Week 2 (w/c 10th December 2012)

Leamington home on Tuesday and Barrow at home Saturday

I expected the week to start with the Chairman looking to win support for raising the issue of sacking the manager. He may well have got sympathy after the previous week’s showing. But it never happened. I even went as far as to email the Chairman pointing out that if we wanted to, then, for the first time in his five plus years at the club, Andy had invoked the clause that would allow the football club to break his contract – we had failed to win 8 or more of our last 20 games. My reason for raising this was not because I wanted to see the manager sacked, but because I wanted to see how behind the manager the Board really was – if the Chairman knew the opportunity was there, would he take it?

I got no response to this particular email, which concerns me a little because I wonder if plans are afoot behind my back. I satisfy myself that I always know what is going on at the club, and I always like to be at least one step ahead in my thinking. I have never been sure about how the Owner and Chairman really feel about Andy, so my sense of suspicion is easily aroused. I would be amazed if they did not have thoughts of change in mind – was the presence of Keith Scott in the boardroom for the Weymouth game a complete coincidence?

The fears about playing high-flying Leamington, despite their first league defeat of the season against St Albans on Saturday – a side that is supposed to have slashed its budget, but showing no signs yet, a point exemplified by the 7-day approach made for Simon Thomas on Sunday – was eased when temperatures in Chesham plummeted to sub-zero and there was no way that the game was going to go ahead. And sure enough, the game scheduled for Tuesday night was called off.

A chaotic period at work eased towards a close this week, to the point that I was even able to sneak a couple of days off on Thursday and Friday, a chance to catch up on some Christmas shopping and, more importantly, turn my brain off from work. I had not realised quite how much it had started to dominate my thinking, I would wake up in the morning, already planning how many catalogue pages we were going to get to print that day, and what shortcuts we can make to achieve that goal. I needed a break.

By 9.00am on Thursday the kids were off to school and my wife, Heather, was on her way to work. Heaven. I had a parcel to collect from the Hemel Hempstead Sorting Office, wanting to get that task out of the way I set off early, aware that I would hit the morning rush hour, but what the hell, plans for the rest of the day were fairly flexible. En route I received a phone call from Andy Leese, he had been away in Dublin for a couple of days and just returned so we had a bit of a catch-up whilst I went for a little drive around Hemel, not wanting to arrive at my destination before the conversation finished (if you have ever tried parking at Hemel Hempstead sorting office, you will understand why).

To be honest the call was just a bit of a catch-up, there were some of the normal gripes, from both of us. It seemed an email had been sent to the manager regarding the (lack of) goal-scoring prowess from Scott McGleish who, for a “well looked after” player, was spending a lot of time on the bench. On the surface it seems ridiculous that our highest earning player is spending so much time on the bench. On the surface, you have to question the logic from the manager? And actually, if you do, you get a fairly sensible answer.

With Scott McGleish cup-tied for the FA Trophy we are going to need our other two strikers, Michael Chennels and Scott Thomas, firing on all cylinders for the visit of Barrow. There is no point them having spent the past three weeks sat on the bench, getting out of shape, missing match fitness, whilst McGleish takes all the limelight…and then he is unavailable for the big game that everyone wants us to win.

The more I talk about the situation of the club, particularly with my Dad and Andy Leese, the more I fear the consequences of the blatant flaws in communication and direction at the moment. Quite simply the focus at the top of the club is only really on running a First XI football team; the day to day issues, the ones that take the time, and cause all the stress, it seems all too easy to bury the head in the sand and hope it will all go away. It won’t, I know that, from very personal experience.

Still we are too easily criticising the football side, bemoaning the cost of the squad (not without justification currently in fairness!) and not actually looking at other areas of the club that are failing.

Money, or rather cashflow, is still in a diabolical state. If it were not for Roger, it would be a hell of a lot worse than it was twelve months ago. My Dad sends regular updates from the club office, the hub of where everything happens, on Thursday 13th December 2013 the situation could be summarised as:

Without wishing to be boringly repetitive of the reports over the last several weeks, sufficient to say that the £5,000 November shortfall situation remains; made worse by the lost gate/bar money from the postponed Leamington game.

The effect of all this is that we currently have just £1,400 available cash (thought it was £1,800 but the bar manager has just paid £400 for some board approved replacement Chess Suite chairs – much needed, bad timing!). As we go into the weekend there are important issues to address:

We need to pay the Tax/NI which I’m told is £4,000. This relates to wages of course but is also high due to being a five-week month. We would all agree this is a must pay to avoid the wrath of the taxman.

We still have £4,300 of outstanding October bills which includes £3,000 of old brewery ones. I have continued to kick this for touch and have again this week persuaded them to lift a stop on a delivery this week. I think I am at the end of the road on this one. In the run up to Christmas a threat from us to change supplier is a high risk strategy as they will know that even if we find an alternative able and willing in this timescale they would certainly require cash up front.

I must confess to being out of touch with the wages situation in general, but for this particular week I understand some of the players have said they will forego their money following the inept performance at Kettering. No idea as to the extent of this and therefore how much will be needed this week. Also, the Scott McGleish situation is not clear. I know Roger is funding this but I am not sure how he wants to deal with it. Thus I have received part of the players net wage but I am not sure if he is planning on making up the balance and the tax element as a separate input.  

Clearly even with the Trophy prize money (not in yet) we cannot cover the above. We really need as a minimum a cash injection of £5,000 or I think I will need to do the followng:

Post a cheque to HMRC and the brewery tomorrow, hope that the Trophy money comes in and then rush to the bank with the Barrow gate money Monday morning!  If the Trophy money does not come and/or the Barrow game is off …

Next week we will need to update the overall December position in the budget as it is clear that on the football side the money from six home games will not be as we had anticipated i.e. poor Weymouth gate, postponed Leamington game and a Trophy match that may not even break even once the Barrow travelling expenses have been paid. Obviously, a win against Barrow will be a great help!!

Not pretty reading, and certainly not out of the ordinary, probably not for any football club. But what are we doing about it? The cash shortage at this time of year is not a surprise, indeed it was forecast back in July when the budget was put together. Too many heads in the sand, not enough done about it and it drives me nuts to think about that; even more so when I get looks of surprise from those that should know these figures inside out.

………………………..

So the big day arrived, Barrow FC at The Meadow. A fixture that I did not expect to see at the start of the season; and certainly not with a place in the last sixteen of the FA Trophy at stake. League form had been steadily deteriorating ever since the defeat at Bideford, the Trophy was a light relief, and with the Supporters’ Trust Christmas party that evening – I was determined to enjoy it.

I awoke that morning with a butterfly stomach, the anticipation of the big day was creeping through as excitement. Like a kid at Christmas unable to wait for dawn and a chance to open his stocking, I was awake early – a little sick with expectation and excitement. I had not felt like this about a football match for a long time, perhaps the play-off versus Slough Town being the last time I set off for a match thinking purely about the football, shutting out all the other crap that goes with being involved in the running of a football club.

I arrived at the ground early, soon after midday. Determined to enjoy the day I had dropped my car at my parents in Chesham with the intention of staying the night in town and participating in a few post-match pints – whatever the score. By about 12.30pm I was totally pissed off. The usual stuff, two conversations, two moans or complaints about something or other that just totally distract my attention from the thing I fell in love with – the football.

Manager Andy Leese was, somewhat justifiably, fuming about the programme notes from the Chairman which basically stated that if Andy could not turn the results around, then he will have to find someone that will! Thoughts that should be going through the minds of a club that had dropped from promotion favourites to relegation candidates within the space of three months, but thoughts that should be shared with the manager and the Board (and them only) not every Tom, Dick and Harry that reads the programme (which in this instance included Stuart Hammonds from The Non-League Paper who included this particular comment in his double page spread match report the following day).

In fairness to the Chairman, I think he meant to refer to the players needing to pull their socks up, rather than a genuine threat of the sack for the manager, but it came across the wrong way, and certainly caused rumblings of dismay amongst players, managers and supporters alike.

Also, within my first hour of arrival was comments of complaint about the, still relatively new, bar manager we have in place. Comments of complaint; third hand complaints from some bloke they met down the pub who said this and who said that… The upshot is that there may be factions of the youth set up that are no longer using The Chess Suite because of the service, the size of the sausages – whatever, it was the kind of grief I did not need today but had no choice but to tackle. Ultimately, it just re-iterates my point that we must get the youth sections working as part of the club. If the manager of one age group is unhappy, then rather than having a rant at the bar manager and heading off down to The Queen’s Head instead, shouldn’t there be a better way of getting the issue escalated?

It very much comes down to organisation structure again. When the Supporters’ Trust first took over from Charles Manchester, in fact for 12 months prior to the takeover, we worked very hard at formalising an organisation structure that ensured that there was somebody responsible for every area of the club, and equally, if there was an issue, people would know who to turn to. Unfortunately, in our set-up we had the positions and the titles, before we had the people, when it came to associating names with roles, there were too many square pegs in round holes which diminished the Board’s effectiveness and ultimately assisted the downfall of the Supporters’ run club.

So, the situation was that one particular manager from the youth set up, having filed a complaint with the bar manager, it was generally assumed that the club were aware of the issue, had failed to do anything about the issue (whatever this issue might have been) and therefore it can be assumed that the club did not care about the youth section. Certainly, speaking personally, a very wrong assumption, but one easily made because it is impossible for every member of the Board to know about everything that is going on. With a good organisation structure, you at least have someone from the Board knowing about everything going on and therefore, collectively, you have a Board that knows everything that is going on – A fantastic theory, one I live by, but failed to execute in twenty months of being Chairman (because too many people want to know about the good things, but lack interest in the less exciting, less high profile, issues of the day).

Should I, or the Chairman, have been told that one of the youth teams was unhappy? Yes, I believe we should. But equally, we should have a structure in place that would raise the awareness to those that can make a difference and we should not have a situation where a moaning comment to the bar manager is deemed an official complaint to the club. As I told one particular person on the day – If I go into a retail shop and have a problem with the assistant that served me, I would not complain directly to the assistant and assume that they would escalate the issue. I would ask to talk to their boss. Or I should at least know who to talk to.

With my day on the verge of being spoilt before it even started, I nipped to the bar for a quick pre-match pint, it was good to see the place heaving again. The visiting fans making up the numbers nicely, clearly not deterred by the near 600-mile round trip – although most of the supporters I spoke with seemed to live much more local to Chesham nowadays than they did Cumbria, presumably attending more southern based away games than they do home matches.

I had been down the club on the Friday before this big game, spending some time in the office with Dave Jeffrey, learning to navigate my way around the administration side of the club’s website, enabling me to carry out updates as well as Dave, and hopefully as time progresses, others. As we worked our way through the various panels, resources and templates, toggling from html to WYSIWYG (Oh, how I still love the printed word so much more!), the rain lashed against the office window, and puddles of water could be seen forming on the pitch surface. The frost from the previous few days had left the ground still frozen beneath the surface, the heavy rain that was now landing on top of the frozen ground, unable to drain away.

With Barrow already in the south of the country preparing for an overnight stay in Aston Clinton, the expenses bill was already going to be high. The last thing we wanted was for this game to be called off and Barrow having to return on another day. A midweek game with smaller crowds and less bar takings would not be good. Not to mention the fact that a postponed match would most likely be the final nail in the coffin for the Christmas Party that already had to battle a history of diabolical supporters’ attendance at such an event.

The phone had rung several times whilst in the office; various press and media or supporters from afar, enquiring as to the likelihood of the game going on – “Oh, it is looking good, we are not expecting any problems”. Dave and I took it in turn to share our optimism with the callers.

As we left the office, a very soggy groundsman was coming out from the big blue gates that block off the entrance into the ground for emergency vehicles and the equally life-saving burger van. The big heavy gates had been a strain on the walls that hold it up, and the paddle at the bottom has scraped the tarmac beneath them to the depth of a couple of inches, making a horrible screeching noise with every open. However, they had now become a part of the club since arriving at The Meadow from their previous home, The Den – Millwall’s old ground. Along with some of the turnstiles these gates, and the ones that separate the two car parks had been picked up as part of the clearance when the Championship club moved into their new home.

The groundsman, was not looking happy.

You won’t be playing on it tomorrow” he announced, rain dripping from his waterproof hood, onto his nose. “I keep telling people, but nobody wants to listen.”

The forecast is dry for the morning” I said “A bit of wind, morning sunshine…”

It won’t be on” He re-iterated “Not a chance, but nobody will listen. The game will not be on”. He was adamant.

Twenty-four hours later, the players were on the pitch, and Chesham’s biggest game for many years was about to get underway. The morning respite from the rain, coupled with a warming of the air (and not to mention a bloody superb effort by the ground staff) had deemed the pitch playable.

Early in the first-half the heavens did indeed open, and the heavy rain lashed down for the majority of the game, forcing supporters to take cover either behind the goals, in The Pop Stand or in the seated stand. I opted for behind the goal we were attacking, joining in with the odd attempt to add some vociferous support.

A lot of the early play was down the far end of the ground from where I stood behind the Barrow goalkeeper, but when we did break and have an attack, we looked dangerous.

On one such attack our exciting young midfielder, James Potton, created space in the box and hit the ball towards the goal, striker Simon Thomas came in to make sure the ball went in by placing it into the back of the net. As my feet left the floor with arms raised in celebration, I caught sight of the linesman on the far side, flag up in the air to indicate offside. I was convinced that it was not the case, but that might have been a combination of the beer and the rose-tinted specs perched on my nose.

Had we gone 1-0 up we might have had a chance, but soon after that moment we conceded at the other end, and before the interval we had let in a second. Even with those specs brightening my view, the match was all but over.

After the break we put up a fairly decent fight against our opponents from two leagues above, particularly with our attacking play, thoroughly deserving our goal from Bruce Wilson that was to prove little more than a mere consolation in a 1-5 defeat where, in this instance, the result truly flattered the opposition.

After the match I made a brief visit to the Boardroom before doing my Superman bit, replacing a telephone box for the Ladies loo in the Boardroom (slightly bigger and less unpleasant than the Gents equivalent), by changing into my party gear… jeans rather than trousers.

As soon as I walked into the bar I bumped into Andy Leese. He was in a relatively buoyant mood following the game, albeit still raging about the programme article from the Chairman. As we stood in the archway of the ageing Chess Suite clubhouse, the odd person, keen to get in on the conversation and pick up on any gossip, soon joined us.

Unfortunately, the conversation was not so exciting. Andy handed me back a yellow away shirt with the number 5 on the back, and the name, signed by all the players for fellow player Ryan Moran.

I had been told at Abingdon earlier in the season about Ryan’s tragic battle with a rare form of kidney cancer. Ryan had received more bad news in the week, it seems his cancer is not curable, and it is all about how much more life he can be given. Unthinkable thoughts; ones that hundreds of people have to face every day whilst the rest of us happily get on with our lives, worrying about such relatively petty things – like stupid comments in the programme, or a bar manager who sells Iceland sausages instead of Sainsbury’s.

Andy and I also picked up on the conversation with one of the youth coaches, Stuart Wanderag about running a coaching session for the coaches of the kids’ teams. Stuart is proving to be a key link between senior and junior clubs, someone I have huge amounts of time and respect for, and hope will become a more recognised cog in the Chesham United wheel over the coming twelve months. As we discussed further the relationship between club and kids, bang on cue, the wife of one of the youth team coaches, who herself is heavily involved in the administration, came steaming over, poking the question at me: “Oi, why is that our Under 11’s team is having their party at the White Hill Centre, shouldn’t they be having it here?

I felt embarrassed that I did not know that one of the junior sides associated with Chesham United Football Club was choosing to have a party elsewhere. I did not know why they had chosen to do this. Isn’t that wrong? To reiterate my earlier point, I am not suggesting that I should be expected to know every single little that is going on, but I ought to have someone in the boardroom with me who does, somebody that can answer the question, why are the Under 11’s using other facilities in the town rather than our own? And if they did not know, they would make every effort to find out why, and rectify any problems that may have led to this situation.

As it stands today, that is not the case. If I have a footballing resolution for 2013, it is to change that scenario.

The Chesham United Supporters’ Trust Christmas Party suffered in the same way as any other attempt at bringing together Chesham United supporters socially. The attendance was dismal. Primarily made up of hangers-on from the football match in the afternoon whom had not yet made it home from having had a few drinks after the game – myself included. Which is a shame, the entertainment from the live band was superb, and the 20-30 odd people that did make the effort to support the event had no shame in taking to the dance floor to “strut their stuff” – myself included.

All inhibitions cast aside (drowned in alcohol) the dance floor became a reminder of what supporting a little non-league club should be all about, everyone coming together and enjoying themselves. None of this hierarchical crap that alienates supporters like other much larger football clubs; supporters are not just a resource that the club looks to bleed dry of every penny, offering very little in return. At a club like Chesham, no one person should be deemed any more special than any other, and the Christmas party is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate that those barriers do not exist…

…Somewhat disappointingly, I was the only representative from the Board, the football management or the playing staff; perhaps making a mockery of the previous paragraph!

I confess that by the time I got home to my parents place for a brief overnight stay, I was pretty well on the way to being drunk. OK, a little more than that even – I know a couple (or three?) of us got a lift home by a member of the bar staff, but, to be totally honest, I cannot remember which one it was…or who the other two people in the car that got dropped off first were!

The next morning, I made it home to Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead, in time to take my youngest to rugby and a match against Braintree, fortunately at home. Trudging across the field to the Under 9’s pitch at the far end of the Boxmoor Trust owned pitches, the grass was damp, but not frozen, perfect conditions for a morning’s rugby. On a normal Sunday morning I would thrive on the occasion – a release from the home chores, a mental break from the day job and football club administration, nothing more than a few hours dedicated to supporting my son and helping out with the little pitch side tasks that help the fixtures run smoothly.

This particular morning i just wanted it all over with, the head was a little heavy, the throat a little raw and my back certainly not thriving on the prospect of standing in a field, weighed down by a heavy coat. The mornings normally fly by, distracted as the two sides from Camelot alternate 6-minute fixtures from pitch to pitch, sometimes mixing up the sides to create “Barbarians”. The parents play an integral part on the touchline – dishing out match shirts, time-keeping, score keeping, accounting for rugby balls, distributing drinks, collecting any monies owed for kit, training, hall hire, etc. Not me this week. Generally, I’m a forthcoming willing helper, but this particular morning I was one of the ones staying in the background, head down and pretending to be chatting on my iPhone when the head coach started looking around for volunteers from the parents.

The fixtures against Braintree were a little lethargic by the kids. It had been a long first half of the season, adapting to the new style of rugby that had progressed from last season’s tag format to their very first contact variant of the game, a huge difference for the boys (and girl) to get used to, both physically (obviously), but also mentally – the toughest challenge of them all, getting over the fear factor of getting hurt, and – particularly in the case of my boy who is somewhat bigger than the rest – the fear of hurting one of your friends.

The boys were ready for a Christmas break. I know how they feel.

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