Week 1 (w/c 3rd December 2012)

Matches: Tuesday: Home v Weymouth / Sunday: Away v Kettering (at Corby)

Confusion still reigns. Are we going for promotion or are we throwing in the proverbial towel on the league season; slashing the playing budget, clearing the debt, building for a title push next season?… or is that just all clichéd tosh that everyone wants to hear because we all like to look at the clubs that are going bust, tut-tutting to ourselves that it is inconceivable that they could get themselves into such debt? When in reality, the steps towards becoming that next club are all too welcoming, and you never know who will be the next to tread that path.

It could be us. I do not think it will, but I remain baffled. At least last year, when I was Chairman, I knew when we were in the shit and, I guess ultimately, it was down to me to do something about it.

One minute Directors are sitting around playing fantasy football manager, loving the feeling of power, criticising behind the manager’s back and concluding that we must slash the playing budget…

…Yes, that was decided over a month ago.

Board members seem to take great pleasure, sharing their wisdom, telling everyone that certain players are overpaid and we must cut the budget, how we should be doing better with this budget, the manager’s job is on the line (shockingly I heard that via a cup-tied striker who was sitting in the stand at Canvey Island)…Oh, when I say telling everyone, that does not include the manager himself, Andy Leese; that would be far too difficult a conversation to have!

Communication between manager and Board is probably the worst it has ever been in Andy’s time. I have always had an excellent, honest, relationship with the manager. I learned that from my predecessor, Charles Manchester, who brought Andy to the club.

Following the cup win over Bath City we opted to avoid the awkward conversation with the manager that was planned for post-match FA Trophy day. With the jerk of a knee the playing budget was going to go down to £1,500 gross. That would be a low budget for this league, but hopefully enough to keep us up. The money we saved would clear any debts, and we could put some aside for next season…That was the logic, although for anyone that had bothered to take notice of my monthly board meeting reports would know that, without upping the ante in other areas, this was still at the high end of what we could afford without more financial input from (sort of) new owner, Roger Payne (more of that later I’m sure). But does anyone listen? Understand? Believe?

So the conversation did not take place after the Bath City game, I assumed it was delayed indefinitely whilst a bit of thought was given to what we are doing and where we are going – my point always being, yes, we are underachieving on the pitch, but off the pitch our failings (to generate income) have been even worse and need addressing with equal levels of harshness of judgement. Ok, so the playing budget is currently accumulatively £6k over for the year thus far…commercial income is tracking to be £12k short of budget, jointly that is £18k we are off budget (apologies for the basics in maths, but I have become accustomed to having to simplify it in hope of being listened to), yet all the conversation is about the money we spend, never the money we seem unable to bring into the football club.

The following day Andy Leese received an email from the Chairman, telling him that the budget needed to be cut, and it needed to go to £1,500 gross, he wished it did not have to happen, but bills need paying, etc ,etc – So much for face-to-face conversations about tough decisions?

Monday last week saw some incredible conversations between Andy Leese and I. In a way it makes me laugh, it is the sort of conversation lots of people around the club would like to believe they have, or would dearly love to have. I take this for granted now, something I should not; access to the inner thoughts of the manager of your club is something special and needs treating with respect and I think it is my ability to give it that respect enables me to have that level of relationship. I do not talk to Andy so I can dash off and be the first person to start telling people what I know, I do it because I want what is best for my football club, and a well looked after manager is a key to that.

Once again we were thinking about the club and whether we really have the right people involved to run a football club. A strange conversation to be having with the manager, but a topic we have chewed over jointly for over two years now and Andy’s is an opinion that I have huge respect for. You cannot deny the experience we have behind the scenes at the club, but at times it staggers me what I see and hear and I seriously question myself as to whether I am the one who does not understand what is going on and somehow behind my back everything is secretly alright.

So there I was last Monday, out in Watford with Antalis McNaughton, a company that had sponsored one of our league games earlier in the season. They are a huge paper merchant whom I have enjoyed much hospitality from, including a trip to Finland a few years back that involved ice go-karting (so much better than traditional go-karting) and drinking beer in a forest sauna before diving into freezing snow and heading off to a wooden hut for a traditional Finnish dish, washed down with copious amounts of Schnapps…But that’s an aside.

Although only a few miles from home, Antalis put me up in a hotel in Watford to save me having to get a taxi back home to Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead at the end of the night – easier on Mrs Calder too without my staggering in late, scrabbling around for keys, turning all the lights on as I get undressed before starting a snoring rendition that apparently involves moments of ceasing to breathe for a few seconds at a time; and then heading back to work early the next morning for work.

Whilst checking-in at the hotel I was in the middle of a number of email exchanges and telephone conversations with Andy Leese. He was fuming. Maybe exaggeratingly so, but all his points were valid. We were seriously concerned about the future of the club, and needed to start thinking. As I stood outside the Water Lane Premier Inn, Watford, it struck me that I was standing in the very same spot as where I had previously had conversations about the future of the club with a certain Charles Manchester, prior to him starting a fantastic five-year stint as Chairman. Ironically at that time I was about to head up to London to see West Ham play Fulham as a corporate guest of Talk Paper – at the time a competitor of Antalis, but now part of the Antalis McNaughton conglomerate.

I could hear the words from eight years ago coming out of my mouth: “OK then Charles, so you want me to get all the existing shareholders to come along to an EGM in which they will all be asked to forego their voting rights in exchange for you saving the club?

“I accept your challenge!” That’s another story for another time….

As Andy and I dissected our current scenario over the phone, rain dripping from the small shelter that covered me, we highlighted the lack of thought in the planning when we calculated that we had nearly £1,000 per week in contract player and management commitments, which would leave us with just £500 to field another 13 players each week…it is unrealistic (although if anyone follows our cash flow reports at board meetings, it remains the only logical solution?).

I sheltered myself from the rain, a cold pint waiting for me in the hotel bar, talking to Andy, agreeing that we need to do something to help take this club forward. Over the summer, after Roger Payne was to be the “knight in shining armour” of choice, Andy, another shareholder and I had met with an alternative potential investor with a view to possibly pulling the carpet on what had already been agreed…but in reality, the deal had already gone too far.

Andy also mentioned the name Ian Ridley to me; he had just resigned as Chairman of St Albans City, reportedly in protest against the Board decision to increase entrance fees (manager David Howell has also subsequently left the club with the playing budget rumoured to be slashed dramatically, certainly a far cry from what I imagine they started the season with, particularly after stealing target players Danny Graham and Barry Hayles from under our noses, for offers of money that we simply could not get close to).

As it happens, I was ahead of Andy with the thoughts about Ian Ridley. The minute I had read that Ian Ridley had left St Albans I was on the phone to Roger Payne – We knew we needed someone else on the Board to give us that drive, credibility even. I am a massive fan of Ian Ridley’s book about his time at Weymouth, I have a huge soft spot for Weymouth and was hooked on the book Floodlit Dreams.

Roger had no interest in talking to Ian. I was not surprised. I have met many wealthy people interested in running a football club, but I have never yet managed to get them to work together successfully.

I’m not sure what it is. I have had several meetings with Charles Manchester and potential investors. Invariably it was the ones that he introduced to the club that ended up opening their wallets and getting involved, my presence being the passionate football fan that tugs on the cotton thin heart strings of the ruthless businessman; that’s not necessarily because my leads were always dead ends, more, well, let’s say Charles is a better judge of character than me – more streetwise when it comes to business and, yes, probably more concerned about the integrity of the club than anyone else I have ever come across.

That has never stopped me trying to find more of the right people for Chesham United. I think it is important to stay one step ahead. When it comes to the football club I have always been strong willed about what I believe in, and I will fight for it all the way, and you know what, sometimes you have to be a bit shitty and two-faced to try and instigate what you want. It is not a great characteristic to have to adopt, but I excuse myself on the basis that I 100% genuinely believe my thoughts are always aimed at bettering Chesham United, not Alan Calder.

So, to be blunt, I ignored Roger’s words.

When I got back to the Premier Inn after a night out with Antalis I did that dangerous thing – drunk tweeting. It seemed such an obvious thing to do, we had just been refused service at the Wetherspoon’s pub in Watford, for a totally innocuous reason (and nothing to do with me personally I might add), and so what do you do about it? Well after a few pints it seemed totally clear. You tell the world through Twitter.

It must have been at this point when an earlier idea that crossed my mind, became more than just a thought. I did it. I sent Ian Ridley a Direct Message via Twitter. The truth? I don’t really remember doing it. However, next morning I got a message back from an intrigued Mr Ridley… “I’m enjoying the break at the moment, but thanks for thinking of me”.

A few hours later, I got another message. “What were you thinking of anyway?”

By now I was in Barcelona, so I replied to Ian Ridley promising more of my inner thoughts when I returned on Sunday. It’s a gamble with a journalist, but – as I have with many others in the past – I spilled out some of my inner instincts, and inner thoughts. I get immense relief from doing that – hence this blog; I have a passion for this football club that I struggle to find people to understand. People care. People support. Very few love. Not in the sense of love that hurts. The best way to get those feelings out, for me, is tapping at a keyboard…and if a glass of Merlot is near by, the better it seems to be.

So I got home on Sunday and sent Ian an email, it was very honest and expressive. The weird thing is, I’m not sure what I wanted from Mr Ridley. Chesham United FC needs Roger. We need the money. Roger does not want to talk to Ian Ridley. Why do I bother contacting him?

I can answer that very easily. I desperately need to find someone that can view the club in the same way as I do. Passionately.

A few weeks ago I wrote a programme article based on where money goes at a football club like ours. In a polite kind of way I was looking to address the supporter that attends matches with the mentality: I pay my money, I’ll have my say. The reality is that the running of the club very quickly swallows up the money collected through the turnstiles. Such was the reaction to the article that I put it on my blog site, and sure enough it reached a much wider audience as it received viewings and got forwarded on as far away as Australia of all places.

On the same subject I also received an email from James Matthie of Supporters Direct, someone I have had many consultations with in the past when we were looking to be a role model for supporters’ run football clubs. I am sure I will discuss more of that later because I remain under no doubt that we had the perfect model, but let ourselves down badly in the execution.

This particular mail from James referred to my programme article that had started to be circulated amongst the growing number of Supporters’ Trusts in the UK and as a footnote to the email was a suggestion that I might want to join the English Council of the Supporters direct organisation. I was sorely tempted, and had it not coincided with a time when I was so busy at work I would have made more in-depth enquiries than the odd question I did ask. Perhaps another time, I think Mrs C might kill me if I jumped from Chairman of the football club to some other committee too quickly!

Another wound was opened this week when I was forwarded an email received by the club from Kingstonian asking us for any detail from our match against Redditch United that was abandoned last season, originally ordered to be replayed, despite the fact that Chesham were leading at the time and the game had been abandoned because one of the Redditch players struck the referee in the face in full view of the entire crowd. We appealed the decision, had a jolly little outing to Wembley, and had the points awarded…but I’ll tell you more about that when it comes to the Redditch game this season – safe to say I am not really looking forward to that one, and certainly will not be in the Boardroom smiling and sipping tea with some of the characters involved in what became a farcical tale of lies.

It seems that Kingstonian were facing a similar appeal, off the record, I forwarded the document I produced for our FA Appeal to the guy from Kingstonian. In a way I was delighted to share it with someone else, share the work that I had put into winning the appeal because sometimes, when listening to the story told, you would almost forget I was ever there!

My first Tuesday evening match as a 40-year-old man was against Weymouth. A football match that, like any other, will influence the mood I will be in for the rest of the week. It is the catalyst of enthusiasm, the petrol that drives us to give ridiculous amounts of time and effort for very little reward. You will always have some people that get paid for what they do, or even just compensated for their expenses, but ultimately it is seeing the football on the pitch, bringing smiles to supporters’ faces, that makes it all worthwhile. Yeah, there are bad days when you wonder why on earth you bother…

…Weymouth at home was one of those days.

A poor crowd on a Tuesday night (our good friend the Champions League on terrestrial television having the inevitable negative effect) was boosted by a relatively decent following up from Dorset – the Terra’s clearly enthused by a new ownership that has the fans interest at heart, previous meetings with Weymouth at home, on a Saturday, had attracted next to no visiting supporters.

And it was the visiting fans that left the happier. Despite Chesham taking an early lead through a deflected Chris Watters effort, we soon slipped into a game of sloppy and disjointed football. The groans from the terraces said it all; not even the usual ironic cheers or abusive shouts could be heard; inevitability filled the air as the visitors came from behind to pick up the three points and head home to Dorset very happy. For Chesham it was a game to forget, a dismal display, falling way below expectations. Way below what you might expect from the wage paid out.

My visit to the boardroom post-match was brief. I knew the kind of comments that were going to be made, and I had no desire to be around it. In fairness it was not as bad as I expected – it was a dire display.

The clubhouse bar was a sorry sight, the players munched on their sausage and chips. You could argue that they did not seem to care about the result, but I think that is harsh. I have learned not to expect players to share my passion and emotions, they are employees not supporters; they should be annoyed that they under-performed, but do they feel that same bitter disappointment that I do? Unlikely.

In the corner, by the bar, next to the handmade league table – that had become so used to showing Chesham near the top, but now you almost need to crick your neck to look down to where the name Chesham appears on an old piece of cut up OHP film – stood the glum looking figure of Andy Leese. He was angry (he is often angry). Next to him stood new club captain Shane Gore, the goalkeeper was a natural choice to replace Danny Talbot after he left to join Hemel Hempstead. Shane looked awkward; knowing that anything he said would not appease his irate manager. Talking to Andy after a game is not always the easiest, particularly after a defeat – but I felt inclined to take up the challenge.

Why am I the only one angry? Am I the only one that feels so let down by that performance?” He was talking to me, but I didn’t really need to be there, the words just needed to come out. Shane stood starring at the floor. “Am I really the only one that is upset by the result?

Of course he was not. I tried to explain that. I knew that I would not succeed – we all deal with things differently. To me, as I explained, it is all about the bigger picture, I will never let my knee jerk as a reaction to one result. Every team has bad days, we had just had a very bad one, it is all about how we bounce back from that result. Andy was having none of it, he felt let down. I recognised that anger, it was not just the night’s performance that was getting to him; it was everything about the club.

This is not currently the same Chesham United he bought into, and he is struggling to understand where he stands under the new ownership. And I sympathise with that. One minute he is receiving an email telling him the budget is to be slashed, the next minute we are talking to him about paying an alleged £3,000 to a local Conference South club for a new striker, Inih Effiong from Boreham Wood; a player we had on loan last season and, many believe, if we had managed to keep until the end of the season, may well have got us promoted to Conference South through the play-offs.

Are we cutting the budget or not? I no longer know, and I’m on the Board! How should Andy know where he stands?

As I left the club just before 11.00pm, I finally got a smile out of Andy with my parting words – “Go home, sleep on it Andy – it won’t seem so bad in the morning. In a couple of weeks time you’ll be stood here, Santa hat on your head at the club’s Christmas party, having just beaten Barrow in the FA Trophy, hanging a piece of mistletoe over the owner’s head blowing him a kiss….”

He smiled, as I left The Chess Suite, it felt as though everyone was staring at me. My work here was done, it will be alright by the weekend when we play Kettering – bottom of the league, no wins all season, no money to pay the players wages. Tonight was a blip; three points on Sunday will get the season back on track.

……….

My God the game at Kettering was bad. Really bad.

It was on a Sunday which I hate, and I guess I hate it even more to think that the reason we are playing on a Sunday is because Kettering have got themselves into such a dismal financial state that they have not been able to pay the electricity at their own ground, have failed to pay players and are basically living on a life support machine, a machine that would have been turned off weeks ago if it were any business other than a football club. The great football world showing its true character again as supporters of Kettering receive the sympathy of the football world, and Corby Town come to the rescue with a groundshare arrangement, but because they were at home on the Saturday, our game was on a Sunday.

How apt. Our performance was no better than a Sunday League display. It really was that bad. I spoke to Andy the day after and between us we could not conjure up the memory of a worse display under his reign. Bad. Really bad.

My memories of watching Chesham are good, only a couple of seasons back we travelled up to play Corby in the FA Trophy and recorded a fine victory as part of a Trophy run that also saw us defeat Conference South side Maidenhead en route to play, now Football League side, Crawley Town. This game was played at Corby’s old ground, which I did not realise at the time was literally right next door to the brand new ground – sensibly sharing some of the facilities with the old site, which I imagine is now just used for athletics.

The new ground is typical of any new build football stadium, not enough character as it strives to tick the boxes required to maximise FA ground-grading, but losing its soul in the process. Behind one goal there was a well-terraced, covered, stand that provided an excellent view of our failure to entertain on the pitch for the first 45 minutes. The stand also provided protection from the bitter wind that blew across the pitch, possibly assisting the home side in the opening period, but not excusing our own inability to perform some of the most basics features from the opening chapter of a not yet published book – “Football For Dummies”.

We fell further behind to a second goal, but somehow managed to go in at the break only 2-1 down. In fairness, as I scoffed a sandwich in the boardroom at half time, I felt pretty confident that we would turn the game around. We had started to take control in the last ten minute of the half; an early strike and our experience should see us home…

…A couple of minutes after the restart we were 3-1 down. Woeful defending, everything just felt woeful. Every football fan will know that feeling when you just know it is going to be a bad day, and this was one.

Stood by the side of the pitch, no terracing, just vast open tarmac, I occasionally tried to shelter from the wind behind the main stand, but to no avail. That cold wind was biting. Chesham were doing very little to warm me up. As fans it is all too easy to bemoan a performance, often unjustified. I am left gobsmacked at some of the remarks I hear from the terraces in front of the clubhouse at home games, when we are doing well; those same people would have a field day if they had travelled to Corby to watch what I was witnessing this Sunday afternoon.

We could still be there now and we would not have scored. The supposed strike power of Scott McGleish, Michael Chennells and Simon Thomas should have us purring at the goal feast put before us week in week out, but it is not happening. We do not look like scoring.

Ten seconds after the final whistle blew I was in the car home. Too often the drive home from away games has been a miserable one, this was no exception; this was worse. Dad, Mike Warrick and I typically discuss our own Man of the Match on the way home, even after a defeat, but you know what, we could not even be arsed to do that. It felt that bad.

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