Non League Club

Lose your pounds or lose your club

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 2, 2013

We all know that Non League football is going through a tough time.  At the top end of the pyramid, clubs like Luton Town, Wrexham and Grimsby Town are operating almost as League clubs still, whilst the “upstarts” of Forest Green Rovers and Newport County have wealthy owners who are gambling on the next step.  The crowds are comparable with their Football League cousins as too are the wage bills.  But even in the top division there exists the “have” and “have-nots”.  This season the Blue Square Bet Premier features ten clubs who have Football League experience in the past.  Most of these still retain a Football League business model.  But at the other end of the spectrum the Conference hosts teams such as Braintree Town, Hyde, Nuneaton, Alfreton and Tamworth.  Clubs who survive on crowds as low as 600 in the case of some of these, competing with full-time outfits.  Even in the Premier League the comparison between the likes of Man City and United and Fulham and Wigan Athletic is not so stark.

8436784684_1952d040f1_bMany clubs reach the Blue Square Bet Premier, but soon slide back down, with the financial burden simply too much.  The season Lewes spent in the top-level of non league football some five years ago almost cost the club its very existence.  Forced to put in additional turnstiles, segregation and other ground-grading criteria, the clubs fail to see additional fans come through the turnstiles to prop up the other side of the balance sheet.  No investment on the pitch soon sees a season long fight against the drop, and with four going down it is hard to escape.  Some clubs are simply too good for the regional Blue Square Bet North/South but not able to compete in the league above.  One such club is Ebbsfleet United.

Last weekend the Chairwomen of the club made a dramatic appeal to the fans:-

“In all seriousness and joking aside, now is the time to stand up and be counted. Whether you are MyFC, Fleet Trust, both or one of our loyal supporters who just enjoys watching the Fleet, please lose your pounds now!

The unfortunate timing of the weather and home fixtures being cancelled has really left the club strapped for cash and the coffers are bare!

LOSE YOUR POUNDS OR LOSE YOUR CLUB!!!!!

The Football Club is asking EVERY MyFootballClub member, EVERY Fleet Trust Member and EVERY Supporter near and far to donate a minimum amount of £30.00 or as much as you can afford to save the club.

Please do not ignore this plea, it is very real and has been decided as a last resort today here at the club.”

Crowds have rarely broken the four figure mark, apart from the two thousand who came to see the long-awaited return of the Dartford “A2” derby.  With Charlton Athletic back in the Championship and still running their coach travel from Gravesend, as well as the High Speed rail line to St Pancreas, and thus almost on Arsenal’s doorstep, fans are choosing alternative Saturday afternoon destinations.  The bad weather had caused postponements, which means the club, like many others, has no income to pay the expenditure of club wages and other bills.  Will such stark appeals work?  In most cases no.  Fans already feel they contribute enough by attending games and buying a beer, or a pie.  The emotional attachment in non league football simply isn’t as strong as we like to think, especially if at £15 for entry when economic times are still tough, other entertainment options are more appealing.

Despite trying various tactics to get Brighton fans along to Lewes this year, our crowds have fallen slightly.  Fans, whilst they may have an “affection” to a non league club, their hearts lie elsewhere.  A short-term cash injection may starve off the wolves today, but unless a club fundamentally changes the way it runs, they will be back,, hungrier than ever in a few months time.  One aspect that has helped boost attendances has been the kids go free scheme.  I still find it amazing to see the amount some clubs in the Non Leagues charge for the next generation of football fan – Borehamwood charge a whopping £6 for an under 12 for instance.

8435699769_04e7b6d2e9_bA Friday night game was a different approach.  The visitors were going to be Macclesfield Town, a club who have got their share of back page headlines this year for their remarkable FA Cup run.  Of course there was a common interest for me.  Town’s manager was none other than Steve King, who up until a year ago was in the hotseat at Lewes.  Since parting ways, King has changed virtually the whole squad at The Moss Rose in an attempt to get them back in the league at the first attempt.  Whilst their league form has been patchy to say the least, his cup exploits have kept the detractors off his back.  Despite the rallying call from the club, there appeared to be little effort to try to get more people through the gate.  No special promotions, no “kids go free”, no “Premier League/Football League Season Ticket Holders get 50% off”.  Whilst this would reduce the revenue per head, it would increase the total revenue as more people who come through the gates.  Logical?

This game couldn’t have been more perfect for me.  My weeks now end with a trip to our French office.  Whilst it’s not Copenhagen, with its fine food, fine location and even finer local scenery, Paris is growing on me.  Eurostar is a civilised way to travel and with my train arriving into Ebbsfleet at 7:15pm it would have been very rude not to walk across the car park and pay my £15 to watch the game against Macclesfield Town.  Unlike the fools at South Eastern railways I could rely on Eurostar to deliver me on time, which they did, and even allowed me to park free (technically not free but a football match loophole meant I didn’t have to pay to park for the whole day).

Ebbsfleet United 0 Macclesfield Town 4 – Stonebridge Road – Friday 1st February 2013

Shall we start with the positives? The club had done well to get the game on, especially with the wet weather in these parts in the last few days.  The pitch looked good although was wearing badly by the end.  The official attendance of 799 (which seemed high compared to eyeballing the crowd) couldn’t complain they didn’t see any action although apart from the 50 or so Macclesfield Town fans they wouldn’t have been best pleased at where it all came.

I’d only just walked through the turnstiles before Town took the lead.  Kieran Murtagh lined up a free kick on the edge of the box and drilled the ball through the wall and into the net.  A big sigh went around Stonebridge Road and the regulars in the Liam Diash Stand though “here we go again”.  But to give them credit Ebbsfleet battled in the first half, and could have equalised had the ball been played into the box earlier.

8435706945_7cd57ebe10_b (1)Just before the break I bumped into “Game a Day” John.  You can be sure if there is a game on any midweek night around London, John will be there.  He say’s it’s all about research (he works for one of the High Street betting companies) but I have a sneaky feeling he is addicted to football.  Always pleasant to chat to him though and we discussed the major issues of the day whilst Macclesfield flattened Ebbsfleet in the second half with some powerful counter attacking.  First Fairhurst scored from close range in an almighty scrap and then Mackreth finished a fine move with a Messi-esque finish.  The fourth, almost on the final whistle again summed up the difference between the two sides in attacking abilities, again scored by Mackreth.

So what can we take away from this game?  Ebbsfleet do seem to be in that state of limbo.  Probably too good, and dare I say it, too big for the Blue Square Bet South, but not quite able to cut it in the Premier.  Travelling costs, as Lewes found, in the Conference National are massive – away trips to far-flung places such as Barrow, Gateshead and Hyde are not cheap days out.  Many clubs are now taking the full-time plunge and that means the opportunity for clubs like Ebbsfleet to make a challenge towards the top of the table is very limited indeed.  They must be looking on with envious eyes at the progress local rivals Dartford are making.

Thumbs up for the Friday night football, but perhaps a few more incentives to get more floating fans through the gates wouldn’t go amiss in future.

Malcolm in the Middle of the park

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 28, 2011

After Wednesday’s win against Met Police where the result was more important than the performance, Steve King had put the pressure on the team by promising that this would be a better spectacle.  However, the worry for all those involved in the club was the first ever “head to head” game with Brighton.

Just five miles down the road in their shiny new Amex Community Stadium, high flying Brighton & Hove Albion would be taking on Peterborough United at exactly the same time as Lewes were kicking off against Billericay Town.  Many fans had called for the Rooks to move their kick off to try and accommodate those “floating voters” who support both teams (mentioning no names Mr Last!), but it was decided to “wait and see the impact on the crowd”.

After a morning on a 30 footer in Brighton Marina, soaking up the sun I arrived in Lewes at 1.30pm.  First immediate problem.  No parking spaces anywhere near the ground.  Many Seagulls fans who live this way had chosen to park in Lewes and get the train one stop to Falmer.  So I was forced to park up in the town centre and walk down.  Not that any of the pubs near the station will mind Brighton’s new ground being so close as they were doing a roaring trade.

Anyway, enough of that bitterness.  The reason I wanted to park close by was that I was James Boyes for a day and thus had to carry my camera equipment.  Now those of you who know James will remember he is a Lewes fan.  And a Brighton one.  And a Manchester United one, oh and also a FC United of Manchester fan.  But it also appears he is a Rugby League fan and had decided to treat Mrs Ginger Action to a day at the Challenge Cup Final instead of being at The Dripping Pan. So I was filling that little portable stool for the day.  I did ask to borrow the “magic trousers” but apparently I wasn’t deemed worthy enough.

The visitors Billericay had brought a few more fans than Met Police.  In fact if Pepsi and Shirley would have turned up in Town’s colours it would have been more than Met Police.  Hitting the bar early, the club soon ran out of Blue WKD drinks and fizzy pop bottled lager.  I am a firm supporter of the notion that the club should only sell Harvey’s beer and do its bit in educating the masses to proper beer.

Whilst we were only two games into the season, midweek games had thrown a few spanners in the works.  Lowestoft, installed as firm favourites after their win against Lewes last week, lost away to Wingate & Finchley, Carshalton drew with Wealdstone and Bury Town had lost at home to Hendon.  Billericay Town arrives a win against Leatherhead and a draw at Harrow Borough.

Steve King announced an almost unchanged side, with big Stuart Robinson back in goal having recovered from injury.  Unfortunately King was still serving his touchline ban so had to make do with a seat in the stand and get his instructions down to the bench by throwing paper airplanes.

As 3pm approached a quick scan of the crowd showed how difficult the “head to head” games will be as there was certainly less than on Wednesday night in the ground.  Yes, some people are still on holiday but there is no denying that having the same kick off time probably impacted the attendance by 20% at least.

Lewes 2 Billericay Town 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 27th August 2011
Feel good football.  That is what King had promised pre-season when we interviewed him for Viva Lewes and what better way to put the smiles back on the faces of the fans than another win.  Back to back wins are something of a rarity in these parts in recent years so it was a good feeling when the final whistle eventually went, and as promised the performance was almost as good as the result.

Lewes had the better of the opening exchanges and nearly opened the scoring in the eight minute when an innocuous shot from Michael Malcolm somehow confused the keeper and the ball rebounded at a snails pace into his arms off the post.  Just a minute later Jamie Cade crashed into my photographic colleague a few yards away, causing a massive panic that we didn’t have “high vis” jackets on.  As if that would help.  If a player is bearing down on you they are hardly likely to be able to swerve at the last minute just because you are glowing luminously.  One duly arrived for me with the name Kevin on.  Thanks for that.

Fifteen minutes on the clock and almost a carbon copy of the near miss from Wednesday saw Malcolm lift the ball over the Billericay keeper from twenty yards.  This time the ball bounced kindly and into the net as opposed to over it.  One nil Lewes.

Fifteen minutes later one became two when Malcolm controlled the ball in the area, looked up and picked his spot in the corner of the net.  The Rooks fans had to pinch themselves.  Were we really playing good football and scoring goals?  As if to remind us who was boss, the heavy rain started to fall and I regretted not being more insistent with Mr Boyes on getting his magic trousers.

Half time, and the draw was made for the naming rights to the main stand.  An ingenious idea, even if I say so myself, and whoever thought of the idea should be given a CBE.  Every company that bought a Business Supporter package was put in the hat and one would be pulled out at random.  Poetic justice that in a town famous for its brewery the lucky recipient was a local pub.  So now when you come to The Dripping Pan you can take a seat in The Gardeners Arms Stand.

The second half saw a slight change in tactics.  Lewes’s midfield tightened up on their opposing numbers, meaning the forward momentum was not so strong.  In the past few years this inevitably led to a nervous period of play, and all was fine until Billericay scored with just eight minutes to go.  Tense, nervous, headache?

But the final whistle put us out of our misery.  In truth apart from the goal, the Essex side hadn’t really threatened Robinson in the second half.  Which is more than can be said for a couple of their fans who seemed to be a tad unhappy with their team, and it took a few words in the bar afterwards from the manager with the fans to calm things down.

So a 100% home record is just what the doctor ordered.  Next stop, the local derby with Horsham before a trip next Sunday to Wembley to league leaders Hendon.

As a walked back to the car I overheard a group of Brighton fans complaining about having to wait nearly 45 minutes for a train.  “You should have come to Lewes” I told them….”Yeah but they never win and the ground is shit”.  Yep, looks like it doesn’t it.

For more pictures from my day on the sidelines, click here.