Committing Heresy -Why I am against Labour plans for a fans stake in Football Clubs

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Today, the Labour Party has outlined proposals to give fans greater say in the running of their clubs. Regular readers of this site will know (and surprisingly, there’s a fair few of you) that I am puritanical about fan ownership. So I won’t be going through why increased ownership is a good thing. No, I am going to outline why I am against Labour proposals on fan ownership.

Firstly, I expect to be one of the few (if not the only) person who is in favour of fan ownership but is against these proposals.  FC United head honcho and propagandist (in a good way) Andy Walsh was at the launch of the plans with FC United supportive. The Cardiff City Supporters Trust has welcomed the plans (here) with Chair Tim Hartley stating: “I welcome Labour’s commitment to ensuring fans have a real role in owning and running their clubs.” Blackpool Supporters Trust has also linked to the plans on Twitter, which I suspect is a sign of support.

Supporters Direct have naturally come out in favour too, which is understandable when it was set up by the Labour Party under Andy Burnham MP. Regardless of my view on the proposals, both Supporters Direct and Andy Burnham deserve respect for having moved the debate this far.

However, I have no problem being a lone wolf on this one and saying I am against it. My main reason for being against these proposals is that they fundamentally take away the responsibility of fans to force change and give it over to the state.

I am going to go through the little criticism before the big one. Firstly, in many cases what would Supporters Trusts be getting 10% of? Would HUST benefit from getting 10% of a now bankrupt club, would there be anything to stop the club being separated from the ground and if that happens the fans would own 10% of bugger all really.

Most of the clubs that become fan owned are ones that died or the fans killed themselves so they could reform.  A far greater proposal would be a simple law banning owners from putting debt on football clubs, so if an owner wants to piss his money up a wall then fine but he would have zero legal right to ask for any of it back.

The other quick proposal is that in the proposal is something which would drive a clear wedge between the members of the Trust and those who sit on the board. An example from Labour plans illustrates this: “The right to obtain (under an obligation of confidentiality) financial and commercial information about the business and affairs of a football club”.

The whole point about Trusts is they are open and transparent, this rule would immediately bind the Trust board members hands. We should be getting onto boards to force them to be more transparent, not bind our hands by accepting the status quo.

Secondly, “Supporters would not be able to block takeovers or change corporate strategy.” Now does that mean they cannot use their shareholding to stop proposals or their board members can’t vote on certain issues? If so, due to the fact that they will also have to sign confidentiality agreements, it would lead to the greater involvement of the two fans on the board and nobody else.

Like I suspected, Labour are jumping on a bandwagon which is already growing in strength and is something wonderful. It is a movement which is showing people that you don’t have to wait for others to change our lives, that we can do it ourselves. Crucially, it means anyone can stand for the board and it’s not seen as the preserve of the middle class, plenty of people can bring their skills and be put in a position of leadership.

At a stroke, this will slowly demise. Labour is proposing that the Umbrella body (which I guess would be Supporters Direct) will be “required to offer training to supporters before taking up positions on Boards.”

Knowing the way Labour works I can guess that certain people put up for seats on the board will be vetted for their appropriateness (shortlisted if you will) for their suitability. Basically only nice middle class people will put their hat in the ring due to the way changes are constructed and if any binman or cleaner put their name forward they wouldn’t be deemed suitable. I accept that this is a slippery slope argument but knowing the Labour Party and its middle class tendency, it’s a fair one.

Onto the main criticism then and the main proposal which is that Labour are promising that when a club is sold to a new owner, the fans are automatically offered ten percent. It is perfectly possible at the vast majority of football clubs for fans to raise enough cash to get 10% of their clubs. These proposals seemed designed really for just the biggest clubs in the pyramid: Man Utd, Arsenal etc.

10% of Birmingham City wouldn’t be such a massive amount of money in the current circumstances compared with what fans put into the club now for no return (tickets, shirts, etc). Again, fans are already raising money at much larger clubs such as Rangers to put into a share scheme where they gradually build up their stake over a long period of time and we will return to a great tactic of Rangers fans to force the owners hand later.

It was interesting to note the Head of Cardiff City Supporters Trust mention clubs like Swansea. Merthyr, Wrexham as great examples. I can’t help but note that in all these cases the fans did the hard work themselves, they collectively organised together to save their clubs. Merthyr reformed and now are in a great position with a 3G pitch and look like going up this season to Step 3 of non-league, back where they were before they went bust. Swansea City has now a well-known story which has been made into a film but my favourite, even if I am a Shrewsbury Town Supporters Trust member, is the heroes at Wrexham.

They raised £100,000 in less than a day to get a bond to stay in the Conference before finally removing asset strippers Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts from the club (here). The previous owner Alex Hamilton ended up with the fans organising a protest right outside his house, guarding the exit and entrance. You can catch this by watching Stand Your Ground, a BBC documentary about the man filmed years ago but available on YouTube (here).

Now you could say they never should’ve had to go through any of this but the crucial point here is that fans of these three clubs, all of them, did fight. They did organise to get money to buy the club or reform it, the fact that it was the fans that did it themselves can only have given them a motivation to continue to improve the club and make it a success. All three clubs have gone on to have real success.

Now the question that comes up here is what to do if the owners won’t sell a stake? I was told this at a Shrews Trust meeting that setting up a share scheme would be pointless as the Chairman won’t sell.  Or Blackpool, where many fans appear to want ‘Oyston Out’ and have paid him money to enter the ground to wave a poster, showing just how displeased they are with him.

Well actually, there is something you can do to force change if the owners aren’t listening: You can stop giving them your bloody money. Now I have already shown how much Blackpool fans could hurt seriously hurt Oyston if the Blackpool Supporters Trust organise a boycott and get fans to follow.

What have the majority of Cardiff fans done when the clubs owner changed the colours and the badge? They kept giving him their money. What have Blackpool fans done in protest against the owner? That’s right, they give him money.

The only thing that matters is if you take away their money and to be honest, I don’t see why fans of Chester, Wrexham, AFC Telford, 1874 Northwich, Portsmouth, and Swansea (and on the list goes) who battled and fought should have to watch others get it handed to them on a plate.

There is something fans at all these clubs can do and that’s boycott the clubs, stop giving them your money. Back to a great idea from Rangers fans that had set up a fund for season ticket money which would only be released if certain conditions were met, namely the security of the ground was handed over.

What is to stop Blackpool Supporters Trust, Cardiff Supporters Trust, Leeds fans organising the same thing? Nothing. The criticism that at big clubs like Liverpool or United means tourists would take their seats can be dismissed for the simple fact it has never been tried. Why don’t you put it to the test and find out? If the Kop became packed with Chinese tourists then I think sponsors and TV companies may well have a bit more difficulty selling it.

The last objection to my argument is that fans aren’t prepared to boycott, that it is too difficult to organise the fans of a Blackpool or a Cardiff to take the long term action necessary so it must be done by the state. Well if this argument is correct, and in fact people are not prepared to collectively organise themselves or will only demand that others (in this case the state) take action for them, then they don’t deserve a change.

They can join the champagne socialists who have overrun the Labour Party, the people who say I am against private schools but not for my kids, I’m against tax avoidance schemes but not for me. Now we can add football fans who are against bad owners but give them money anyway.

Really, if the people who say they care the most are those who are the least prepared to make a difference then why do they deserve support? The paradox of my trip around all these fan owned clubs is it has given me less and less sympathy for those who choose to prop up their regimes.

I just don’t understand how working class tradition (and at most of the clubs in football it is still working class support) has gone from a resilient, self-organising groups who didn’t wait for others to change our lives but aggressively did it our bloody selves, to a such a passive, spineless and fatalistic group who see the state as our only saviour.

The only reason to be in favour of these proposals is because of the usual suspects who are against it (not including myself). The Prem, the Football League management and everyone else who are leeching off the game will be against this. Luckily for them this legislation probably won’t get through.

Let’s stop putting our faith in a party led by a man who bunked off an NHS protest (here), to go and get wined and dined by the man who said “fans can die whenever they want.”

This growing movement shouldn’t live or die on who can lobby to get the most favourable laws, it should be led by us on the ground, fighting the good fight with boycotts, share schemes and season ticket money withheld. Yes, this will mean hard work, sacrifice and in some cases defeats but it will be a purer and stronger movement for the fact the fight involves every fan and not just people who can afford to get gigs working for the Labour party or lobbyists.

As the Hold Steady say, “We are our only saviours” so please, I implore us to be our own saviours and not wait for the Labour Party to do it for us.

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On Twitter @eddyman00

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Links

Labour Plans

Supporters Direct Welcomes Plans

Cardiff City Supporters Trust Statement

Stand Your Ground (Wrexham) Part 1/ Part 2

Ed Miliband with Hull City owner

Postscript

I must admit, in the interests of full disclosure, an hypocrisy in which although I am in favour of workers on boards via legislation in certain companies, I am for the reasons outlined above against it for fan ownership. I have yet to square that intellectual circle but I’m going to give it a go in the future.

Why Karl Oyston is right… On hollow protests.

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Recently, Karl Oyston came out and dismissed the Blackpool protests at the last home game vs Cardiff (here), stating they “will never have any impact”. The protests involved fans letting off balloons, waving banners and taking part in a funeral procession like walkout. This may not be a popular thing to say but I’ll say it: Karl Oyston is right. The reason: Because they are hollow protests. The only place to hit these people is in the pocket, to put it bluntly, you need to starve the bastards out.

It was interesting that the game was against Cardiff, whose fans set the standard for hollow and meaningless protests after their clubs colours were change and the badge switched. Maybe the fans saw the allure of the Premier League and swallowed it but the club seems no better off now than before Tan came in except now it doesn’t even look like Cardiff anymore. There is something rewarding about seeing Swansea, a club with a smaller supporter base and part owned by the fans having continued success whilst Cardiff may struggle to make the playoffs this season.

Anyway, back to Blackpool. Where do I get off saying that the effort put into organising the protest, the banners and the walkout are hollow? Didn’t Blackpool get national coverage of their plight on live TV? Well here’s the problem.

A protest where you pay out money to those you are actively against is actually worse than doing nothing. It strikes me as the sort of middle class student protests that I despise with its’ pointless gesture politics. You gave the owner more cash but didn’t you stick it to the man with your poster? If you are against something, stop funding it with your own cash.

One thing irritates me more than anything at the moment which comes from those who are against genuine action. The line “it’s my club” / “support the team, not the owners” or “it’s your club, you need to support it”. I still struggle to understand why so many people can’t get it through their skull so I will try to explain this clearly:

If you don’t own it, it is not your club.

It’s a really simple point but so many fans seem to delude themselves into believing the PR about it being “your team, your community” in all the Club programs and press releases. Clubs only say this when they are in the sh*t and it’s another simple fact: When the club is doing badly then you are a fan and it’s your club. When they succeed, you are a customer and if you can’t afford the product or don’t like it you can get stuffed.

Now, I accept the argument about fans being the moral owners of the club and that the traditions and heritage should not be the property of one man to be traded like any commodity. However, the reality is that is exactly what happens under private ownership and the only way to prevent this is for the fans to actual take control of the clubs, so that they truly are their clubs.

We have seen that the reality is owners will do what they please in most cases. Examples include: Changing the badge, changing the name, changing the kit, calling your ground the Sports Direct Arena and generally using a proud football club as an advertising vehicle for your business. These are some of the offences to history and heritage which are the minor ones compared to the routine asset stripping that has happened at many clubs and the financial ruin other clubs were led into. Almost every club on my fan owned list is now fan owned because after the so called businessmen ran it into the ground, the fans have picked up the pieces.

The difference here is that the fans took genuine action, rather than meaningless protests. Fans at Northwich made the link between being the moral owners of their club and the need to protect their heritage by taking the radical step of breaking away from the cancer that runs Northwich Vics to create 1874 Northwich. Due to the fact the vast majority of Vics fans followed them to the reincarnation, 1874 Northwich can rightly claim to be the true owners of the heritage and tradition of Northwich football.

I am not suggesting in the case of Blackpool you breakaway but I do suggest you start with meaningful action as the fans of Coventry and at a more extreme level Hereford have taken. You are treated like a consumer to be bled dry, well why don’t you act like a consumer?

Coventry fans boycotted (or just couldn’t be arsed to travel all the way to Northampton). They were told it would make no difference; they should “get behind the team” and “support your club”. They didn’t buy into any of it and eventually forced SISU back to Coventry. The saga at Coventry continues now with Wasps buying the ground but this only shows the importance of truly owning your own club. How little of a toss did the owners of Wasps give about the fans when they moved it to Coventry?

Moving onto Hereford, who are now owned by “purchaser of distressed debts” Alpha Choice Finance, with the man who is trying to seize control of Edgar Street to asset strip the club (Tommy Agombar), widely assumed to still be involved despite failing the Ownership and Directors Test. The Hereford fans led by HUST (Hereford United Supporters Trust) have been boycotting the club on mass and a club that was averaging 1500 in the Conference , which itself is a collapse on their Football League attendances, is now struggling to get 300 in the Southern Prem.

Hereford are back in court on Monday with a winding up order and thanks to the boycott, the owners have no real way of showing how they are going to pay creditors. It could mean the zombie club dies and the fans are free to start again, ensuring the club is never run into the ground again. No speculators, no asset strippers and no leeches. Just fans.

So we can see that real protests make a real difference but the only protest is to hit the owners in the pocket. The days when working class people could strike for better conditions are dead but there is no reason why you can’t strike for better run football clubs. Let’s take a look at the numbers for a club like Blackpool.

Last season, Blackpool averaged 14,231 (Football League Average attendances). This season it is currently 10,955 (here). Now having looked at your ticket prices for 2014/15 it is pretty pricey, so we will say each person not going is costing Oyston £20 a game. Currently, he is losing £65,520 a game on what he was making last year. That over 23 games is a not small sum of £1,506,960 a season. This is what he is losing on just apathy and not having to face any organised boycott and of course we aren’t including drinks, merchandise etc which will all add up. The question is how much can you cost him? Well let’s have some fun with this.

If the Blackpool Supporters Trust calls people out on strike (for a boycott is a strike by a consumer) and just 10% of the current average joins the strike, the crowd drops to 9895 and you cost Oyston £1,994,330 a season. 25% and you are costing him £2,752,985. Let’s say the trust managed to get 50% out on strike, the crowd drops to 5497 and you cost him £4,017,410. Again we are not including the amount of merchandise lost and the sponsors who have no desire to be associated with a failing football club.

Would it cost the club in the short term? Of course. You would certainly see (not in person, you would be boycotting) Blackpool be relegated from the Championship and probably struggle in League 1, perhaps getting relegated into League 2. You however are not obliged to give your money to anyone and the person at fault is the owner of the business who is running it into the ground, not you. If you believe that the club would be better with Oyston out well you are going to have to prove it and if faced by this protest, Oyston suddenly stops taking money out and puts it back into the club, then you win anyway.

The problem you would have is who would replace him. Now anyone reading this doesn’t have to guess too much who I would suggest but there are other options where you take 25% of the club and then ask for “investors” in the club such as what has happened at Swansea.

Those are the choices though folks. If you say you want to see change at your football clubs, you are the only ones who are able to deliver it. The question for you to answer is: Strikes or Useless Slogans? It’s the difference between serious action and hollow protest but there is no third option.

I have less and less sympathy for fans who are against something but are not prepared to take action to see it through or wish for someone else to do it for them. So, fans of Blackpool: If you are prepared to make a real stand then join your supporters trust and mobilise it to call for a boycott. You will find a hell of a lot of respect and give courage to other fans to take action. However, if you will confine yourself only to hollow protests then it’s probably best that you sit down and shut up.

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On Twitter @eddyman00

 The photo used is under a creative commons license and can be seen here.

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Links

Oyston Comments

Football League Average Attendances 13/14

Championship Average Attendances 14/15

Blackpool Supporters Trust @BlackpoolST

Hereford United Supporters Trust @hufctrust

Mind the Gap: The FL’s ‘League 3’

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So we are over a third of the way through the Conference and it is hard not to notice a phenomenon that has been growing in recent years but now appears to be reaching breaking point. We are now reaching a point where traditional non-league teams aren’t going to get a look in anywhere near the top of the conference and we have in effect, a two tier league.

Let’s just take a look at some of the names that grace the Conference now. We have: Bristol Rovers and Torquay (relegated last season) Wrexham, Grimsby, Kidderminster, FC Halifax Town, Chester, Macclesfield and Lincoln. All former established Football League teams and once you add in Barnet (the closest non-league has to a yo- yo team) and Aldershot who were in the Football League just two seasons ago, then you can clearly see that from the top of the Conference all the way down to 16th, it is effectively League 3 of the Football League. Those cut adrift at the bottom: Dartford, Nuneaton, Alty, Southport etc., they are all traditional non-league teams.

Now I admit there are some outliers in this spectrum but not many. Braintree made a good start but are now falling back, Gateshead were themselves an ex- football league team (although a while ago) moneybags Forest Green Rovers and Eastleigh are in the mix but as I said they are heavily backed. At the other end Chester FC are not performing as well as their stature would suggest but as they only found out very late they would still be in the Conference after the demise of Hereford United, they can be forgiven for this season at least. Only Woking looks out of step with where they ‘should’ be and yet even here, it should be noted that 5 of their 9 wins have come against traditional non-league opposition.

If we look into our tea leaves we can make sure reasonable predictions on what the Conference will look like in a couple of years and how this will cement itself as a de facto Football League Division. Moneybags Barrow who will average over 1,500 plus in the Conference looks well placed to be promoted this season and Stockport County (another former Football League club who have fallen far below their stature) look like they have now stabilised and will be back in the Conference either this season or next.

Further down, FC United when they move to their shiny new stadium should finally be able to push on through to the top of the non-league within the next two to three season. Although they are not an ex-football league team, their support is drawn from a very successful top tier club and an average 2000 plus attendance they will get from being based in Manchester will put them in the top 10 supported clubs in non-league football.

At the same down in the Ryman Premier, another ex- Football League side in Maidstone United have begun their ascent back to the top. Sitting top of the Ryman Prem with moneybags Margate as their only threat, a promotion this season via the play-offs or as Champions looks likely. Averaging 1500 at Step 3, combined with their money spinning 3G pitch and Maidstone look very likely to join FC United in the Conference by 2017/18 at the latest.

One level down and we have Darlington FC, a former Football League team who like FC United will be returning to their roots by moving back to Darlo before the end of the season, which will see their average attendance rise to 1700 if not 2000 plus. They currently sit atop the Evo-Stik Div One North (Step 4) and are looking good bets to be in the playoffs come seasons end.

The club who look like walking the league this season are Salford, who had the ‘Class of 92’ came in and said they were in it for the long haul before selling 50% to Singapore billionaire Peter Lim. Still, they look set to be a very successful Man United B team with no soul or identity of their own.

There is a clear pattern here and you may have spotted it. All the teams set to rise to the top of the non-league pyramid are either former Football League teams  like Stockport, Darlo and Maidstone or money bags like Barrow, Salford and Margate (until the owners get bored).

Due to the extent of competition in the Conference now even the moneybag teams of Forest Green and Eastleigh are struggling to make a big impact. That’s not to say a smaller team with money can’t get up but that the days of a Crawley or Fleetwood buying the league and winning by a country mile is now over.

So what makes this a problem and what are the solutions? Well it is a problem for the effect it has on a clubs ambitions and the subsequent risk it takes to achieve them. The fact that only two teams can go up and there are so many big clubs able to make the step up is creating a bottle neck which can lead to teams stagnating, losing crowds as fans starts to believe future mobility and progress will never arrive.

The results of this can be diminishing crowds and not being able to attract younger supporters who make up the future lifeblood of football clubs. Clubs can deal with the bottleneck in two ways. They can throw all their money at getting up (a policy which is favoured by clubs that have just come down despite the evidence that you will stay in this league longer than one season) and when it doesn’t work, they are screwed.

Hereford are the latest example of this and when they didn’t go straight back up; the owner ran the club into the ground. A club trying to break through coming from the other end have also hit the wall for the nth time, that of Salisbury City. The one season wonder syndrome leaves many clubs financially on the brink.

However the alternative of financial prudence isn’t hugely alternative under the current system either. If we take two fan owned clubs (for whom the two-up two- down system is going to be the biggest obstacle) we can see the problem.

After their survival last season Chester FC now seem to be the marker in the Conference between League 3 and the traditional non-league teams. Now as we already mentioned this year they have been put at a disadvantage not knowing which division they would be in, so I expect them to be stronger next season but at what cost?

Well £18 for your average working adult is the cost and for a fan owned club it strikes me as a bit galling. However, the price of not having any big money benefactors and being sustainable whilst trying to compete means the way it will be funded is from the fans. The long term damage in terms of not getting fans through the gates and younger fans involved is going to be a big problem.

It is perhaps not surprising that the club propping up the Conference (although it is shocking how far off the pace they are) is fan owned AFC Telford. Now Telford are not a small team for non-league standards, averaging  over 1500 but in this ultra-competitive league, running the club within its means comes at a cost.

Managing Director of AFC Telford Lee Carter has already started to raise questions about whether the model will have to be changed (here) if Telford is to have success. But what model apart from the benefactor model is there and last time I checked no one wanted to buy Telford. Also, what happened to the last benefactor who came into Telford?

The reality is Lee Carter should save his breath because the fact is that Telford, under the current set up of the leagues, will not have a chance of getting into the Football League or even the playoffs. Good part time teams that start well quickly find their best players and managers pinched, look no further then Wrexham raiding Nuneaton of their Manager and striker Louis Moult for the proof.

This is a big problem for fan owned clubs that find their sensible model of living within their means harshly punished by a system which rewards the biggest teams and those that commit financial doping or as I call it, cheating. How many more fan owned clubs will have the conversation that Telford are having now, about whether to knock fan ownership on the head?

So there is the problem, what is the solution? Well I’ll offer two. Number one is to increase the amount of teams promoted to League 2 to four. This immediately keeps Conference clubs seasons alive longer and means they don’t have to go for broke to get that one guaranteed promotion spot. Would teams like Bristol Rovers, Wrexham and Grimsby really be cut adrift at the bottom of League 2 the same way Dover, Alfreton and AFC Telford are in the Conference?

It also will prevent relegation from the Football League being such a massive disaster for the clubs involved and may lead to more sensible budgeting and when they come down, instead of going for broke and going bust the year after, clubs may see the Conference as somewhere to rebuild. This story about Torquay financial problems, (here) makes me think that this season they have gone for the do or die approach.

The second solution is a bit more radical but perhaps is a better long term solution. It is to accept the reality that the Conference is League 3 and put it into the Football League by merging League 2 and The Conference into League 2 North and South, with the joint top tiers of non-league being the Conference North & South, with two up two down maintained.

This would at a stroke remove the oncoming farce where Conference games are regularly getting higher attendances than the Football League, it would stop the bottleneck at the top of non-league but crucially, it would still give a chance for traditional non-league teams like Telford to make it to the Football League.

Now both of these rely of the Football League sanctioning  the change which is why four up four down is perhaps less likely than regionalisation (Football League clubs being more happy in making sure only 2 clubs from each league can drop through the trap door into a weakened non-league rather than four into the nightmare that is the Conference).

Perhaps this is a long way off (4 up, 4 down that is) but I doubt it. How long do Accrington and Dag & Redbridge think they can keep their heads above water? Having spoken to people at AFC Wimbledon before, they are supportive of making it easier for mobility between the Conference & League 2.

So I think we are approaching a new settlement between the top of non-league and the Football League if only because sponsors and TV companies will rather show big conference games than League 2 fixtures. Ask yourself: Wrexham vs Chester or Accrington vs Dagenham? FC United vs Stockport or Morecambe vs Cheltenham? These are the questions sponsors will be asking themselves.

Change is coming. Hopefully for fan owned clubs like Chester, Darlo and FC United it will be sooner rather than later.

On Twitter @eddyman00

Coventry Fans Stung Again

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 Today, it looks set to be confirmed/ has been confirmed that London Wasps, although they removed London from their name last year (and now we can all see why) are to purchase the Ricoh Arena and plant their club franchise in a place where it has no history or right to be there.

Others have already extensively covered the Coventry saga up to now and the role of SISU in bringing the Coventry City FC to its knees, none of us should forget that what is happening has a lot to do with the way they have run the club into the ground. However, we are going to discuss where we are now and what this means for Coventry City FC, the Rugby Clubs affected and how it destroys Rugby as a professional sport.

Firstly, the Football League has a requirement that clubs are given priority over other clubs playing in another sport. Now if anyone thinks that Wasps are going to give another team who doesn’t even own the ground priority over their ground they must be insane. If SISU thought the rent they were charged before was steep, just wait until they see what Wasps do to them. SISU will find out what distressing really means and they only have to look at what Sale have done to Stockport for clues.

When this deals go through I expect SISU to dump the club pretty quickly, there is now no asset to strip and no possible reason to linger on anymore. In all of this you have to feel for the fans of Coventry, who starved the club back to Coventry to now see that work set to be undone just a month since their success.

However, I still do not understand the logic of the boycott to get the club back to Coventry but then fund the very people who, by the looks of today’s events, have led the club to ruin. 27,306 people funded SISU when they watched Coventry vs Gillingham on 5th September and I am struggling to see why. I will get onto what should happen to the Cllrs who vote this through if / when they do but no-one should forgot what SISU have done to Coventry and  The Sky Blues Trust may want to think of copying the Hereford United Trusts lead, of starving out morally bankrupt regimes.

Although this is primarily a football blog I admit to being a lover of most sports and also a supporter of community ownership for all sports teams. I think there is scope for more teams like Rochdale Hornets (fan owned rugby league team) and it could protect further chaos such as has been seen at Bradford Bulls and London Broncos in Rugby League.

The case of London Wasps shows it is not only possible for fan ownership in Rugby Union but vital. The Wasps Blog on twitter and any Wasp fan I have spoken with are all rightly disgusted about what is happening. They have found out what everyone should already know: When your club is in trouble the owners say you’re a fan, it’s your club. Then, when they don’t need you, you’re a customer and it’s not your club but a brand. Wasps fans have been completely betrayed and I am yet to see anything from the Rugby authorities speaking out against this. They should, because they are about to destroy the integrity of their own competitions.

The question will be: If Wasps can do it, why can’t others?   

Let us take Bristol Rugby club, who can easily compete in the Premiership with average attendances that match Newcastle Falcons or London Welsh, who beat them in the promotion play off final to go up to the Premiership last season. Why shouldn’t they just buy London Welsh, move them to Bristol and buy their place back in the league? It would be no different to Wasps moving to Coventry.

Or another example, that of Darlington Mowden Park RFU, who are currently 10th in the National League 1 after promotion last year. They are two leagues below the Premiership and are commendably trying to make use of the Darlington Arena which virtually destroyed Darlo Football Club. They have got New Zealand using the Arena as a training base for the world cup and average over a thousand people a game, why can’t they save themselves the trouble of competing on the field and just buy some smaller team higher up the leagues or one in financial trouble and move them to Darlo? Again, what would be the argument against Mowden Park doing this by those in Rugby if they sanction the Wasps move?

The same league that Mowden Park competes in also hosts Coventry Rugby Club. That’s right, Coventry already have a rugby club, not a franchise, a club. They could very well end up being swallowed up by the invasion of Wasps swarming over the area and this is seen as fair by those running Rugby.

The sport of rugby will no longer be a competitive sport but a franchise model, where those with the biggest troughs get the biggest share, I hope teams like Darlington Mowden Park treat a Coventry Wasps with the contempt and hostility they deserve.

Right, that’s how I see it from this angle but what should happen now? What should those disenfranchised Coventry fans and betrayed Wasps fans do about it? You are of course entitled to disagree but people need to start thinking about this now.

If I was a London Wasps fan the first thing I would do is forget about petitions. Bluntly, you don’t get a vote in Coventry and it feels hollow. Seeing as how Wasps are about to become the MK Dons of rugby I see no reason why you shouldn’t do an AFC Wimbledon. Now I know thanks to the excellent Wasps Blog on Twitter there is still the original Wasps FC who play so you could go and support them in mass and rise them up the leagues or perhaps a better idea: Start your own club.

The fan-base is certainly there to support a team but this time it would be owned by you, the fans. That way, what has happening now could never happen again and you can preserve the traditions and heritage of Wasps in London. Yes it would be hard but I am sure by now you would receive a great deal of support from across Rugby and across sport from fans who fear what could happen to their clubs in the future.

The alternative is to travel to Coventry or give up on the sport you love and if you do that, you are letting the bast*rds win.

If I was a Sky Blues Trust member (and if I wasn’t I would be joining asap) I would be taking seriously the possibility of SISU dumping the club very swiftly due to having no asset left to strip. When this happens, a plan needs to be in place to buy the club or, if you are dumped with massive rent by Wasps or debts by SISU, start all over again. I certainly wouldn’t be giving money to those who still own the Club and I would advise my fellow members to boycott those who have brought Coventry to its needs.

This lastly leads me on to those who vote this through, the Cllrs. Now when the inevitable happens and the Cllrs vote it through, I could start another rant about how this is what the Labour party is now: A bunch of soulless franchise worshipping leeches who have no respect for community, tradition and place.

Instead, I would make a list of every Cllr who votes the move through and I would destroy their careers. I would get people to run as candidates against every single one of them and make sure they never hold office again. I was on the Council’s side in their battle against SISU but I would bury them over this. They have been blinded by greed and they should be made to suffer for it with no mercy.

Overall, this sorry situation represents everything that is wrong about the way sport is going and run in this country. Loyal supporters betrayed, clubs seen as nothing more than franchises with contempt for their roots and heritage. The solutions or actions that I have suggested however could point towards something brighter.

Out of the darkness of this sorry episode two sets of fans could be united together by a common cause and by working together, they can end up with teams that only that they could be proud of but something much more vital in the modern age of sport: A club they can call their own.

On Twitter @eddyman00

 

Links

@thewaspsblog & http://www.thewaspsblog.com/

Coventry Telegraph – Council to Agree Sale.

http://www.skybluetrust.co.uk/ & @TheSkyBlueTrust

Another FA Cup preview: Second Qualifying Round

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So another weekend, another FA Cup day is upon us and we have eight fan owned clubs marching on with Darlington and AFC Rushden and Diamonds giving their respective higher league opposition (Blyth and fan owned Hendon) a run for their money, with Prescot Cables being swept aside by FC. United.

Having had a look at the draw we can see who is in best position to pick up another £4,500 in prize money and move within two games of making the 1st Round Proper and the chance to get Sheffield United or Portsmouth out of the hat. Numbers again refer to their Step in the non-league pyramid. Off we go…

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Curzon Ashton (3) vs Scarborough Athletic (4)

One league separates these sides with Curzon Ashton top of the Evo-Stik Prem having only lost one game in the league this season and top of the table. Still, Scarborough have made a great start to life in Div One North, sitting on fifteen points and right in the hunt for the playoffs at this early stage of the season.  If Scarborough can grab a draw there is every chance of them putting one either Curzon Ashton in the replay but I think Curzon will have too much for Scarborough today.

Prediction: Home win.

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FC United (3) vs Lancaster City (4)

Trevor Sinclair of ex England fame is part of the coaching set up at Lancaster and is hoping he might even make it onto the field against FC United who saw off Prescot in the last round. United have been struggling for consistency this season and lie five points behind Curzon with Buxton also above them, having an effective six point lead over FC United. However considering the teams they could have got out of the hat this is a great draw for FC United, being at ‘home’ against lower league opposition and FC United will be disappointed with anything less than a win today.

Prediction: Home win, Stockport away next round.

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Hendon (3) vs Leiston (3)

Both these clubs are in the Ryman Prem with very little to separate these sides in the league. So a tough draw for Hendon who had to work very hard to beat a determined and fellow fan owned football club AFC Rushden and Diamonds in the last round. With Harrow Borough (their landlords) playing away Hendon get a Saturday kick off which should boost the crowd and with Hendon soon to be moving to a 3G pitch in Hendon they could do with every penny to keep them going till this transition. It will be close and could easily go either way but I think Hendon will edge it.

Prediction: Home win

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Eastbourne Borough (2) v Enfield Town (3)

A horrible draw this for Enfield, bar the fact if it’s a nice day they can go to the beach. Eastbourne sit in the upper half of the Conference South with Enfield occupying their traditional position of just above the relegation zone. If Enfield can keep it tight early on they might be able to squeak out a draw but it looks like a good game to take a lot of fans down to the seaside, have a bit to drink and walk away saying “we gave them a good go”.

Prediction: Enfield to lose, Enfield Ultras to be in good voice throughout.

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 Winchester City (5) v Newport Isle of Wight (5)

Both these clubs will have been very pleased with this draw as both will feel they have a great chance of marching on in the FA Cup and picking up that cash. These Wessex Prem sides actually played last week with Winchester winning 3-1 but both sides will have sussed each other out and it should be close.

Prediction: Draw.

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Abingdon United (5) v Dorchester Town (3)

I predicted Dorch to lose last time out and very ashamed of myself I am too. They got arguably the best draw imaginable with Abingdon yet to win in the Hellenic Premier and lie in the relegation zones whereas Dorch lie three points above the relegation zones (although they may lose three points when Hereford go bust) in the Southern Prem.

This is a great chance  to go through and this time, instead of blowing all the money from previous FA Cup runs they may this time use it for more boring and sensible purposes, like paying off debts and investing in infrastructure.

Prediction: Dorch to lose, the ‘Same Old Few’ to drink themselves to oblivion win.

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Workington (3) v Bamber Bridge (4)

It took them a replay to come through and their reward is a tough but not unwinnable game away to Woekington. Bamber have made an excellent start to this season lying second place on 17points in a league Salford City are going to run away with. Meanwhile, Workington have the same points as FC United, losing three games this season.

If there is to be a shock in our favour this looks the most likely with Bamber taking great form into this match but a draw may be more realistic. I’m going to stick my neck out here though…

Prediction: Away win for Bamber.

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Witham Town (3) v Lewes (3)

An all Ryman league Prem clash this and this is one round further than I expected Lewes to make. Lewes are really struggling in the league and a moral sapping draw against bottom side VCD Athletic on Tuesday night probably hasn’t helped. Still, Witham aren’t exactly sitting the world alight so I can predict with some confidence Lewes pulling off the same trick as last round, an away draw and a home win in the replay.

Prediction: Draw.

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So that’s your lot and I expect to see half of these teams to find their way into the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. Although the first round proper is seen as the holy grail of with which non-league teams aspire to there are arguably as many teams in the Conference that you would rather pull out of the hat than Football League opposition. Put it this way: Would you rather draw Bristol Rovers away/ Wrexham at home or Accrington Stanley?

The fact  many sizeable clubs lie in wait in the 4th Qualifying round has put great cup ties one game closer for non-league sides. Here’s hoping that some of these sides can get the two wins required to give themselves a chance of a memorable (and financially helpful) FA Cup run.

@eddyman00

The totally pointless fan owned FA Cup Preview

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FA Cup Weekend – 1st Qualifying Round

So it’s the 1st Qualifying Round of the FA Cup over this weekend and teams kicking off are only four rounds away from the 1st Round proper but also only three rounds away from having a chance of getting Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup.

Of course, the FA Cup has been under way for a while now and plenty of fan owned teams such as Runcorn Linnets, 1874 Northwich and disappointingly Merthyr Town F.C. have already fallen by the way side.

The chance to gain some significant prize money is at stake but also in contrast to bigger teams, the FA Cup at this level is treated with high respect by the clubs and spectators alike, with most clubs pulling their highest gate of the season in the FA Cup. Anyway, we only give a toss about fan owned clubs on this site or militants trying to take over their clubs and although FC United have been getting some very nice coverage on the BBC, there are many other teams worthy of the attention.

So we are going to have a quick wiz through all fan owned teams in action this weekend in no particular order. Numbers refer to clubs step in non – league pyramid.

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Darlington FC (4) vs Blyth Spartans (3)

Darlington are in their first season back in the FA Cup after being barred for a couple of seasons because of being a “new” club and came through the Extra Prelim tie against West Auckland 3-1 in front of well over 900 people. For a game on a Wednesday night for a club ground-sharing miles from home this is impressive. Darlo have also been going well in the Evo- Stik Div One North which is no easy task considering the teams in the league this season.

Their reward is a ‘home’ game against fellow northerners Blyth Spartans, who have been struggling in the league above with only two wins from eight games. There could have been easier ties for Darlo to get but expect a decent crowd for the game on Sunday and a confident Darlo will have every chance.

Prediction: Cup shock, Darlo win.

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Ashington (5) vs Scarborough Athletic (4)

Scarborough Athletic are another club who are waiting to go home and will have to wait a little longer than Darlo to get back. In the meantime, they have made an impressive start to life in the same league as Darlo, just four points behind moneybags Salford. They face a side the step below and Scarborough should have the quality to grab a win and boost their coffers by £3,000.

Prediction: Scarborough win.

 

FC United Of Manchester (3) vs Prescot Cables (4)

Two fan owned clubs take part in this one after Prescot vanquished 1874 Northwich in the previous round in a reply despite Northwich having thrown away the first game in the final moments. FC United have new coverage on the BBC (here) but Prescot are a great little club whose fans have worked hard to keep it going without media attention or support.

On the pitch, FC United remain undefeated in the league but have drawn six out of their eight games and Prescot are in their familiar position a league below of being just above the drop zone. Since their glory win against Rochdale in the 1st Round of FA Cup in 2010, FC United have not made the 1st round and were dumped out of the Cup at this stage last year. Despite this, expect them to be too strong for Prescot when they play over the weekend.

Prediction: FC United win.

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Bamber Bridge (4) vs Squires Gate (5)

Bamber Bridge were play off finalists last season and if you have been following this website you will know why that’s likely to be a much harder ask this time around. So some good cup runs represent the best bet to have some glory this season. They face off against Squires Gate from the North West Counties Prem where they are not expected to challenge the likes of fan owned Runcorn Linnets. For Bamber there should be no surprises here.

Prediction: Home win

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Enfield Town (3) vs Felixstowe & Walton United (5)

Enfield could not have had a worse start to their season with Manager George Borg after comments referring to Wingate & Finchley (a football team of Jewish heritage and history) fans as being like Hitler. It is a great shame such a good club is going to get press because of the comments of one person but Borg was fired immediately after the game and the club has moved on.

After a bad start the club has recovered to be on 10 points from 10 games and their season could go either way in a very tough Ryman Prem. This FA Cup game represents a great chance to get some money in the bank and some positivity around the club.

Prediction: Enfield Town to win.

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Hendon (3) vs AFC Rushden & Diamonds (5)

Two fan owned clubs again and it shows how fan ownership is seeping its way into all levels of the game that as the years go on these all fan owned time will become a more regular occurrence. Both of these clubs are in exile but Hendon may be on the way back sooner than even Simon Lawrence (Hendon Chairman) thought.

Last season I know Hendon had to bank on a cup run and the FA Trophy game I saw them (just) win was the most tense game I went to all last season and perhaps the most important. I hope they haven’t had to do the same this season. The Diamonds had a memorable run last season beating Cambridge City of the Southern Prem before getting knocked out by Dover in the 3rd Qualifying Round, so they will have belief.

If I was down London I would be at this game and hoping for perhaps an early goal for the Diamonds to spice it up but from my armchair up north, Hendon are a strong team in a strong Ryman Prem so I can’t see past Hendon in this one.

Prediction: Hendon win.

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Bognor Regis Town (3) vs Lewes (3)

Why are Lewes so much more terrible on the pitch than they are off it? They have a decent fan base for their level which could see them survive a league above, they have largely sorted out the clubs finances and also they have raised enough money to build a 3G pitch ( here) they can rent out and generate income from. So why do they always underperform?

They are just above the relegation places as it stands but seven points from their last three games shows that maybe they have turned the corner but it’s an away game against opposition in the same league. I’m not confident and I can’t predict every fan owned team wins…

Prediction: Lewes dumped out of the FA Cup to focus on a mid-table finish (shudder).

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Horndean (5) vs Newport (Isle of Wight) (5)

Two teams at Step five and both in the Wessex Prem which as it stands is led by Newport and with only one promotion place all their focus has to be on that. Horndean are not far behind though so expect a close game here and I with the Port away from home, I am going to sit on the fence.

Prediction: Draw.

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Yate Town (4) vs Dorchester Town (3)

So poor Dorch fans, for the last season and a bit they have known only tough times and misery but they only had to look at the state the zombie club Hereford were in when they beat them to see what happens if you spend money you don’t have. Eventually, the music stops and now Hereford have been dragged through hell and are still in purgatory until it dies and the fans can reform.

Phil Simkin has left the club to be replaced by new manager Graham Kemp whose first game will be this FA Cup tie. Yate in the Southern South & West sit on fifteen points having lost one league game all season. This has the chance to be a shock but due to the general depressed nature of Dorch fans it won’t come as too much of a surprise if it does happen.

Prediction: Yate Town win, terrible start for new Manager and ‘The Same Old Few’ drink themselves to oblivion.

So that is your lot folks, 11 teams who are fan owned or in the case of Dorch/Darlo are rapidly moving towards community ownership will kick off today for a chance to win £3,000. The winners of these ties will be dreaming about getting all the way to the 1st round but in reality there are plenty of great ties on offer if they make it to the 4th Qualifying round with Bristol Rovers, Grimsby, Wrexham amongst others all waiting to be pulled out of the hat.

Who knows, if both win we could even have FC United vs Darlo… Now that would be a good game.

On Twitter @eddyman00

Hereford United- A ‘lease’ of life

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Well it appears I spoke to soon. Just days after the CVA failed and having insolvency practitioner Marc Landsman advising people not to put a single penny in the club (a stance the HUST have long stated), Hereford United have released a statement (here).  

The Chairman and Directors of Hereford United Football Club (1939) Limited are pleased to announce that after a weekend of discussions the business of Hereford United Football Club (1939) Limited will continue.

Less than a week ago they told us the club was as good as dead if the CVA failed, now the club will continue with the Hereford Times (here) reporting Director John Edwards’ comments that he is “100% certain we have a product to sell”. Just what ‘product’ he thinks they have to sell is not a question any Hereford United fan will like the answer to when they take a guess. The statement this morning gives all concerned with the future of football in Hereford more questions than answers.

 Many Hereford fans think this has been the plan all along and since Tommy Agombar couldn’t get hold of the leases off the council on the cheap, they have gone to another strategy. After the CVA has failed, those who are “investing” in the club may finally be forced to show their hand. If there was no chance of the club surviving, why has someone stepped forward at the last minute?

It suggests someone waiting in the wings, ready to swoop down and take hold of the leases from the council and to ensure that the lease did not revert back to the council they are making their move. I am betting a particular post on Bulls Banter (here) will be getting a lot of ‘bumps’ this morning.There is a chance of course that the owners are living in dreamland and this final desperate act to put on a brave face before the death on September 1st. If not, some basic questions about the new investors need to be answered.

Who are they? If they were not connected with Agombar and the current Directors in the first place, why would they “invest” and yet leave them in charge? A truly altruistic white knight would buy the club and have nothing to do with the previous regime.

Why have they decided to “invest” now? If they were always prepared to “invest”, why did the club release a statement just six days ago saying “if the CVA is not accepted, on 1 September 2014 the company will cease to be and a 90 year old club will disappear”?

Despite being invited to the club for Tuesdays game, Hereford United supporters will I am sure continue the boycott. It does leave the HUST in maybe a tricky situation for getting a phoenix club off the ground. If the shell of a club lingers on for another season, there are many fans who would have the stomach to start a phoenix possibly weakened but many more who will become apathetic to football in general, shrinking the fan-base of a new Hereford further.

Also, it would appear the club would need to ground-share somewhere away from Edgar Street for the time being and exist in direct competition to the club they used to support. Whilst morally right, it will be incredibly hard emotionally.

Still, I don’t see any other option and there are many precedents now. Enfield Town FC, the first modern fan owned club, did the same and broke whilst the shell of the old club still existed. 1874 Northwich did so last season and even Hinckley AFC can be considered to be the same situation as they ground-share away and fight over the ownership of ‘their’ ground back in Hinckley at the same time.

Pressure must continue to be applied to the council in the case of the old club lingering on, with assurances given a phoenix club would be first in line to inherit Edgar Street in the future and no deal would be made with the new ‘investors’. If these assurances won’t be given, the people of Hereford should elect people who will.

Whether there really is an ‘investor’ or this is yet another fairy-tale, this sad story continues to reach further depths of shame. This Bull has been brutally treated, a wounded animal whose back has been broken and now lies helpless in pain. It would be better for the people of Hereford if it’s suffering were to cease.

Twitter @eddyman00

Links

Unofficial Hereford Forum

Hereford Times – “100% product to sell”

Hereford United Club Announcement

Hereford United – Death is not the end

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So today represented the final nail in the coffin for Hereford United Football Club as it exists now. Only last week was Tommy Agombar promising the club “would still be all right”, this week went from him being barred by the FA to the CVA, which has been rejected. I believe that this is the end.

This means that Hereford United will cease to exist come September 1st and their last ever game looks like being against another club we covered on here, Dorchester Town. If nothing else, Dorchester fans will get to see what can happen to a club when it lives beyond its means and where one man makes all the decisions. I would be very grateful to the Dorchester Town Supporters Trust as a Dorchester fan right now.

There are many people who can be blamed for this sorry state of affairs. David Keyte managed to run the club in to the ground and a new group seemingly entered like vultures, to strip the carcass of this once proud Bull. Others should look in the mirror for their blind support for those who have destroyed a wonderful club.

The majority of fans throughout this process, led commendably by the HUST, can hold their heads high but the real work starts now. With the leases about to revert back to the council the time is now for all Hereford fans to turn their anger into action and get a phoenix club off the ground.

The local MP Jesse Norman (a member of the Trust) has been commendable throughout the process with Cllr Jim Kenyon also giving his backing to having a phoenix play at Edgar Street. Still, with an election next year it’s up to all Hereford fans to make sure Cllrs of Hereford know just how important it is they support a phoenix club playing at Edgar Street.

Just over a year ago, I saw the HUST was being set up and saw this video with Jon Hale (here) announcing the start of the trust. Since then, it has come to be rightly held as the true voice of the Hereford fans and Jon Hale himself is involved with the group who stated they were ready to start a phoenix up (here).

A year is a long time in football and this has been a very traumatic year for Hereford fans, that day at Aldershot must feel like a lifetime ago. I am not concerned with this day or the past of the club, there are others who know the history and heritage of the club a million times more than me, (Ronnie Radford and all that) my concern has always been on this website where we are now.

The club had to die. There was no other way but where Hereford go from here is within the power of Hereford fans to decide. If I was to paint a picture of a new Hereford, it would look like something simultaneously wonderful and possible.

It would be a fan owned Hereford FC playing at Edgar Street, with the backing of local sponsors and businesses proud to be involved with such a fine community club. The fans at whatever league Hereford start (let’s say the Midlands League – Step 5) will flock back to the club and sign up to the HUST. They will be there in thousands every week full of pride that they own their football club, they are the masters of their own destiny. The club will raise money to pay creditors who got burnt under the old ownership, not because they have to but because they believe it is the right thing to do.

Two years down the line when Hereford are in the Southern Prem again there will be no debt, only a club running a profit which is ploughed right back into the community and the club. I see no reason why Hereford cannot do a Chester.

All that needs to be said now is to the HUST members and all true Hereford fans: If you didn’t know already, you have lots of friends out there. Telford will help, Chester will help, Wrexham, FC United, AFC Wimbledon and all fan owned clubs will be proud to offer you support. This is of course not counting the many thousands of normal football fans who will be delighted to chip in and support you, not just with condolences but with their wallet when you start again.Whatever level the new club plays at next season, I will be there to see you for that first ever game and I can think clubs will be queuing up to be the one to play you.

 

Death is not the end, it is only the beginning.

 

On Twitter @eddyman00 and you can follow the great people at Hereford United Supporters Trust @hufctrust . If you are a Hereford fan and have not joined the trust, I urge you to do so now.

 

Links

Hereford United Supporters Trust

Jon Hale video

Jon Hale and co consortium

Ronnie Radford (you know the one)

A Fish out of water – On the Terraces with Fisher FC Monday 24th February

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Many moons ago I went to watch the mighty Fisher FC take on Tunbridge Wells in the Southern Counties East League. What follows is a brief account of the day plus an interview with Chairman of Fisher FC, Ben Westmancott. I only have three posts after this to catch up on and then I need to decide whether to put this site to bed or keep annoying people, like the former chair of the HUISA Keith Dodd (see here). Anyway, here we go …

 Having already introduced the Fish twice in a season review/ preview, we can make this brief. Fisher Athletic FC went bust in 2009 having only a year earlier been three games from the Conference Premier in 2007/08. They lost a Conference South play-off semi-final to Hampton and Richmond Borough in 2007/08 and a year later the club was dead with the winners of the Conference South that season having already featured on this blog… Lewes FC.

So having been ground-sharing for many years and living beyond their means, the club was finished. It was up to a brave and foolhardy group of people to try and resurrect a club that had no ground to play in, a small fan base to begin with and due to the fact they were based in London, they shouldn’t have had a cat in hells chance of getting a new home.

However the new club, despite being many leagues below the heights it had previously obtained, is surviving and this time in 2015, it could be ready to thrive again. Fisher FC currently ground-share at Dulwich Hamlet, whose fans have every right to be worried about their future despite strong crowds due to having been recently bought by Hadley Property Group.

Thankfully for Dulwich, the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust has done commendable work to preserve the clubs future and got their home of Champion Hill listed as an Asset of Community Value in March (here). More on this can be found with the Property Developers penning an open letter to the fans shown on the Brixton Buzz website (here) and another excellent piece from Twohundredpercent (here), hosted by Brixton Buzz,  asking just why would a property developer want to acquire a football club with prime real estate in London? Anyway, now that you are thoroughly depressed it’s onto the game.

Arriving at the ground I got in just as the game was about to kick off and worked my way up to the room where tea was being served. It’s fair to say there weren’t many there (72 in fact) but that is always going to be an issue when you have to play on a Monday and the weather might have put the game off again.

Fisher only played one game in February and two in January due to the atrocious weather which put a lot of non-league clubs budgets under strain, now the Conference has allowed 3G pitches from next season hopefully in the future this will be a problem that is gradually removed from the game. If only Fisher had a 3G pitch…

The first half had a frantic non-league pace about it, with plenty of chances and errors from both sides making for a very watchable game of football. A full match report can be found here but by halftime we had been treated with a great equaliser from Fisher, after conceding a weak free kick and after an injury to Fisher’s Billy Hensman caused a lengthy delay, Fisher went ahead in the 7th minute of stoppage time to make it 2-1.

Before the start of the second half, one of the great people at Fisher FC pulled a lovely bottle of ale out of their bag and handed it to me, helping to keep me warm from those winter chills. More importantly, I managed to grab Chairman of Fisher FC Ben Westmancott for a quick word about the clubs (very bright) future.

If you have read any of the season round ups or previews, you will know that Fisher FC are one season away from returning home to Bermondsey on a brand new stadium, complete with a 3G pitch. So I asked Ben… How they had managed to get the Club to this stage?

How? Blood, sweat, tears and a lot of hard work by a lot of people.

“It goes back to promoting just how important Fisher FC is to movers/shakers and to the local public. There’s a big strong focus on the youth teams, that’s the future of the club and we’ve rapidly increased the number of youth teams.”

The club currently has three under 18 teams and has got backing from people across politics. Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes is a patron of the club and Fisher FC has also worked with the Labour council to ensure a positive future, this has been in conjunction with attending community events such as the Bermondsey Street Festival. What is the clubs unique selling point to all these groups?

 A big part is promoting we are different from the old club, we are a fan owned club so no one can asset strip the club ever again. By running the club the right way we’ve got a lot of people supporting us.

This includes Fairview Homes, the developer who bought the land at which Fisher Athletic FC used to play before the ground-share at Dulwich (The Surrey Docks Stadium). Since speaking to Fisher FC, the developers have put up £500,000 for a new ground for Fisher to be located opposite their former ground, with the Fish having to raise £250,000 themselves.

After highlighting how Maidstone United had been one of the few teams not to have their fixture list or income streams battered due to their 3G pitch, Ben was keen to stress just how much of a difference it will make to the club.

“So we can use it for the first team but also for the youth teams and other community use, so we will get maximum use out of it (the 3G pitch). I think that was the problem with the old club, it focussed just on the first team and not on the youth. This is very much about providing a club that parents can send their kids to, playing a team sport in a safe environment.”

Ben informed me when manning stalls at Festivals such as the one mentioned earlier, he was constantly asked when the club was coming home and can people sign their kids up. With plenty of people pledging to support the club on their return home, Ben was confident of doubling their attendance to 200+ in the season of their return.

It was this time I asked what I will call the “London” question as having been to Enfield, Croydon and Harrow Borough (for Hendon FC) it is obvious all these areas, due to immigration, have undergone massive demographic change. Traditional supporters have left London with a new immigrant community coming in.

With this is mind I asked Ben if a similar change had occurred in Bermondsey and if so, how does the club go about attracting those fans that do not have a longstanding local connection to the area or cultural attachment to the club?

I think… Yeah people move around and communities change but people are still very proud of what’s on their doorstep and if there can be a positive football club they can become part of, then I’m sure they will.

“There’s lots of families are still living round here who can say “my grandfather was a docker” in that area and a lot will come to support the club. So I think we can build on the families that still live there and attract a new crowd who live in the area. I can’t see a difficulty with that.”

This was a lot more positive then Enfield and Ben took it as a compliment when I told him this but Enfield and Hendon at Harrow Borough were both run by people who made a huge effort to reach out. Their comments came from reality of the situation on the ground and I am sure so do Ben’s comments but Ben being a young bloke, can probably be forgiven for what feels like unrealistic levels of optimism. Still if any club can do it, it’s probably Fisher FC.

 It feels worth mentioning on the day the Football Supporters Federation hold a protest in London against pricing people out of football, Ben’s comments about the rising cost and how Fisher will hope to benefit.

“I think it’s important to add to that football is becoming prohibitively expensive if you are looking at the Premier League and the Championship. I think people are looking for more financially viable options for a Saturday afternoon. You can come to your local club and get excellent entertainment for a fraction of the price of a Premier League game and if your kids sign up for the club, even better.”

Again I share the analysis of Ben but not his conclusion. That however was for another time and I thanked Ben for his time, got back to my beer and watched a second half which included a goal, sending off and plenty of handbags due to the referee losing control of the game. Still, all in all it was a very rewarding trip and I left very hopeful for the future of Fisher FC

 It is all coming together for the Fish. Despite another slow start to the league, it’s really not the important thing this season and perhaps more vital is the FA Cup game this weekend for a bit of extra cash.

If all goes well, a club that was formed five years ago will have managed to secure a ground in London to build an income stream, a support base and all the rewards that go with it. For so long a fish out of water, Ben and everyone else involved are less than a year away from being able to walk out onto their own pitch with a massive sense of pride. When they do, I’ll be there to buy Ben a pint and give everyone at the club a deserved round of applause.  

On Twitter @eddyman00. You can follow @FisherFC and @dhstorg on Twitter too.

Links

Fisher FC Website

Bullsnews lose their press pass due to my post

Dulwich Hamlet Ground Asset of Community Value

Property Developers- Open letter to Dulwich Fans

Twohundrepercent – Dulwich Hamlet face an uncertain future

Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust

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