A new season started for Chesham United yesterday with a 3-0 defeat at home to Merthyr Town. Bad result. Bad performance. Bad supporter experience. Isn’t it time that the bleedin’ obvious was addressed?
A crowd of 275 for the game was not great, but for this early in the season, summer holidays and all that, its ok. More disturbing was the fact that well over 200 of them, maybe even 250, were men over the age of 50. Loyal and dedicated supporters of the club, but not the future, not the heartbeat and not the answer to a successful modern non-league football club.
Part of me is past caring. I don’t have the passion running through my veins like I once did and I certainly don’t live and breathe Chesham United anymore, but I do care. I still love the club, and I do feel a sense of pain, despondency and regret when I experience days like yesterday.
It hurts, but it no longer ruins the weekend.
Sunday morning I wake up and read The Non-League Paper and there is one article in there that refers to one of the columnists attending an unnamed pre-season friendly and couldn’t believe how supporters were being treated with “disdain” – No programmes, no tannoy, no information, no welcome and concluding that “if clubs are going to be so secretive, and show a disdain towards those spectators who do bother to show up – usually the hard core fans – then they shouldn’t be charging admission.”
Anyone associated with Chesham that read that article must surely have been hit with a sense of realisation?
Please, please, PLEASE wake up and smell the bacon Chesham United – This article is about YOU. US. Not hypothetically, actually. This particular journalist was at one of our friendlies and saw what can only really be described as a shambles, and he also noted that the ground is in need of some “TLC”. Another massive understatement.
I don’t intend this to be an all out criticism, I know how tough it is to run the club. Bloody hard. And you will never please everyone, but I want it to be a wake-up call, a plea for the club I love to address the underlying problems that are evident for everyone to see. The bleedin’ obvious. You need help, and there is help out there that has been scorned either directly, deliberately or inadvertently in recent times.
The ground is desperate for some attention. That is obvious, but if we are going to be moving to a new ground in the near future, will it be wasted money? Are we moving to a new ground soon? Is it any of our business (by “our” I mean you and I, the supporters)? Well, the answer to that one was made abundantly clear at the Open Meeting about the ground move when it was unceremoniously declared that if the Board had anything to say they would have called a meeting and basically, bluntly, and I suppose honestly, if you don’t like it, you can lump it.
And there is the heartbreak. Many people have decided to lump it.
The club is critically short of volunteers, still heavily relying on those last few stragglers that find themselves having to do more and more because they love the club and want to make a difference. I have massive admiration for these guys, but the club needs more. A lot more, fresh blood; but you don’t get that by alienating supporters, not communicating with them and treating them with disdain – A sense picked up on in today’s The Non-League Paper after just one visit!
I remember when I was younger I used to get so excited about the start of a new season – Will there be any changes to the ground? Any new plans? New coats of paint, new seats, toilets, turnstiles or a welcome sign? I was proud of The Meadow, it was our home, Chesham’s home. It was that pride and appeal that got myself and other supporters involved, giving up our time to help out with maintenance and raise money for improvements – All of that was every bit as important as the football on the pitch. If not more so.
For yesterday’s first game of the season The Meadow looked tired if you are being polite, a bit of a dump and a shit-hole if you are feeling less generous…Yet still set in one of the most idyllic of football ground settings.
If we are moving to a new ground, then that is understandable, but the communication on that is so secretive that the assumption has to be that nothing is happening, the current ground is in rapid decline and the prospects for the club are pretty depressing – Little wonder we are not attracting new volunteers, fresh blood and great enthusiasm then? Of course lots of things go on behind the scenes that should not be made public until the time is right, but equally, supporters need to be treated with some respect and understanding. They, we, want to love the club.
It feels like the whole club is in limbo at the moment, waiting for something to happen. On the pitch I have no doubt that we will one way or another, unfortunately and inevitably through the ongoing financial commitment of the Owner, continue to fund a pretty decent team that will compete in this league comfortably. It will be that way because that is where the passion at the top lies, and is no doubt accompanied by a feeling of resentment that more people are not helping out either as volunteers or financially – Doesn’t the ludicrousness of it all just make you want to pull your hair out??!!
If we are not moving soon, then some basic ground refurbishments would be an obvious thing to unite supporters in some fundraising efforts, ideally under the leadership of the Trust, but I sense the Trust are left not knowing where to put their efforts because of the uncertainty and wanting to ensure that they do not squander the money they hold on behalf of supporters. And here is the crunch to all our problems I believe. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – We need to fix the supporter and “club” relationship. Pull the heads out of the sand. Swallow some pride and for the sake of everyone that cares, lets start to fix this rapidly sinking ship.
Supporters must realise that to watch football at this level you need more than 250-odd middle-aged or retired men turning up every other week for a home game. They are important, but that gate money only scratches the surface. The money the club raises through the bar, sponsorship and donations is vital.
The “club”, or Board as it is meant here, must appreciate that there is more to a football club than just the – hugely important – job of raising money. People that are not coming with open cheque books and offers of free money are still worth talking to. Those with passion, love and commitment can help you to make this club something special…without just openly giving money. They give the club a heart that will help you to attract greater investment and relieve the burden from the Board. It will. I know it will.
Chesham United desperately need someone, or a group of people to instigate the reparation work of building those bridges that have fallen down and tipped so many people into the cold waters in doing so. Swallow pride, take a step out of the comfort zone and listen to those that may have a different opinion, but share the passion. Another fact – Just purely and bluntly asking people outright for money will piss them off. It will. It has.
Supporters globally are naturally cynical towards the way clubs are run and at non-league level, very protective of where money goes. It’s a strange situation because I have seen it from both sides, but generally supporters are happy to fundraise for projects and improvements, but resent their money, over and above season tickets and entrance fees, going into the club’s “blackhole“. I know about that blackhole, I know it very well and understand the need to fill it, but that is where some empathy with supporters needs to be found.
I think in summary supporters feel that the day-to-day running of the club and the playing budget should be within the football club’s annual budget and any additional fundraising they make should be towards a tangible project that they see the benefit of. Something that has made their club better and would not have happened had they not made that extra effort to fundraise. Makes sense. In doing that, it actually creates more enthusiasm and passion, which then becomes contagious and before you know it there is a buzz about the place that grabs the attention of the town, the community and local businesses. Voila! It all seems so easy…
Now it could be argued that the supporters, under the guise of the Supporters’ Trust should be driving that fundraising effort, but with uncertainty over our future at The Meadow, where should the efforts go? What projects are there? Where can money be spent where it benefits the club and supporters? And can they feel comfortable that the relationship is such that the two groups can work together for the betterment of the club? I’m not sure is the honest answer.
I’m not close enough nowadays to know all the details, but I certainly sense that there is some ill-feeling about Trust money handed over to the club to help with Chess Suite improvements, including the knocking through of a door from the Boardroom to the main clubhouse. From the clubhouse side nothing has happened with that, from the boardroom side it just looks like a horrendous big hole in the wall! I am sure there are perfectly sensible and legitimate reasons why that particular job has not been finished, but where is the communication? Where is the update that will stop supporters feeling resentful and miffed about where their money went? Again, I hear those words from the meeting – “When we have something to tell you, we will be the ones calling a meeting?” How awful does the place have to look, and how down-trodden does the atmosphere need to get before it feels right to call that meeting and start communicating?
Trust, mutual respect and the ability to work together are key to the future. Both sides of the fence must start to value the importance of the other, and the need for the other. That is not the case at the moment, and unless one or the other takes the lead in starting to make the bleedin’ obvious happen then I fear that the dilapidated old looking ground that we current reside in will very quickly begin to reflect the club as a whole.
As I say, I don’t wish to offend or criticise, or even really tell people how to do their jobs. Hey, who am I to talk, it wasn’t exactly the glory years when I was Chairman, but I think we had something special about the place that would really benefit the club now.