Nobody could really have expected an overnight transformation following the departure of manager Jon Meakes, but I guess it would not have been unreasonable to be on the look-out for an improved atmosphere, a fresh start and a sniff of new optimism. Instead the shocking performance (hate to use such words, but it really was, so why kid ourselves?) and 3-1 defeat against Aylesbury United last night seemed to leave supporters with more concern than hope, worry rather than excitement, and confusion rather than clarity.
You always get rumours in football, and if you choose not to communicate regularly, those rumours will grow; probably becoming increasingly factually incorrect and more and more damaging with each week that passes. On the pitch the results have been dreadful this season. Don’t let a couple of reasonable FA Cup performances blinker that, you will struggle to find another team in the the top four or five levels of the pyramid with a worse league record than ours, so a change in the manager, whether jumped or pushed, should be seen as a new beginning. Wipe the slate clean and fill supporters with hope.
So how has Chesham United got that bit so wrong?
There are lots of answers to that, some easier fixed than others, but undoubtedly the crux of it all remains the proposed ground move. The way that whole project has put the club on hold, and with no communication, the Chesham United we once knew and loved appears to be dying around our feet.
That is how it feels to the fan on the outside, hopefully wrongly, but the evidence in front of them makes it a fair assumption. So, when the rumours start, and sometimes from pretty good sources, that the club are quite happy to accept relegation with a lower budget and start again in the league below with a new ground, that is going to be a horrifying thought to a lot of people.
Forget the fact that season ticket holders and paying punters will have every right to feel completely miffed and mis-sold what they were buying, what if the ground move does not happen? I talk to people who are very confident that it will happen, and it will make the club self-sustainable, which will be the best thing that has ever happened to the club, but putting all our eggs in that particular basket scares me. I have spent many years on the Board and I know there are a lot of things that must stay in the boardroom, indeed it used to frustrate the hell out of me how much information came out that should not have done, and didn’t need to. In fact, that still happens, but the messages are mixed.
It may well be that the Board don’t feel there is any need for updates on developments for the proposed new ground. Again, I personally disagree and actually think whilst everything else is going so awful around the club it is more important than ever to give supporters something positive to cling onto, something to help them put up with the shambles (sorry, but it is) that they are being sold at the moment.
Of course, we have differing views on whether supporters are important enough to be kept in the loop. I do, and always did, but unfortunately the current incumbents don’t feel the same and have made that very clear with the public attitude shown at the recent Open Meeting (“If you don’t like it, don’t bother coming”) and the derogatory comments that I have had to bear witness to in my times sharing meetings (the “twats and minions” reference being the one that still gets the blood pressure up when I think about it). So, we have to accept that we are not going to get informed as to what is going on and therefore we need to put our trust in the directors that are in control and putting the time and effort into this massive project.
The good news is that as much as we are frustrated we know the people in charge are not sadistic, they are not deliberately going out of their way to make our lives miserable and in fact it is quite the opposite, they are spending huge amounts of money, many hours of their own unpaid time and taking on a lot of stress (Again, I can use my own experience to tell you that the responsibility of being on the Board is stressful) to actually try and deliver something special for supporters. Not just supporters of today, but the fans of the future, the community of Chesham. The fact that the attitude, approach and the lack of communication or consultation is different to what we would want does not make it any less admirable. So, what’s the problem?
I guess the problem is simple: What happens if it goes wrong? What if the ground move does not come off? What if Roger and other investors lose interest or get too frustrated with the barriers in the way? For their must be many, as on the surface the idea potentially has more flaws than the Burj Khalifa. What if the Landlords say no? What if the town says no? What will be left behind then? What will we have left to re-build? How far backwards might we have gone as a club by the time we are back in the Town Hall pleading for someone in the community to come forward and save us again?
That is what we are scared of. That is why there is concern and negativity. We’re being asked to back something we know nothing about; and accept that the poor football, dwindling crowds and crumbling facilities are all part of the journey. That is hard to do.
And this cynicism should not be taken personally by the current Board. Of course we would all like a better communicator within the set-up and a sense of leadership from a Chairman that shows passion, understanding and unity, but that is not where the cynicism stems from. You must understand (even if you don’t care) that supporters have bought into this sort of vision before on different scales, and had our fingers burned just about every time as the vision ends up being nothing but complete and utter bullshit. A complete load of crap that has left us feeling conned, dejected and angry; so what is there to make us think that this new development, which will be so much more ambitious, will be different to anything in the past? I hope there is something, I’d love us all to get behind it and share in the excitement, but…
I still remember going around knocking on doors raising money to help fulfil the plans to develop The Meadow into a Conference National standard ground as the Aplin era was about to make Chesham United one of “the top five non-league clubs in the country”. It never happened.
I still remember the anger as a Supporters Club when we were conned, yes conned, out of our hard earned funds when we were shown drawings for a new build Chess Suite with all the bells and whistles that would make the club self-sustainable. It never happened.
I still remember that the club were going to finish off the toilet and turnstile blocks down The Meadow End with the money from the Supporters Club once the Chess Suite was re-built, doing all the plumbing at the same time. The breeze block shell is still there. It never happened.
I still remember within the first few weeks of becoming Chairman the really quite exciting prospect of re-building the toilet block, tea bar and Popular Stand. The gym next door was looking to build a swimming pool out the back and they would have needed to knock the toilets and stand down for access during building, then once done we would get a fantastic new stand built. It never happened.
I still remember many hours of my life in Board meetings and other meetings looking at proposals for a 3G pitch here at The Meadow, with new changing facilities and café. There were drawings, finances looked at and feasibility studies carried out. It would have made the club self-sustainable. It never happened.
I still remember one of the more whacky, but quite exciting, proposals of having an onsite microbrewery as part of a The Chess Suite development. It would have raised the profile of the club, brought in more people and helped the club to be self-sustainable. It never happened.
So, as you see, it is not the fact that we don’t trust the current Board, we’re just sceptical of any big hopes and ideas because the club’s record of seeing any of these through is about as good as our league form this season. And when we seem to be gambling everything on that, it is understandable that we are worried. We wouldn’t be true fans if we weren’t worried and voiced concern. That doesn’t make us twats, or minions and we really don’t want to take the “don’t bother coming” option either. We just want to be sure there is a Plan B, and that the current plan involves some form of existence whilst awaiting the move.
Oh what a pickle it all seems when it really shouldn’t be – We don’t have debt, the club are investigating a life-changing ground move (whether you like the idea or not, there is a strong argument for it – whatever ‘it” is) and we have people around the club that are prepared to put their own money in to give us a football club. The league position is shocking, but those things can be fixed. There will be supporters of hundreds of clubs around the country that, from the outside, will be thinking “what the hell are you moaning about?”
As supporters it seems we must accept that we are going to be on the outside of any plans to move and we are being asked to just trust in the message that we will be informed, and the club will call a meeting, when there is anything to say. Again, not our preference, but what can you do?
More justifiable is our expressions of concern about the way the club is falling backwards why this is going on and what we might be left with if the ground move falls apart, takes longer than predicted or the main protagonists choose to walk away. There needs to be a contingency plan. There needs to be a current plan. Stripping the playing budget, not maintaining the facilities and presiding over a volunteer famine without communication feels like it is destroying a century of hard work from people and businesses of the town. Of course, it has not always been perfect, far from it, and we always seem to bounce back, but I just hope we can address the concerns and move forward alert to what it means to carry the responsibility of a football club on your shoulders, and not just blindly believe that everything will be alright.
The new ground could secure the future of our club for generations to come and I know I could not contribute to make that happen and we are lucky to have people in the club with the finance, connections, knowledge and expertise to look into such a massive project. It’s mind-blowing, but maybe that project needs to be isolated from the day to day running of the football club that has been on the edge of Amy Lane for so many years. Maybe there needs to be a part of the board, a committee, a group that are responsible for running the football club as it is today. Delivering a proper football club, managing the day to day, evolving the club and bringing unity whilst in the background we have these people that may just become Chesham United legends when the new ground happens.
And if it doesn’t, at least we will still have a club in place.