After Tuesday night it was hard to imagine things getting any worse. A trip to Staines who had lost their first two games 0-3 and 0-4 seemed the perfect opportunity to kick start the season…It went wrong. Horribly wrong.
The day before the trip to Staines I was on the train home from a work trip to Blackpool. I was sat with my phone eagerly awaiting the midday announcement of the rugby Champions Cup fixtures so that I can start planning away trips with Saracens (Glasgow the main one I was looking for!), when Twitter suddenly threw-out the draw for Southern League Cup – A home tie v Dunstable Town for Chesham. Understandable in a way, but the League Cup is clearly a case of drawing teams that are closest to each other to make all games a local derby and minimise travel costs and hopefully boost crowds in the early rounds. It devalues the competition a bit I think, but I understand.
Unexpected to me, Twitter then brought up the draw for the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup – Fantastic now to see that there are so many teams in the senior competition, including the return of Reading this year, making it much more of a competition than it used to be when you could very easily be in the quarter, or even semi-finals before even kicking a ball in the competition. Eye-balling the draw I had to read it several times to try and locate who the holders, Chesham United, had been drawn against. Or had we got a bye?
Our name didn’t appear anywhere. A few questions to Twitter from bemused supporters clearly prompted a rushed club statement that read: “The Board of Chesham United decided over the summer to not enter the County Cup for the 2018/2019 season, a further full statement will be made in due course covering the reasons for withdrawal.”
FFS, is it really just me that gets so frustrated? Yes I applaud the hard work that I’m told is going into attracting new fans, trying to engage with the community and businesses, attracting new sponsors – Generating the money needed to plug the huge gap that exists between money we generate and money we spend. I get that. Admire that. Support it; have been there and know what it is like.
But I still get so frustrated with the lack of recognition of what is important to existing supporters, I’m not even sure it is deliberate, it even makes me cringe at times.
If the Board decided not to enter the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup over the summer, why wait until supporters see the draw on Twitter, question why we are not in it and then come out with a very short statement saying the reasons will follow? There was an Open Meeting, about the football the other week (for which again I applaud the concept), doesn’t that sound a pretty bloody good time to tell the loyal fans that we are not entering the cup that we won at MK Dons last year, and have entered every year for as long as any of us can remember?
I try, I really try, not to be critical and I want to help to spread positivity, but it does my nut in, it really does. From what has happened over the last 48 hours anyone with an understanding of how non-league works is likely to conclude, what with a change of secretary over the summer, that we forgot to put our entry in for the competition, wouldn’t they? I’m sure the truth relates more to the fact that we probably lose money on the competition, and after careful consideration it was concluded that the lost money would be better spent elsewhere for the benefit of the club and its supporters.
I don’t agree personally, but if that is the reason, explaining to supporters – in advance, before we are all shocked by our absence from the published draw – that reason would surely receive more understanding, sympathy even…hey, it may even attract some financial support rather than the “give us your money” approach we seem to have adopted. Is it me? Am I completely wrong and just going demented in my old age?
At the end of the day the Berks & Bucks Cup has been mocked over the years, but it has still created many amazing memories. Just before writing this I dug out my Chesham United Travels fanzine from 1990/91 – It was a B&B semi-final at Aylesbury that season that coined the phrase “more tense than a camp site” as Chesham won 2-1 in front of a 1000+ crowd. Reading the chapter about the final at Abingdon still brings a lump to the throat – Five supporters coaches, over 800 Chesham fans watching the boys in Claret & Blue thrash Windsor 5-1. I was much younger then:
“The Chess Suite was booked for a wedding reception when we got back so the drunken hoards were penned into the General’s Bar…The players returned to receive yet another heroes welcome and then continued to join the fans in their merry state. The cup was filled with beer and many other alcoholic beverages and passed around for drinking. The singing and chanting went on throughout the evening, but all too soon came to an end. With a croaky voice and tummy full of beer it was time to head home and sleep off one of the great days of following Chesham United. The next morning as I emptied my gut (not through the channels God made natural), I knew it had been a good day. And Chesham had won the cup.”
Anyway, with no B&B Cup to distract us this season, focus can be on the league, starting with getting things back on track away at Staines…
Playing Staines Town again immediately sparks three memories from my Chesham United and non-league watching past. I think my very first away game was against Wembley, but soon after that it would have been a trip to Wheatsheaf Lane, on the players’ coach – I can’t remember exactly what the year was, but it would have been primary school days and I remember Steve Barnes and I buying a Staines Town rosette from the club shop (Younger readers need to appreciate that this was a time before phones and gadgets, the more simple things in life gave us pleasure!).
The second memory was perhaps one of the most gut-wrenching days. A turning point in our history that completely changed our direction and deprived us of something that I don’t think we will ever get the chance to see again – Chesham United in the Conference National. It was the 1992/93 season and Chesham United were running away with the Isthmian Premier Division, the prize for winning the league was a place in the Conference (there was no North or South then). All throughout the season supporters had been carried along on the journey, sharing the vision of the Chairman and Owner, believing the marketing and eventually accepting all the Welsh residing players that had turned us into one of the very best teams in non-league football. Genuinely.
We will be going up they told us. We will have the ground ready for Conference football they said. Supporters were backing the club in their droves, 1000+ crowds were almost the norm…These were glory days, in the words of manager, and brother of the Chairman, Gerald Aplin, we were literally being “spoilt”.
It was the day before the Staines Town home game (March would be my guess) that it was announced that if we win the league we will not be able to accept promotion to the Conference. It was a hammer blow. A cruel punch in the gut of the supporters. The reason for it seemed to be related to getting the ground ready in time, but there were other rumours, and having subsequently been so involved with the club I am sure there was a myriad of reasons why we didn’t go up.
That game was played in a totally subdued atmosphere at The Meadow. The passion and excitement that had been such a feature of the season was drowned by shock, despair and disappointment. And there was anger. Fans felt cheated, and deceived. If my memory serves me correct Chesham went on to win the game 1-0, another three points on our way to lifting the title. However, I will always remember this particular game for the legend that was Chris Townsend when he managed to round three or four defenders, past the keeper, before getting tackled by the post when about to score into an empty net! Oh how we could do with a Chris Townsend now – The striker got so much abuse and criticism, but still knocked in about 40 goals that season! A legend, and I repeat Gerald’s words again, we were “spoilt.”
The third memory that springs to mind still generates a teenage snigger from me. Even more bizarre than Arsenal having a manager called Arsene, Staines used to have a manager called Wayne Wanklyn, which the headline writers used to have field day with! “Clean sheet for Wanklyn’s Staines” or when he departed the club “Wanklyn leaves Staines” Childish, but…
So back to the here and now and the state of shock Chesham fans that travelled to Staines will have found themselves in after the game. Again for the opening period we were by far the better team, Staines looking, bluntly, awful. At one moment behind the goal all supporters looked at each other in disbelief when a ball into the edge of the Staines penalty box fell to no less than four Chesham players with not a defender in sight – The biggest defensive hole you could imagine. At this point the tension lifted from our shoulders…It can only be a matter of time until we score and beat this lot.
Once again I don’t want this site to be a match report, but after the break Staines came out by far the better team and started to threaten. A goalkeeping disaster gifted them the lead, Lewis Rolfe got sent off and we then showed some real character to get back into the game with Darren Locke banging home a superb header. 1-1.
With less than ten minutes to go the Staines goalkeeper seemed to be holding the ball for a long time. Behind the goal we were all screaming at the ref – “6 seconds ref!”, “how long?”, “make him play it...” – And huge respect to the ref, he came running over and awarded Chesham an indirect free-kick in the penalty box, when did you last see that?
These situation are tough to score from, but we hit the wall and won a corner. The corner came over and the header went just wide. Their goalkeeper takes a huge goal kick, the Chesham defence were caught off guard, beaten too easily and we are 2-1 down. A third soon follows. Behind the goal there is a lot of expletives and cries of despair. Reality hitting home, we just lost heavily to a pretty poor team.
So, three games in, and it is only three games and we are bottom of the league without a win. On paper we have not had a tough start, though you never know how it will pan out at the top, but I’m not optimistic that Weymouth next week will bring us our first three points.
And to finish, here is a sobering thought that sums up the challenge faced by the Board at a club like Chesham United, and maybe demonstrates where the gap in thinking between Directors and supporters stems from, and should generate some sympathy for those tasked with keeping the club running. Think of this: The vast majority of the money raised from this season’s Corporate Patron Scheme – All the selling, the admin, the marketing, the chasing, the invoicing, arranging perimeter boards and shirt sponsorship organisation – will have all pretty much already have been spent on players wages in these first two weeks of the season. All that hard work. No points. One goal. Bottom of the league and customers, sorry supporters, unhappy; no appreciation shown. Not for one minute do I imagine that feels good, or rewarding… And there is still another 36-38 weeks to finance!