Sunday 22 February 2015

Fingers Says: Keep Off The Pitch (21/02/15)

Today was a bit of bust, but still brought up some interesting points about how clubs in the lower leagues can survive.

We were a man light today, but I still wanted to go to a game, so found myself drawn to see Hemel Hempstead Town Vs Chelmsford City. I’m somewhat convinced that their badge of Henry the 8th  is my favourite of all time, and the fact they are nicknamed ‘the Tudors’, is better than any Hatters, Gunners or Tigers!

I jumped on the train at Euston, only to be saved a wasted journey to Hertfordshire, because a quick check of Twitter told me the game had been called off due to a waterlogged pitch, and I managed to jump off at Wembley. Postponed games were occurring all across the country, and this was the 2nd game this week called off due to bad weather, after the cup game at Enfield, was also a victim of the same fate.

Thanks to the highly recommendable London Football Guide (@ldnfootyguide), a blog dedicated to listing all the games in London, in the top 10 tiers of the football pyramid, and a quick plea for help on Twitter, it was not long before I had found a game that was not too far away, Wealdstone Vs Gosport Borough. After a quick phone call to confirm the game was on, and a tube and cab ride, I arrived at The Vale.

Wealdstone is another example of a football club, hidden away in London’s sprawling suburbia. It was only the large team coach and men in high-vis jackets that made it clear I was in the right place. Within less time it takes for Usain Bolt to run 100 meters, I was informed the 2nd game of the day had been called off. It had just gone 14:30, all seemed lost, and the chance of getting to a game now was virtually zero.

The same person, who informed me the game was off, also informed me that the bar was open, and it would seem they were only way of the club making any money today. The game was off, and with Saturdays afternoon plans ruined, all that could be done was to grab a drink and mull around and discuss the referee’s decision. Countless people saying to each other “it looks fine to me”, and how in their day it would not be a problem and they should of just played on.

It’s a long trip back to Gosport, so no one seemed in a rush to get back on the road. The Gosport team had commandeered one corner of the club house. Next to a huge pile of kit bags, they enjoyed their lunch, and later on cracked out the poker chips and got down to playing a game of cards.

Before taking shelter from the cold in the club house, a single story building with club memorabilia on the walls, fruit machine’s blinking away and a large low ceilinged hall at the back with a dance floor, a stage at one end and seats and tables around the edge, I managed to get a few words from Jeremy Fox, Gosports Press Officer, as I was interested to hear the clubs perspective, and the affect a game being called off at short notice can have.

Frustration was the main emotion. Frustration as the team had spent 3 hours travelling and in traffic to get to the game, and further frustration because they would have to pay to hire a coach again. He thought the referee’s decision had been correct. Wealdstone had done everything they could have to get the pitch playable, having people out there since 07:00. I asked what financial implications there were, and if there was anything in place as a way of support from the league or FA if a game is called off at short notice.

The main financial implication for the club will be the need to pay to hire a coach again for when the game is rescheduled. There is no support in place for teams if a game is called off, it’s just considered as one of those things. The biggest financial implication of all falls on the home team, as the much needed gate money would not be earned, and in this world every penny counts.

As a small side note, I was able to get a quick glimpse, like a rare bird of perhaps Wealdstones most famous fan, and internet sensation the “Wealdstone Raider”.  I was very tempted to ask him for a picture, but as I was not in the mood for a confrontation I resisted, but perhaps when I visit again, I will be feeling a little bit braver.

The odd attempt at a chant would break out in the club house, but would always fall a bit short and peter out. People tried to amuse themselves with Jeff Stelling and his merry men on Sky Sports News, but everyone was a little flat. People were here to see their team play, as they love to do on a Saturday afternoon, but with it off all seemed a little lost as to what to do.

I was surprised to hear there is no safety net or some kind of support for teams affected by cancelled games, but perhaps it’s just my relative naiveté regarding the lower leagues, that would make me think that. Although I’m sure it’s a huge expense and might not be something many teams would even be able to consider, does this raise the question about investing in a 3G pitch, to ensure that games can go on though out the year, and the all-important money whatever the weather keeps coming in? Or once again am I being naive in thinking that clubs at this level could even consider such a huge outlay of money?

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Words & Photographs by Daniel Magner.

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