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

Tranmere Rovers- Claiming a stake

Tranmere Rovers Trust

Previously on this blog, I had looked at Tranmere Rovers and notably the Tranmere Rovers Supporters Trust in their bid to take control of their club. Since then, a lot has changed at the club with the most notable change being new owners who are not the Supporters Trust. Does that mean the Trust will wither away?

Before we answer that, let’s get up to speed. Last season on the pitch it all went wrong with the former Manager being sacked for breaking FA Betting Rules. In all fairness, Ronnie Moore could’ve (and should’ve) been sacked for the clubs awful collapse in form under him since the start of 2013 but he is gone now and so are Tranmere from League 1, being relegated at the end of last season.

Off the pitch, the (now former) owner Peter Johnson made no secret of his desire to sell the club and the trust from November last year announced a plan to buy the club (covered here). However, despite their best efforts the Trust fell short of their target and worryingly received few pledges from the Wirral area. The Trust only managed to raise £175,000 of the £500,000 they were looking for by January 1st and could not buy the club.

Fast forward to 29th May and Peter Johnson announced (his letter is here) he was converting £3,750,000 into ordinary shares allowing a buyer to not have to be saddled with the debt and also Peter Johnson wrote off another £1,250,000 of loans he made to the club.

It should be noted that although grateful fans will be for this write off, why he is allowed to ‘loan’ the club money and hold it like a gun to the head of the club if he so chooses, is a question that needs to be asked. If owners want to throw money at a football club for the enjoyment and say how much money they have pumped into a club fine but you certainly should not be able to leverage this against a football club. That is however a question for another time…

Fast forward again to now and Tranmere have a new owner (see Liverpool Echo coverage here) in the form of husband and wife team Mark and Nicola Palios. Mark played over 200 games for Tranmere over two spells as a player and has been Chief Executive of the FA, so lacks no experience in football, whilst Nicola is a commercial manager.

The new owners have made the usual platitudes about building “a self-sustainable club” but it is the announcement they are to meet the Trust which is where the questions start. My scepticism was raised when the Liverpool Echo quoted Mrs. Palios saying “We haven’t met with the supporters club…” It’s not a supporters club, it’s a trust.

Now I admit I may be being pedantic but far too many owners have a tendency to view Supporters Trusts as money raisers for the club, donating cash and promoting the club but not being ‘awkward’ (wanting a stake in the club, protecting the ground with an ACV, asking questions about finances, that sort of thing). When this changes, owners can get hostile very quickly.

The Trust has issued a statement (here) broadly welcoming the new owners but in a cautious way. The key challenge for the Trust now is how to stay relevant, as despite their success in getting the clubs ground listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) they hold only a minimum stake in the club.

It is a challenge for all Trusts, as many see their membership decline and the Trust shrivel when the club is not seen to be in any ongoing crisis. Still the current situation does represent a good opportunity for the Trust.

They are due to meet the new owners shortly and have £175,000 in the bank for their now defunct takeover bid. Although Trust members and those who pledged cash would have to vote on using the money, getting the owners to agree to sell the Trust a percentage of shares and perhaps announce a % of the club they will sell to the Trust over a period of years (say 25%), would be a winner for both the new owners and the Trust.

For the owners, it shows a real commitment to fan engagement and a desire to build that self- sustainable model they have talked about and for the Trust, it gives them the chance to stay relevant.

Either way, Tranmere Rovers and the Supporters Trust are at a crossroads and how they react to recent events will decide the success (or failure) of the club for many years to come.

On Twitter @eddyman00

 

Links

Ex Owner announcing debt write off – Letter

Liverpool Echo – New Owners of Tranmere Rovers

Trust Response to Club Takeover

Exeter City & Pompey – Fan Owned Season Preview

When the season kicked off on the 9th August, two of the four fan-owned Football League clubs took each other on for the first three points on offer and with these two clubs being the last to make up my fan owned season preview, they provide a great contrast of fan ownership. At one club it’s all going right and at another, it’s all going wrong…

We are going to start with the positives and sorry Exeter City Football Club, it isn’t going to be you…

 

Portsmouth Football Club – League 2

Last season: 13th

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Three managers in one season sounds just like the sort of thing an egomaniac Chairman would do, not a fan owned team looking for the long term. However, neither Guy Whittingham or Richie Barker could get enough wins to justify their tenure and with the club heading towards an unimaginable exit from the Football League, the trigger was pulled on Richie Barker.

 One of ex manager Barker’s rare wins was to come against Accrington Stanley in the game I was able to witness way back on the 25th February. The bloke I was to meet from the Portsmouth Supporters Trust had to bail on me at the last minute but after my attempt to watch Pompey play AFC Wimbledon earlier in the season failed (courtesy of South West Trains), I was glad to have a game on at all.

My biggest memory of going to watch Pompey is one of anger and boredom. I had forgotten how very boring watching football sat down is and I was unable to grab a ticket for the back rows so had to sit behind the goal. Still, I was next to some lads just younger than me but besides the goal they were happy to remain glued to their seats and although I enjoyed the abuse that James Beattie received from those stood a couple of feet above me, it just reminded me how much more fun I would’ve had joining in.

Still I thought, at least Pompey got the win and hopefully they could push on. It was to be the last game Richie Barker won in charge of Pompey and his team managed to score just one more goal in his last six games before being sacked on the 27th March.   

Enter Academy Manager Andy Awford who came in as caretaker for a second time and a brilliant run of form in the last seven games under Andy (winning five, drawing two and scoring 18 goals in the process), led to a top half finish and Andy to be appointed Manager for this coming season.

Off the pitch, the club has smashed it’s funding target to have their own training pitches (here) which is something the club couldn’t say even when they were in the Premiership and the club is also in running to become the country’s City of Football. So on and off the pitch, it is all coming together for Pompey.

This season, if Pompey can take the end of last season’s form into the next campaign they will be promoted with a bit to spare. It won’t be that easy with Luton, Bury, Shrewsbury and a resurgent Plymouth all in the mix plus the debts to former players still having to be paid off, I am hesitant to predict too much. However, a win last night against League 1 promotion candidates Peterborough in the League Cup is putting a marker down.

What I will say is the longer the fans are in charge, the stronger the club will get and I wouldn’t put it past them to be meeting Southampton in the same league, five seasons down the line.

Prediction: Play-Offs and more songs directed at James Beattie.

 

Exeter City Football Club – League 2

Last season: 16th

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I wish I could be so optimistic for Exeter City Football Club. When I went down to watch them play Rochdale on the 22nd February 2014, I also managed to grab a quick fifteen minutes with Trust member and Club Director Laurence Overend.

Laurence took me through the Trust taking over the club now more than ten years ago with the club in the Conference after previous directors committed fraud. No buyer came forward so it was left to the Trust to step in.

Laurence himself was happy to admit a large slice of good fortune with getting Man United away in the FA Cup 2004/05 and by earning a draw, getting another money spinner game against United. This enabled Exeter to clear all the old debts in one fell swoop.

The club would climb as high as League 1, with the Trust in charge for the Clubs highest ever finish but since then something has gone badly wrong. It was excellently covered in a post on twohundredpercent but as that site remains down, I will have to assume the Exeter fans reading this know full well what has happened.

Whilst I was there, I asked Laurence what he thought of Paul Tisdale’s comments about how the model may need to change if the club was to be successful (he has made similar comments this summer). Laurence had this to say:

It depends how you judge success. No doubt there is a huge chasm between League 1 and the Championship, that’s where the ‘gap’ is and under the current rules it’s very difficult for a trust run club to get into the Championship.

This almost sounds like he has doubts but Laurence is passionate about the trust model, as when I asked him whether he felt a responsibility to ‘fly the flag’ for fan owned clubs he was pretty honest.

I do feel a responsibility to fly the flag of fan ownership and I’d like to think we’re used as an example for other clubs. It’s difficult at times here as decision making is slow, not everyone agrees and that is of course different to the way it’s run by a wealthy individual.

Difficult is a word the fans of Exeter have been hearing more of with the Trust, from my perspective, appearing to have been marginalised by the Board of the club. Despite being the owners of the club, they make up a tiny proportion of the board and they appear to have gone from loaning the club money to donating it, which is not the point of a fan owned club.

Directors have resigned and there does appear to be a power struggle for the Trust to reassert their authority over a board who may have forgotten who pay their wages.

This season started with a draw against Pompey, who look like being the club to surpass Exeter as the example to follow at fan owned clubs and I do hope that Laurence and other members of the trust get their club back. On the pitch, survival does look like a massive ask but never underestimate the ability of one club to financially implode and maybe help out Exeter.

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Prediction: Survival?

 

On Twitter @eddyman00

 

Links

Pompey Tifosy Campaign

Exeter City Supporters Trust

Wimbledon & Wycombe: Fan Owned Season Preview

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Despite having visited both clubs last season to witness good games, it came around the time of a lot of essays and sadly both got put to the backburner. So I will be putting a brief review of the game I went to plus the season preview for both clubs, who have both been involved with final day escapes from the trap door over the last two seasons. First up is AFC Wimbledon.

AFC Wimbledon – League 2

Last season: 20th

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On a cold night in London I found myself after a nightmare journey from Guildford getting into Kingsmeadow for the first time since I saw them make their emotional final day escape on that glorious day in April 2013, with Jack Midson firing home the penalty ensuring the Wombles Football League status.

When I went to watch them, the Wombles were in danger of being dragged into a relegation fight with only four points out of a possible 21 since the start of February and they were up against a fierce Chesterfield side (who went on that season to win promotion). A sombre atmosphere dominated the ground around Kingsmeadow and as halftime came it was still 0-0. I switched where I was standing to go behind the goal AFC Wimbledon were attacking and five minutes later I was flung forward as  George Francomb fired the Dons into the lead. Just another five minutes past until Chesterfield went level to silence us in the Tempest End but a resilient Dons held on for a 1-1 draw.

Come seasons end, Wimbledon were safe from relegation and if they hadn’t of (rather unprofessionally) lost three points for fielding an ineligible player, the club would’ve finished 16th for a lower mid-table finish. Instead it was to be 20th with the four teams below them being the only teams to score less goals than the Dons, bar 6th placed Burton Albion who (unlike the Dons) had a rock solid defence all season.

This season, Neil Ardley has made a big effort to improve a front line whose top scorer in the League last season (Michael Smith) could only manage nine goals. Both Jack Midson and Luke Moore have left the club for moneybags Eastleigh and Margate respectively, Margate now being managed by former AFC Wimbledon gaffer Terry Brown. However Matt Tubbs has come in on loan from Bournemouth to be joined by the ‘Beast’ Akinfenwa, joining on a free from League 1 Gillingham.

In their first game against a Shrewsbury Town side full of big money players, Wimbledon got a 2-2 draw and despite having a tough start to the season with Luton, Southend and Stevenage all to play in the opening month, I predict a mid-table finish for the Dons. They’ll have to look to the Cups for excitement this season with League 2 being a much tougher ask this time around, all they have to do now is get that awkward League Cup game out of the way…

Prediction: Mid-table, looking up rather than down by the end of the season.

Wycombe Wanderers – League 2

Last season: 22nd

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They were down, they were dead and buried and it was all over after losing to Bristol Rovers on the penultimate day of the season. Fortunately, no one had told Wycombe or Bristol Rovers and as Wycombe brushed aside an already relegated Torquay, Bristol Rovers lost to Mansfield being dumped out of the Football League in the process, to the joy of Wycombe fans everywhere.

This was a far cry from where I thought they would be on the final day of the season when I went to watch them play Hartlepool on the 8th March and got a chance to speak to Colin Treacher, longstanding Wycombe fan and member of the Wycombe Wanderers Supporters Trust board.

It was left to Colin to explain to me how the club had received an offer to buy the club from an outside investor and the Trust would decide over the following week, so it looked like we’d be losing another fan owned club who had found paying off the former owners debts combined with staying in the Football League too much to ask.

However this was not to happen with the initial ‘investor’ pulling out meaning Wycombe Wanderers have embarked on an ambitious Community Share Scheme, outlined here which follows in the footsteps of FC United and their community share scheme. The club need to raise £2 million in five years and having improved the financial situation at the club significantly over the last two years I wouldn’t put it past them in being successful again. If they had gone down, it could’ve been curtains…

This season, Football League status must be ensured to give the share scheme a chance of being successful and a good cup run would be a godsend. Gareth Ainsworth has his work cut out but I think they will be safe come the end of the season.

Prediction: Survival

On Twitter @eddyman00

Links

Wycombe Share Issue Scheme

AFC Wimbledon – New Stadium Update

Tommy Agombar –A football man.

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Hereford United

 

This is again another quick one on Hereford United or more specifically on the owner, ‘Football Man’ Tommy Agombar. If you want a real filling in about this bloke you need to head to bullsnews but this piece will focus on his latest piss poor attempt at an interview.

An interview with the dear leader appeared today on BBC Sport (here) and take a moment to soak it up in all its glory before returning… Done? Good. This will just be some small notes about just how much vacuous nonsense can be crammed into just over three minutes.

First off, Tommy begins by stating “No matter how much money you put into the club, it’s not enough is it?” Trying to paint himself as this bloke who has come in and put in loads of money but those ungrateful fans just are too selfish to understand. Anyone with a brain-cell knows this is rubbish.

The fans offered to buy the club and pay off the debts that they were told existed under the previous owner David Keyte. The fans anger is at the repeated broken promises of the now owner who says “I did come into buy a Conference club but it didn’t work out that way”. It didn’t work out because by refusing to pay the Football Conference the bond required, he ended up getting the club booted out.

Plus the fans protest is about his desire to take control of the leases of Edgar Street from the council, despite claiming not to know “nuffin about no leases”. Only someone who was as deluded as Agombar could believe it’s about him putting money into the club. As a host of people also remain unpaid, that’s another mark against him.

Twenty five seconds in we get the “I had big investors with the club” but these investors “because of the publicity didn’t want to be attached to the club.” We don’t know the names of these ‘big investors’ and we probably never will, probably because they never existed. If with give Agombar the benefit of the doubt then you would have to wonder what made ‘big investors’ associated with this former criminal in the first place.

This ‘publicity’ comment is the most obvious reference to the fans who led by HUST refused to be treated like idiots and give this man any of their cash. It is your fault Hereford fans because big investors were going to come into the club until you kicked up a fuss, don’t you see that?

About ten seconds later he contradicts himself by saying “big business people in London want to invest and they will do” (although he never names these people, funny that). These ‘big business people’ can’t be the same as the ‘big investors’ because these ‘big business people’ are happy to invest despite the protest, unless of course Agombar is talking guff or these are different imaginary friends he has constructed for himself.

Fifty seconds in was what, even in these terrified times of getting taken to court, is a total lie. “When David Keyte had to sell the club, there was no takers.” David Keyte did not have to sell the club, he could’ve paid the debts that he created, paid the players the money he owed but chose to walk away. The HUST also made a bid and despite this, Keyte chose to sell to Agombar.

He may be right about one thing, without Agombar the club wouldn’t have been playing today. The HUST would have found out about the million pounds plus debt and walked away. However, you also have to ask what would happen if Agombar hadn’t come in.

HUFC would have gone bust and ceased to exist and almost immediately plans would be set in motion for a new club to be formed which would be owned by the fans. Although they may not have played at Edgar Street straight away, I am sure a season ground sharing whilst pressure is put on councillors and the MP Jesse Norman (who has been commendable and is himself a HUST member) to get the Bulls back in Edgar Street. The club would be kicking off at Step 5/6 with the full backing of the community on their way back.

Instead, a shell of a club lingers on owned by a man whose eyes lit up in the interview when asked about the developments on either side of the ground. He is also going to get fans (for fans, see scabs) on the board but not anyone from the HUST I would guess.

1min 23secs in and we get “Listen, small clubs cannot survive without some kind of input, whether it development, big sponsors or big investment, simple.” Now Hereford United are not a small club unless they are run into the ground as they have been. In 2012/13 the club averaged over 1700 fans, higher than some Football League clubs. In their last season in the Football League, they got an average attendance of 2553, so he clearly has no idea what he is talking about.

Also pumping money into a club without a return is not an investment and I am sick of people saying that throwing money into a black hole is an investment. Back though we go to the development and if any of you want to see what type of development these investors may have in mind look no further than what happened at Wrexham.

Here is a perfect example. Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts moved Wrexham’s development land out of the club and all the rent money year on year would go to them, not the club and as Lindsay Jones (Wrexham fan) in the video points out, the club gained no long term benefit and were worse off from having an asset stripped from the club.

Anyway, back to Mr. Agombar. His promise that “what is earned here will go back into the club” is great, now all he has to do is sign a binding legal agreement to that effect… I won’t be holding my breath. Still he just wanted to buy a football club, getting one which happened to have prime development potential and he’s even generous enough to say despite finding a debt much higher, “I’m not knocking no-one.” He even bought the club when his advisors told him to walk away, what a hero.

Only 2mins 20 secs in and we get the comment “It’s a massive club Hereford.” So who the bloody hell was he talking about when he was going on about small clubs not being able to survive? 2mins 30secs and he has a veiled pop at those Hereford fans who wanted to let the club die by saying “people wanted to liquidate the club and pay no-one, that’s not me”. This convicted criminal who went down for several years has principles you see. There was someone who walked away from not paying people and it wasn’t Hereford fans, who when they buy stuff from the club aren’t ‘loaning’ the club money, it was David Keyte.

Speaking about the people of Hereford “I’m not really bothered about whether they like me or not. Being honest, I don’t care” which is better than the Hull City owner saying fans can die whenever they please but not much.

So there you have it, three minutes of narcissistic self-promotion where he manages to contradict himself even in one of the most soft ball interviews I have heard. The worst one in fact since Andy Gray and Richard Keys wished David Keyte all the best on Talksport, as he tried to “save” Hereford.

He did say one thing I agree with, Hereford will come back stronger and rise from where they are now but and here is something we can all be thankful for… It certainly won’t be with him in charge.

 

On Twitter @eddyman00

Links

Agombar Interview

bullsnews

http://www.hufctrust.co.uk/

Wrexham Video

Hereford United – A ghost club

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Hereford United

 

This is a short one folks, of something that has only come to me today when looking at the fixtures of the Southern Prem. While many thousands of people flood to their clubs grounds today and begin again the season long emotions of short optimism crushed by depressing reality, for the fans of Hereford there is nothing but despair. I have no intention to go into too much depth as you can find that on bullsnews, who have covered this charade in all the painful detail but look ahead (see links).

Driven into the ground by David Keyte, who despite owning racehorses and swanning off on Caribbean holidays failed to pay players for large parts of last season, leading to most players winning at Aldershot on the final day on 2013/14 having not been paid for it.

Keyte then had a chance to salvage his reputation by selling to the Supporters Trust (HUST) for £1 but instead sold to Tommy Agombar, a convicted criminal who despite promising to pay staff and players did not do so in the time frame he promised and also did not pay a bond to the Conference, meaning that final day win at the end of last season was all for nothing.

What though could be the attraction of buying a club seeming so incompetently run and unable to produce a great profit? Perhaps, as Tommy said himself “I’m a football man, I love my football” or perhaps it has something to do with acquiring the leases to ‘develop’ Edgar Street for large amounts of money and then bugger off.

Agombar claimed to know “nothing about no leases” but the local council confirmed that one of the first things ’football man’ Tommy asked about was transferring the leases, which are owned by the council, into his private company. Naturally, Hereford fans saw this for what it was: an attempt to asset strip the club in the same way Alex Hamilton tried to do at Wrexham.

The club is now a total joke, an embarrassment to football and a stain now on the Southern Prem, who knowing players had not been paid by Agombar were still happy to let them in. Their hope surely must have been that Hereford would have  great attendances and away followings to raise the profile of the league.

Hereford fans are however not content to be used and laughed at in this way. The HUST (Hereford United Supporters Trust) have called for a full boycott and this has been enforced at all pre-season games. More fans have attended the Hereford United Supporters team game vs Ledbury Town (over 650) than have seen the shell club play. Other games are lined up and the game between Worcester City Supporters Trust and Hereford Supporters Team was also well attended.

A hat must be tipped to the HUST, who forming only last year have come to be seen as the true voice of the Hereford fan-base and whose membership has grown massively since being set up. Today is the real test of the boycott though but I fully expect when ‘Hereford’ take to the field at Edgar Street, which only got a safety certificate at the 11th hour (further proof of the awful ownership), they will be greeted only by silence.

A ghost club that stalks football, with huge debts that according to Agombar were hidden by David Keyte well over a million pounds, no fan-base and having been refused countless pre-season games are a pariah club.

It is heartening to see the change in attitude of fans that HUST embody. No longer are fans just prepared to be walked over, we have no obligation to fund the parasites leeching off the game. Without income, Hereford as it exists now won’t survive for long and although when Hereford United is finally pronounced dead it will be a sad sight, a brighter future will emerge.

All that needs to be said now is to wish all the best to the HUST in starving the owners out. If you didn’t know already, you have friends across the country and this time next season I look forward to seeing a fan owned Hereford, a true Hereford team, walk out not to the deafening silence that will be heard throughout the season but to a roar.

 

On Twitter @eddyman00

Links

Hereford United – Fans Team

Hereford United Supporters Trust

http://bullsnews.blogspot.co.uk/

Tommy Agombar ‘meets’ the fans.

Getting the blues- The Blue Labour 2014 Event

blue_labour

 

I had a tough decision to make around this time last month. On the 5th July, I could either be watching Hinckley AFC play their first ever game as a fan owned club or I could be successfully annoying Maurice Glasman and his small band of Blue Labour advocates in Nottingham. As it was, I chose the second option and here it is in all its glory. Don’t worry, after I write up this and my trip to Belfast for the 12th July, we will be back to football (all the time, never-ending football) but I grow tired of reading pieces by very well off middle class journalists, about how Labour need to be in favour of things that very well off middle class people like and I’ve had enough of it.

The short version is: Maurice will you please let us go and kill off the Labour Party before UKIP do it first?

Before we begin, a (very) brief outline of Blue Labour and Maurice is probably required. I met Maurice at Labour Conference last year as a steward. I’d already heard about the bloke and was hoping to bump into him after he had got hounded by saying he wasn’t in favour of mass immigration by, in his own words “saying things that I’d said and were really not greeted as controversial by people that I call ‘normal’.”

Anyway, my respect for him was confirmed when I was earning extra money by doing the door for the main grovelling session to loosen up all people Labour was desperate to get cash from. All those MP’s who railed against big business were still happy to beg for money but Maurice was in the next room, talking to a group about (you guessed it) fan owned football clubs.

Blue Labour is basically the old Labour tradition of working class organisation. It is in favour of mutual welfare, housing co-operatives and trusts, community ownership of most assets and wants workers on the boards of companies. It also embraces the working class conservative beliefs which values the place you’re from and relationships, it’s anti EU and against mass immigration. Most importantly, it is about family. For a more in depth view, this is Maurice speaking about Blue Labour here. All you really need to know though is that Maurice is a top bloke.

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I won’t be giving a running commentary but an overview of the event and seminars I went to. The first event I sadly missed as I was on the train running late, so alas I missed a talk from someone from Greenpeace (not exactly what I expected to be on the agenda at a Blue Labour event).

Still on arrival at the break, it was notable how many ‘big figures’ who are found in the political events in London had made the trip. David Goodhart who is Chair of Demos and he wrote a thoroughly sensible book called “The British Dream”. It charts his conversion where he moves away from being in favour of mass immigration, to a view shared by the majority of the country. This broke from the consensus which dominates the kind of bubble David was a part of and for his sins, he was banned from the Hay Festival in 2013, showing just how puritanical the Guardian mob is when it comes across views it doesn’t like.

Also making an appearance was Phillip Blond, one time David Cameron adviser whose book ‘Red Tory’ can be seen as the sister to Blue Labour and although he took slight offense at my describing of him as a refugee from the Tory Party, I think it’s a fair one. Maurice was of course there himself along with Ian Geary, who organised the excellent event. Still, as was noted by David Goodhart it was a rather small cabal of people and perhaps some of the reasons for that we’ll come back to later.

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My first event was titled “Challenging Labour Orthodoxy”, whose main highlights came from two people. Starting with the David Goodhart on the battle between those who run the party: Liberals vs the working class who vote (or used to vote) for it: Communitarians. Simply put, Communitarians put the language of duty before rights and are not Universalists, whereas the Liberals do not see any distinction between those who have lived in an area for generations and newly arrived. Our problem on the Blue Labour communitarian side is the expansion of higher education, which is dominated by the kind of ultra-liberal dross which only gets published because of its state funding.

Take an example from my own University; I’ve had the pleasure of being in a class where a lecturer advised the whole class to watch Al Jazeera TV for good, balanced coverage. Al Jazeera TV is owned by the Qatari government, which is a non-democratic country where people have died as migrant workers for the World Cup, in a nation run by strict Islamic principles who take some less than enlightened views on gay people for example. That folks is the kind of nonsense that passes for left wing views by lecturers these days.

Plus the expansion of University places has only increased the gap of middle class pupils going compared to working class pupils, those middle class kids then do courses which they can never pay off, so are subsidised by those working class people who don’t go to University.  To cap it all off, working class people then find themselves never being able to afford a house or even rent thanks to buy to let landlords hovering up houses until they are finally hounded out of their own towns. That is ‘progressive’ politics for you.

As David Goodhart summed up on this, we clearly now have an over-supply of graduates, with vocational education still an afterthought and the poor quality of courses reflecting those in powers contempt of those who have technical or vocational skills. They are seen as lesser beings compared for example to those who do Sociology at University of Surrey, despite the fact that Sociology graduates are most likely to be employed in a bar six months after graduating, which doesn’t need 3 years and £30,000 training to do.

Also David commented on how this has enforced labour segregation between those who can move higher and progress due to a piece of paper and those who do not.  David stated that we all had the idea that low skilled jobs would cease to exist but they are still with us, with the economy still retaining around 7 or 8 million low skilled jobs. The question David posed was how do we value them? A real life example of this can be seen with the spread of unpaid internships with the most recent example being a “Cider and Apple Intern” at the National Trust (here). Tasks involve pressing apples and selling products, so it is just like me working in a pub or bookies.

Previously what would have been a paid job for your normal bloke who didn’t go to University is now completely (and illegally) seen as not worth paying. The job isn’t valued in itself, it is now seen as a “stepping stone” to a better middle class job and that is the justification used not to pay people. This is only because of University expansion that people have been able to get away with this.

 The second speaker who made the greatest impression was Jenny Sinclair, who is a member of the organisation ‘Together for the Common Good’. Jenny is not a Labour member (thank heavens for that) and her contribution was all the more powerful because of this. Two crucial points were made by Jenny, with the first being the need to step away from the alienating language which is so used in political circles now.

It is easy see how the hijacking of politics by academia into something to be taught, deconstructed and over analysed has meant normal language has been removed. Politics has closed the door to people who may not know what the terms ‘discourse’ or ‘transcending existing political narratives’ mean (very little) but do have a lot more to offer in making real change happen then most of the people who spew out dissertations.

Secondly and this is a great point, stay away from legislation. This is something that has infected left wing politics but again comes back to the type of people who control it. The endless desire to pass legislation instead of ground up change does two main things. It excludes those who are not part of the magic circle and says: You need not apply as your opinions and views are, for all the talk of consultation whether you are in a party or not, totally meaningless. The result of this is to mean there is no real ‘movement’ to speak of, people do not learn how to come together and organise themselves but outsource it to others. So instead of previous generations of working classes who built train unions, libraries and mutual societies we are left with a passive poor.

What is the point of a minimum wage when people do not organise to protect themselves and enforce it? Legislation will not save them, in the words of The Hold Steady, we are our only saviours. 1874 Northwich or AFC Wimbledon were not legislated into existence, they did it their bloody selves. Just imagine how much better Shelter (a housing charity) would be if it spent the majority of the money they get from the government to buy houses or help vulnerable renters set up housing co-operatives, instead of asking people to sign a petition to pass a law? The kingdom of heaven is not just one new law away.

A discussion followed and after that we broke for a quick break before the second seminar on “Education Family and Community”. The talk of note (here) was by Michael Merrick but I’m just going to highlight the way he pulled apart what has become the cult of social mobility.

Now although I agree with Peter Saunders (Sociologist) who has identified that there is social mobility from those of a working class background to a middle class one is quite common, that isn’t what most people think social mobility means. When I hear social mobility, I think from the bottom to the top, which is virtually non-existent. The amount of MP’s, actors, musicians and leading business figures who are from well off backgrounds now is pretty depressing.

Plus, since living standards and access to housing have been going down for most people I don’t think people scrambling into the lower middle class is mobility. Example, twenty- fifteen years ago a cleaner and a binman could have bought a decent two bed house together in a nice place like Shrewsbury. Now, there is no chance of that happening and even on a lower middle class salary it would be difficult. So a working class lad moving into a middle class job, just to get the same as their parents is not ‘social mobility’ and if it is, then social mobility is a meaningless term.

With that said, Michael Merrick attacked social mobility on a much more moral and human level. His words were “For social mobility effectively means, in contemporary parlance, the ability to move away from those you know and love. With the heavy implication that failure to do so somehow represents a mournful loss of potential and indeed choosing to do so is itself a signifier of success.”

Michael hits the nail on the head. The cult of social mobility makes a virtue of abandoning where you are from. How on earth are movements built if those with skills or talents run off to London at the first chance, what is morally superior about that compared to someone who takes a lower paying job to care for their elderly parents? Or as Michael summed it up,  “we cannot scratch our heads and wonder at atomisation whilst we have spent a generation and more telling anyone with talent that the reason we educate ourselves is to walk away from who we are, or at the very least from where we are from.”

The most poisonous aspect of this is it’s meant people who have got where they are by the Mummy and Daddy’s pay packets now seem to think they got their through their own hard work. Their lack of humility is now nauseating and it makes you long for the days of Harold Macmillan, who knowing his immense privilege didn’t demand we all become just like him.

Plus no-one is really in favour of social mobility, which is why it is an impossible goal. Yes you may say you think those who work hardest deserve the most but if it’s your own children on the line, do you stand by that? Because if the answer is no, you aren’t in favour of social mobility. That for me is one of the big differences between Blue Labour and the rest: it’s a genuine commitment to minimum standards. We aren’t trying to give everyone the chance to become all millionaires and say to those who don’t make it “get stuffed”; instead we’re trying to make sure the couple working at Tesco can afford the two bed house.

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After another quick break it was on to the final session where Maurice Glasman (who had been speaking in other talks and I had been trying to not stalk the bloke) squared off against Phillip Blond, sort of.

Phillip Blond did say (fairly) that if there was no ‘Red Tory’ we would probably not have a Blue Labour and that Blue Labour needs to be about what we’ve lost. That sense of the post-office going, the village pub disappearing and the kids of the folks who lived here being forced to leave. Crucially, it can’t be enough to lament their passing but has to be about resurrecting them and community ownership being a vehicle to do that.

The discussion moved on to who are going to be the leaders of the movement and this is where Maurice is totally right and Phillip was wrong. Essentially, it boiled down to whether those leaders would be academics and philosophers or your supermarket worker.

Here is why Phillip for me is wrong. The whole core of Blue Labour for me is it is going back to a tradition of working class self-determination. It’s about housing co-ops, workers getting together to buy a stake in the businesses they work for and of course, community owned clubs. The problem with the Labour party is it’s dominated by the very sorts of people, well-educated graduates, who have driven it to ruin. As Maurice has said himself “I’m tired of people saying we need to be a voice for the voiceless, the poor have voices of their own.” Besides we have enough academics involved in it already, what we need is for Blue Labour to be run by and in the interests of, the bloke on the street.

Which is why despite meeting some great people, I still left saying to Maurice “I’m even more depressed after today.” The reason for this is the fact that within the event, despite my (admittedly belligerent) calls for the need for Blue Labour to run for election at a local level, there was no takers and despite my continuing efforts to get Maurice to allow some of us to run for local elections as Blue Labour candidates, he still resists.

  David Goodhart was right when he said the Blue Labour ‘cabal’ is still too small. Well it’s going to stay small because as David pointed out earlier, the Labour Party is dominated and run by the very type of well off liberal middle class professionals Blue Labour is opposed to. The membership of the Labour Party is also dominated by these people meaning any change from within is impossible.

Plus the Labour Party is just as toxic to a lot of walking class people as the Tories are, with their      pro-immigration stance combined with the ivory tower ignorance of the damage it’s done in communities and the way it’s collapsed living standards.  More than ever, the type of people Labour elect show it to be nothing more than a party of privileged and political royalty.

I won’t go through the list because it’s too nauseating and easy for you to find but here are some. Will Straw, son of Jack is being lined up as an MP, as is Emily Benn, granddaughter to Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, 2nd Viscount Stansgate and niece of Hilary Benn. Neil Kinnocks son is trying to get elected on top of all the insiders and private school clique we have already: Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and of course our dear leader Edward Miliband, who may not have gone to a private school but I don’t remember Tony Benn coming around onto my council estate and helping me with homework.

And before anyone says they were the best candidates: The fact that you think the best candidates, for the Labour Party, are the well-off and not cleaners or people working in call centres, tells me all I need to know about you.

Blue Labour has so much potential and all the stuff that Blue Labour aspires to achieve can be accomplished at local level. Fan ownership of your local county cricket side and rugby league teams, regional banks where capital can only be invested into the area, housing co-operatives and saving community assets like pubs with mutual ownership. All of that can be done by getting councillors and letting others prance about at Westminster.

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So Maurice, if you are nudged along to this then put down your fag for a second and just do it, let our people go.  That way you wouldn’t have to write a great article in the FT on how crap Labour is, then back track on it later. We have something special here, where we could finally have working class people speaking and standing up for themselves. We can get support across the board from people who would never vote Labour. Look even Peter Hitchens did a nice piece about us awhile back (here).

  You were right when you said the only way we can learn is through catastrophic defeats, which is why I hope UKIP annihilate the Labour party in their northern fiefdoms. Your faith that the Labour Party can be save is misguided.

If you don’t let us break sometime in the future, then we will remain a small cabal talking amongst ourselves whilst others get on with the business of changing their communities for the better. If that’s all we will ever be, then I’d rather go watch the football.

Links

Blue Labour on Twitter

Demos

Maurice Glasman – CSJ in Brighton 2013

Michael Merrick – Blue Labour 2014 Talk

Together For The Common Good Foundation

The Totally Pointless Fan Owned Season Preview

hinckley

Ok folks, with the season kicking off this week and with some of these clubs having already kicked their first ball in anger this season, it’s time for me to once again go deep into the depths of my sanity and write several thousand words on the chances of fan owned football clubs this season. The four football league teams will get their own post before we kick off on Saturday so it’s just the glories of fan owned non-league football for you. We are going from the lowest Steps to the highest so sit back, enjoy and wonder just how far my life must have veered off track to be writing this up.

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Hinckley AFC – Midland Football League Division 1 – Step 6

So this will be the first ever season for Hinckley AFC joining the newly formed Midland League, which is the same level of the pyramid that 1874 Northwich found themselves placed in last season. The season has already started for Hinckley AFC with their first ever competitive game ending with a 3-0 win. However, they came back to reality after being spanked on the 5th August 6-1, which is not the way their first home game was supposed to go.

Three promotion places are up for grabs and despite having just suffered what will be their worst result of the season and may stay in their history books as the worst defeat for a long time, Hinckley AFC will have one of the higher attendances in the league and with the club perhaps only a season or two away from going home to Hinckley, it could be that a similar first season awaits them as it did for 1874 Northwich.

Prediction: Top 3, Promotion and party at Simon Blyth’s house… probably.

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AFC Croydon Athletic – Combined Counties Division 1- Step 6

Last Season: 7th

Last season can go down as one of transition, in between the joy of their first season back which came with a cup win and going home in their third season.  With the club about to return to their proper home in Thornton Heath, the club can start to actually feel like a football club again, putting down roots.

Increased revenues boosted by fans who stayed away and will be coming back plus having beaten Chessington & Hook Utd (who have just been relegated) 3-2 in their first game of the season, AFC Croydon should fancy their chances of getting a top three spot and promotion, giving Chairman Paul Smith and his heroic band of volunteers much deserved success.

Prediction: Top 3, Promotion and party at Keith Tuckey Stadium.

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Saffron Walden Town FC – Eastern Counties Football League Division 1- Step 6:

Last Season: 5th

Saffron Walden Town FC is a club on the up since becoming community owned in August 2013. The strong finish last season combined with a good pre-season leave them in a strong position to go and get promotion.

Prediction: Top 3, Promotion and party in Essex (shudder).

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

Last Season: 3rd

The Diamonds have recently had to come out and issue a statement about their view of the now dead clubs old ground of Nene Park (here), which can be seen as a distraction but also a reminder of the need for the club to eventually find it’s way back into the Rushden area.

Still on the field was certainly interesting with great runs in the FA Cup and FA Vase plus a solid finish in a league, which was brought by the winners Spalding. Step 5 only offers one promotion place which is what makes it such a ballache to get out of.

This season the Diamonds will hope for a season of being serious contenders for promotion, combined with more cup runs as the FA Vase represents a serious chance for the club to get to Wembley and raise their profile back in Rushden. However, there could always be a chance of a moneybags team coming through so I won’t be sticking my neck out here.

Prediction: Top 3

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Fisher FC- Southern Counties East League- Step 5

Last season: 14th

Shamefully, I still haven’t put my post up when I went to see the Fish but I’m sure they will forgive me. Anyway, the main requirement this season is for the Fish to raise £250,000 which will then build their shiny new stadium back in Bermondsey complete with 3G pitch. It’s a big chunk of money to find but I wouldn’t bet against them achieving it and when they are back home in time for the 2015/16 season, then the club can start looking up. This season another harmless lower table finish waits.

Prediction: Bottom Half.

 

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

Last season: 4th

Another club I need to get to and another club stuck fighting for a single promotion spot. Last year it was taken by FA Vase winners Sholing, who had only dropped down the year before for financial reasons having finished in the top half of Step 4 in the 2012/13 season. Bar Sholing and Alresford Town the remainder of the top places were tightly contested. Top 3 will be the aim and to be in with a shot at promotion come the seasons end.

Prediction: Top 3.

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AFC Liverpool- North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Last Season: 7th

I do feel slightly bad having a pop at this club every time I write about them as they are fan owned and having never seen them play, they have never had a chance to defend themselves. Still, I do wonder what purpose their existence serves and despite a win in their opening game of the season, a lower top half to mid table finish is my bet.

Prediction: Mid Table.

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1874 Northwich – North West Counties Prem – Step 5:

Last Season: 3rd in NWC Div 1 (Promoted)

After Formby folding their promotion spot went to 1874, it’s not the way they would have wanted to go up but they’ll take it. Now only one league off the shell of a club that is Northwich Victoria, perhaps some fans will be dreaming of another promotion. Well it’s unlikely to be this year as without a proper home and the infrastructure that comes with it, it will be a challenge to ensure the fan base doesn’t stagnate. They will be up against some tough opponents including Glossop North End and none other than fellow fan owned club Runcorn Linnets.

This season, a top 4 finish isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but two wins in the FA Cup (this being the clubs first season in the FA Cup) will line up a tasty tie against FC. United, which would be a great game and memory to take away from this season of transition.

Prediction: Top 5

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Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5

Last season: 2nd

An agonising 2nd place finish last season meant they just missed out on promotion to Step 4, where if they had gone up I fully expected them to more than hold their own with an infrastructure, fan-base and setup that could see them maintain Step 3 status comfortably.

As it is they are stuck again in Step 5 and with Glossop North End making an impressive start, the Linnets may find it just as hard to come out on top as last year proved to be. However, they will challenge and if you are an 1874 Northwich fan this is the club you will seek to emulate in years to come.

Prediction: Top 2

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Merthyr Town- Calor League South and West – Step 4

Last season: 2nd Losing Play-Off Finalists.

If the Martyrs are honest, last season they blew it. A poor run at the end of the season left them just three points short and despite a crowd of over 2,000 they couldn’t get the job done in the play-off final. This season is the clubs first full season at their 3G home surface of Penydarren Park and I fully expect them to make no mistakes this time around, taking their clubs record to 3 promotions in 5 seasons. However FA Vase winners Sholing, with their difficulties behind them, may be dark horses to challenge.

Prediction: Promotion

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Prescot Cables- Evo-Stik Div One North- Step 4

Last season: 20th

Prescot Cables are the first of four fan owned clubs in the Evo-Stik Div One North, with both Darlington and Bamber Bridge failing to go up via the play-offs plus Scarborough Athletic being transferred across. Of those four, the Cables will struggle the most but every year the club seems to do just enough to survive and I expect this season to be just as difficult for the club but for them to stay up.

However, the club that 1874 Northwich will have to beat (after Maine Road) to play FC. United is none other than Prescot, so it could be the Cables who get the big game and the extra boost to the coffers.

Prediction: Survival

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Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Last season: 7th (Div One South- Transferred)

Some sense has been restored now that Scarborough, still based at Bridlington, are now in the northern section. The league they have walked into is the toughest it’s been in years and although the Seadogs were only two places off the play-offs last season, in points they were miles behind.

The best of the rest might be the aim again this season with moneybags Salford set to buy the league, hotly pursued by Scarborough’s fellow ex- football league and fan owned club Darlington FC. Not to mention newly promoted Spennymoor Town, Warrington Town and a clutch of other clubs fighting it out for playoff spots. This season, a top half finish that allows the big boys to clear off whilst Scarborough are two seasons away from going home seems the most likely outcome.

Prediction: Top Half

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Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4

Last season: 4th Losing Play- Off Finalists

 The Play- Off final defeat for little Bamber Bridge was all the more crushing due to the fact it’s unlikely to happen again. That is not a mark against the Bridge but an acknowledgement of how unlucky they are to be in this league from hell next season. Teams with bigger budgets and finances already mentioned, plus the fierce competition just to get in the play-offs last time, means I can see Bamber joining Scarborough among those competing for a top half finish.

Prediction: Top Half

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Darlington FC- Evostik Div One North – Step 4

Last season: 2nd Losing Play- Off Semi- Finalists

After last season’s setback in not getting up first time some of that momentum that has carried Darlo may ebb away. If Salford hadn’t been brought by a bunch of multi-millionaires who are going to buy their way up the pyramid until they get bored, then Darlington would be my bet to go straight up.

As it stands, Darlo will have to work hard just to get a play-off spot this season, let alone a Title. Still they will be back in Darlo at the very latest, for the start of next season and if they can get themselves up this season the clubs charge back to the Football League (or more likely the Conference to join a bunch of ex- Football League clubs) will be back on track.

Prediction: Play- Offs

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FC United- Evo- Stik Premier- Step 3

Last season: 2nd Losing Play- Off Semi- Finalists

FC United losing in the play- offs, who’d of thought it? Well I can imagine a lot of you poor FC. United fans but have no fear, this year you will go up. There are no more moneybags left, no real challengers and the Northern Prem looks the weakest of all three Step 3 leagues this time around.  By Christmas at the latest you will be in your shiny new stadium playing in front of 2,000 plus on a regular basis.

A new chapter is about to begin for your club and like buses, you wait so long for a promotion and then two might come back to back. Be warned, if you don’t go up this season the season after will be even worse as you can look forward to Salford winning the league followed by losing to Darlington in the Play- Offs. But you are going to win the league this year, aren’t you?

Prediction: Promotion… or else.

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Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Last season: 19th

A heroic last gasp survival was secured on only the last day of the season after looking dead and buried by Christmas. Enfield Town have been doing it the hard way since they were formed. Despite being near the relegation places according to the bookies, I don’t see that myself as the form of the back end of last season would put them comfortably mid table. A community share issue scheme has been launched to further improve the club with debts being paid off in good fashion, combined with the great support of the ETFC Ultras and I think Enfield will be comfortable if not one of the surprise packages this season.

Prediction: Lower- Mid Table

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Hendon FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Last season: 8th

Same league as Enfield and despite being homeless miracles continued to be worked on and off the field which put Hendon in a position of making a late run at the play-offs. Having kept hold of their Manager Gary McCann who, considering what he’s been working on and the results he’s got, would be worth bigger clubs taking a look at. More good news is the potential of a move back to Hendon in the next couple of seasons which is all the more incredible when I was speaking to Chairman Simon Lawrence in November, he seemed a man fighting a lost battle. The league this year will be hotly contested between several sides throwing cash or with big attendances, so a mid-table finish would be more than good enough and an FA Cup run wouldn’t go a miss.

Prediction: Mid table

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Lewes FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3

Last season: 16th

The second half of the season for Lewes was dire, winning only 5 of your last 23 games is relegation form but compared to the awful season before that it can be considered progress, sort of. A loyal band of 500 plus turned up all season regardless and with facilities being developed plus the sizeable fan base you have to think if Lewes can get it right on the pitch, then potential is there. Next season is unlikely to be the one with Margate buying the league and Maidstone, who averaged 1700 plus last season, chasing them all the way. Lewes need to be building a team to have a real crack at the league in 2015/16 time and a top half finish would show progress is being made.

Prediction: Top half

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Dorchester- Calor Southern Prem – Step 3

Last season: 22nd Conference South (Relegated)

The Trust who own 27.5% and run the club had to make a series of painful cuts to secure the clubs future and a horrendous season came to an end with relegation, rock bottom of the league. There was to be no honeymoon period for the Trust unlike at similar clubs which reform right at the bottom, Dorchester had been aiming for survival.

I don’t know how they will do next season, I don’t expect them to go down and I think they will stabilise and push on in future years in a league which won’t get any easier in years to come if Kettering and Merthyr get promotions this season.

However and this is important, here are two teams they won’t be playing next season: Hereford and Salisbury. Why? Because these clubs which are or should be bigger than Dorch have been brought to their knees and in the case of Hereford is now dead, thanks to being run unsustainably on money they couldn’t afford until the bubble burst. One set of fans in the HUFC Trust are in a furious campaign to ensure the ground they have seen Hereford play at for years isn’t asset stripped and Salisbury, having sold the club to a man promising the earth and surely thinking they had their own Arab Millionaire, have been completely swindled.

So my hats off again to the Dorch Trust for stepping up and keeping the club going and I would like to know of the Dorch fans upset, which club would you rather be, Hereford or Salisbury?

Prediction: Survival.

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AFC Telford United- Conference Prem- Step 1

Last Season- 1st Conference North (Promoted)

So Telford got out of the Conference North at the first time of asking and a good job too, seeing as how Barrow will be buying that division this season. The man who led Telford to the clubs first title in donkeys was Liam Watson, who has experience in keeping smaller teams than Telford in the Conference.

When I saw Telford vs FC United in a preseason friendly it was like I expected, FC United tried to play football on a bad pitch and a Liam Watson Telford side bundled in a set piece and then to my surprise scored a screamer. His teams may not be the prettiest but considering the budget gap in Football League Division 4 between teams at the top is huge, he works with what he has.

Last time Telford was in this league, they finished bottom with 35 points and had a winless run of 30, even longer than Hyde. Teams walked over Telford as they embarrassingly departed the league.

I can tell you for a fact under Liam Watson, no one is going to walk over Telford this season and any team that shows up thinking they can is going to be in for a bloody rude awakening when they go up against Telford. They will not be good on the eye but they will be tough and will take a couple of scalps this season. Telford will stay up and then we will see if they have answered the question of: What next?

Prediction: Survival

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Chester FC- Conference Prem- Step 1

Last season: 21st (Reprieved)

After the drama of the final day and post season, although Chester will have started to assemble their squad later as a result of Hereford getting kicked out, the club will be rewarded for their financial sustainability. Clubs in trouble include Macclesfield with a reduced budget, Dartford (themselves reprieved after Salisbury got told to do one) and Southport being teams who will struggle again. Alty, who came up through the Conference North play-offs may find life tough as could Dover and even Steve Burr’s former team Kiddy could have financial difficulties affect their season as we progress.

When you look at the League and just see the list of traditional Football League teams in there you can see why so many people see it as an extension of the Football League. I think Chester will get a mid-table finish and that is a good achievement in a League which is only going to get tougher.

Prediction: Mid table

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Wrexham FC- Conference Prem- Step 1

Last season: 17th

Last season was ugly and sadly led to Andy Morrell, who had the season before put the club a game away from returning to the Football League, falling on his sword. Many teams suffer a post Play-Off final hangover season and Wrexham was no exception. Wrexham got in Kevin Wilkin as Manager from over-performing Nuneaton last season and despite not getting great results Wilkin has had time to assess the squad and build, much like John Still at Luton two seasons ago.

Johnny Hunt was a loss but Wrexham will be confident that in this 150th year of the clubs existence, which the fans worked so hard to keep alive, it will be a season to enjoy and remember for the right reasons.

Prediction: Top Half/ Playoffs  

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