned clubs this season. This is also a rant of sorts against the fans of Cardiff City and others in general. I could call this: When did football fans become such a bunch of spineless tossers? However I don’t think that rolls off the tongue.

So Cardiff City have an owner who has done what most consider vandalism, by changing the badge and removing the traditional colours of the club it has become another hollow imitation of the club it was. There is of course a long list of things, including his treatment of the manager and I am not going to go into all the details because that has been better done elsewhere. Twohundredpercent is here so you know.. nudge,nudge.

My focus is on the lack of response from Cardiff fans, the continuing support for Vincent Tan by them and the bullshit ‘protests’ which are worthy of middle class champagne socialists, in that they appear and pronounce themselves as radical but are hollow and meaningless.

So, let’s begin. If you still give him your money, then you support his actions. It seems a simple point to make really but seems to have been missed by far too many people. When the club was rebranded last season with the logo and the badge being changed, people were outraged, outraged I tell you. They were so outraged that their average attendance went from 22,100 in the 2011-12 season to 22,998 last season. (Here)

So despite all the ‘outrage’, all the fury and all the ‘protest’ the simple reality is that tens of thousands of Cardiff fans still gladly paid their money into the pocket of Vincent Tan. The radical protests continue with 27,500 now showing up to obviously express their disgust. And what better way to show you don’t approve of something by giving them money?

Now I can understand working for the devil. I know what it’s like to do a job you don’t really want to do but need the money and a lot of us down at the bottom don’t have the luxury of choice. Giving the devil your money? That’s a new one.

It’s not good enough to say you can protest against the changes and still give him your money. I will accept that if there have been conversations or intents that the club may change back (ie Shrewsbury) then it is possible to do both… just.

However, Vincent Tan has made it quite clear this isn’t happening so you cannot do both. In the real world, businessmen and economics have this thing called price signals. Vincent Tan is a businessman so the only thing he understands and needs to understand is that if you keep giving him money, then he can keep getting away with it.

Put it this way, you go to a restaurant and they give you a plate of shit to eat… You are furious, you are outraged and then… you go back next Saturday to go eat shit again. Then you go back next week and over and over until you are constantly eating shit.

It would be reasonable of the owners of the restaurant to presume you actually don’t mind eating all that shit, so they will keep on serving it to you and you keep lapping it up.

Am I making it clear for you?

Vincent Tan has made all his money by introducing franchises to the Asian Market and has been very successful at it. He doesn’t care about your club; he cares about using it as a vehicle to build a ‘brand’ and you let him do it. So spare me the ‘Tan Out’ signs as you spend £30 a game to come and watch them play, you are just embarrassing yourselves.

So what are the alternatives? Simple, you all stop going. Yes that’s right, you boycott. The days when working class people could withdraw their labour in this country are long gone, globalisation and an eager army of Polish and countless other un-skilled workers emigrating to Britain means that it is a thing of the past.

What you can do however, is withdraw your custom. This may be hard but since the club is virtually unrecognisable to what you will have known as Cardiff City (which Vincent Tan will almost certainly look to continue to franchise for the ‘Asian Market’ or just because he can) it can’t be too different to following whatever the club is now.

That is the only way to get rid of him. This does mean yes in the end game, driving the club to bankruptcy and starting again or walking away to form another club. There are more difficulties with this being based in Wales and whether a true Cardiff club would be forced to play in the Welsh system or the English one. A Cardiff team in the Welsh system would have a far greater chance of getting into the Champions League though, which so many people seem to fetish over now for reasons unknown to me.

You are being treated like a customer, you are being treated like a fool and you are lapping it up and celebrating it every time you work through those turnstiles.

There are now many clubs which have shown you the way. FC United of Manchester, 1874 Northwich and Enfield Town. Yes they are far smaller and none are guaranteed success but the principle is the same and in actual fact it would be far easier for a proper Cardiff club to raise finance and capital, even if a fraction of you did the decent thing and went your own way. Also AFC Wimbledon anyone, they haven’t done badly have they?

If that is too much pain for you to feel responsible for destroying the club or don’t want to set up a new one whilst the ‘real’ Cardiff City FC still stands then how about doing something honourable with your Saturdays instead? Take a short trip and go and watch Barry Town, who you could argue are the exception that proves the rule about standing by a club run by a man who wanted to kill it.

Why not give your money to a fans run club who have gone through hell and back to keep their history, tradition and more importantly honour alive. Imagine how much more good you would do if even 100 of you made the trip to go watch Barry Town. How much of a morally better choice you would be making in helping that club?

I wish this would happen but I am almost certain it won’t. No, you will continue to keep giving that man your money and he will continue to laugh at you. In a generation, Wales has gone from producing people who fought desperately to defend their way and life and community (regardless of the economics) to a bunch of cowards.

They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

The above is a simple quote from Benjamin Franklin about how people who would trade off that which is most precious for a temporary gain or a quick fix are unworthy of either.

Well those who would give up history, heritage and identity for a little temporary ‘success’ deserve neither. When the time comes and Vincent Tan leaves you high and dry it will be no more than you deserve.

You’d think that by doing this fan owned journey I’d be someone more sympathetic to the Hull fans who are against the name change but keep giving the owner their money, the Cardiff fans who do the same and the countless other times this will happen at an increasing rate at the top of the game but I’m not.

You pay your money, you make your choice. I know it is impossible to do this with every commercial interaction, the amount of hours that would be needed to find out if every pint you got or packet of cereal is of a good moral standard but what is happening to your club… It’s staring you right in the face.

 I don’t see why sacking a manager is worse than trashing your clubs heritage. There is still time for you to redeem yourselves, it is a new year and you can make a brave new stand against those destroying football. At the moment though, in the words of the Super Furry Animals – People like Vincent Tan? You know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else. And if you keep supporting them?

Sympathy, sympathy. You want some? Don’t come to me.

 

You can explain how giving him money is in fact some radical protest to me on twitter @eddyman00

 

Links

Premier League Attendances- ESPN

Football League Attendances

Twohundredpercent.

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