Week 3 (w/c 17th December 2012)

St Neot’s away 

Once a team is knocked out of the FA competitions – or more relevantly, knocked out of the chance of winning some decent prize money – there is a tendency for the playing budget to take a hit, or at least be contained more tightly than previously. As a supporter I always saw that as bad management, but having seen it from the other side for a number of years, I now understand that there is a fine line between speculating and gambling.

At Chesham United we frontload the playing budget to give the manager maximum opportunity to bring in more players than he might need in the early weeks, giving more time to dwindle that down to something more like a budget we can carry throughout the season. Equally, if we have a very good start to the season and start to bring in prize money, attract bigger crowds than budgeted for because we are contending at the right end of the table, then it might be possible to sustain that playing budget for longer, keeping the momentum going. After all, any sort of upward momentum for a club, if they can afford it, is a good thing.

That kind of thinking is not universally shared at the club, and is a controversial issue.

It was in my time as Chairman, and it is now.

In fact, undoubtedly the difference of opinions on this factor was another contributing factor to the premature end of the supporters run Board – so many plates to spin to keep everyone happy, and focused on the same goal. I remain of the opinion that the First XI is the flag ship of the football club, and the success of that helps to drive all the other elements of the club that benefit the town and the community. That is not me saying that the First XI is more important than any other aspect of the club, but, like it or not, that is the high profile end of the club and the bit that will attract the good.

I also accept the irony of that fact – after all, it is the First XI players that will drop the club at the drop of a hat if a better offer comes along. Not every player admittedly, but those that do not think like that is very much the exception… whatever anyone might tell you.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention that in-between the final whistle of the Barrow game and the start of the Christmas Party at the weekend, Dave Fotheringham called me over in the bar and handed back his wages saying that he did not feel he had earned them from the past week. A magnanimous gesture. Indeed I had been led to believe that a number of players were prepared to do the same following the Kettering match, but, as it turned out, Fothers was the only one to carry out the action. A truly wonderful gesture from the new club captain.

The Board appreciated the action, but returned the wages to Dave midweek, it was not right that he misses out on his wage whilst everyone else got paid. We are in this together. Through thick and thin.

With no midweek game this week it gave Andy Leese an opportunity to review the squad, make the changes he feels are needed for the remainder of the season now that we have no major cup distractions…or possibilities of healthy prize money.

It is here that good communication is needed, and honesty. What is the plan for the playing budget? I’m afraid to say that as a Director, as Vice-Chairman, that I no longer really know. Which also means that Andy does not know, which kind of makes the whole job very difficult.

A few weeks ago we were going to slash the budget, pay off debts and prepare for next season, but then we also signed Scott McGleish, a signing and salary that does not reflect a club looking to cut back I can assure you. So, how does that work? Similarly, in the same breath as we are talking wage bill cuts, the pursuit of Inih Effiong from Boreham Wood continues.

It is fantastic that we have a benefactor who can allow such discussions to take place, but it is a complete nightmare if you are the one trying to forecast and report the finances of the club; and I imagine a similar nightmare if you are trying to manage a playing budget when you are not really sure what it is; even if you do keep getting informal comments about it needing to come down.

My last week at work before Christmas was a quieter affair, but my mind is always distracted by the fear of the past few months hard work being overshadowed by a printing or delivery error when it comes to the final leg of the catalogue production that I had been overseeing since May. Similar to having a role at the football club, when it comes to the end of all the sweat and tears and you finally deliver the goods, there are not many people waiting to come forward, pat you on the back and say “well done, good job”, but you can bet your life there is a queue of people wanting to be the first to point out any errors they find. It is human nature I guess, a depressing reflection on society today.

During the course of the week I received confirmation that we had re-signed two of our players from last season. Robert Bartley had always been on the cards, his move to Carshalton Athletic came at a time when they were reportedly cutting the playing budget; on the field they were suffering big losses and, frankly, any way you looked at it, it seemed a bad move for Bobby.

The other re-signing was John Kyriacou, back from Wingate & Finchley. This signing had again been talked about for several weeks but there seemed to be a stumbling block over a signing-on fee paid out to JK when he moved to Wingate in the summer.

To me JK has been a big factor behind our change in form from last season to this, and his return is most welcome. I was not totally surprised when he left in the summer, chatting to him at the bar at the End of Season Party in May, I could tell he was not happy. Hopefully this will prove to be yet another example of the grass not always being greener on the other side.

The JK signing provided another frustration at some of the structure we have currently off the field. An email came around from the Chairman informing all Directors that he had personally signed the registration forms for the return of JK – A beating of the drum, lauding up the return of a great player…what was not mentioned in the email was the fact that our Football Secretary (whose job it is to manage player registrations), had already completed the forms and sent them to the league some ten hours earlier, which meant the league ended up with a duplication of the form, making Chesham United FC look amateurish and disorganised… well, what can I say!

Whilst this was going on there was still talk of bringing Inih Effiong back to the club, even in time for Saturday’s trip to St Neot’s. Since Andy Leese became manager you would not believe how many last minute rushes there had been to sign players just in time to play in a match that day, or the following day; beating the registration deadline literally by minutes, sometimes even seconds. It had started to become a bit of a joke, the amount of times several people had been dashing around to get the job done, only to find that come the match the next day the player is not even named in the 16-man squad!

With Inih Effiong it felt different, such was his impact when on loan at the end of last season, it seemed very likely that his name would be one of the first on the team sheet, when, nay if, we ever got him back to Chesham. By Friday, the Inih tale was getting a bit boring. There were fees required by Boreham Wood, the player had wage expectations, Andy Leese was uncertain as to what extent the club would stretch the budget (we were all interested in that one!) and therefore what to offer, bearing in mind that we are talking about offering a contract to the player.

On several occasions I had read in email exchanges that we had given up, thrown in the towel. One particular communication was about the age-old classic about whether a wage discussed was gross or nett. The figure discussed seemed acceptable to both the player and Chesham United…the only difference being we were talking gross, the player (as they all do) was only thinking nett pay, what he takes home in his pocket.

By Thursday evening the Chairman had left it that we agree to the fee required by Boreham Wood and we agree to the players wages. If that figure is gross. Andy’s response implied that the deal is likely to be dead on that basis.

I finished work at lunchtime on Friday, a huge relief after a manic few months that it seemed would never come to an end. Every time I break up from work, be it for summer holidays, or even just a long weekend, I always regret not appreciating it properly, not managing to relax and de-stress myself in the way that the situation warrants. I have just finished work for nearly two weeks – time to smile!

Back home for lunch, and with Mrs Calder carrying out some urgent Christmas present salvaging with the sewing machine, I took the opportunity to take the shirt signed for Ryan Moran down to the local framing shop in Boxmoor. A really friendly guy in there advised that they could do the job, but it might take a few weeks. That sounded fine, though I know Andy wanted to pass it on to Ryan sooner rather than later, so, before committing to getting the job done I nipped outside and gave Andy a quick call on my mobile…

…Sure enough, I managed to walk straight into the Inih Effiong signing saga. Bearing in mind it was now Friday afternoon and the player needed to be registered with the FA and league by 5.30pm, I was advised by Andy that the deal was back on, but he had not heard back from an email to my Dad and the Chairman seeing if anyone was available to gather the money for the fee to Boreham Wood and then travel over to the Hertfordshire-based club to carry out the paper work and get it sent off to the league.

As it transpired, the Chairman was away visiting his mother in Norfolk, and when I finally got hold of him my Dad had only just got in after being out all morning. However, well-versed in the last minute transfer sagas of life at Chesham United with Andy Leese at the helm, Dad was half-expecting to head off on some last minute goose chase as the deadline approached.

With Roger Payne unwell, it was decided that the money would be taken from the club account (to be reimbursed by Roger) and then the Secretary, Alan Lagden, (not really wanting to get involved, still a little peeved about the whole JK signing debacle) and my Dad dashed over to Boreham Wood, in rush hour, to complete all the paperwork, get it faxed off and finalise the signing.

Sat at home, finally relaxing under the realisation that work was over for a couple of weeks, I got the call from Dad and Alan on their way home: “Mission accomplished”. By all accounts the last page of the contract passed through to the FA number at 5.27pm. Three minutes ahead of deadline.

Although there had been no football this weekend, the club’s reaction to going out of the FA Trophy had been as positive as anyone might wish. The whole issue over the Chairman’s programme notes and whether he meant getting rid of the manager, or simply bringing in new players, seemed to have been resolved by the action of the past few days. The signing of JK, Bobby Bartely and Inih Effiong, together with the return to fitness of Steve Wales, meant that we were ready to go into Saturday’s game at St Neot’s with four players from the successful team of last season, that had not been playing for the team in the last few weeks.

As a supporter of the team on the field, this was fantastic. As someone who likes to have a solid grasp of the club’s finances and where we are going, I am clueless.

 

On Saturday morning the rain was torrential, it has been for days now. It was my wife’s birthday, but in the unlikely event of the game at St Neot’s being on, I had been given a pass out for the match. Brownie points had been well earned with a brand new phone as a birthday present, and with the imminent arrival of her parents for Christmas, it seemed only fair. However, the likelihood of me getting to use my pass were slim as I looked out the window, following Twitter on my phone, watching all the games fall by the wayside.

I got a text from Andy Leese, looking for help to transport the Physio to the game as we were not running a player’s coach to this game. I already had Mike Warrick, my Dad and Director Giles Stevenson booked into my car for the journey, but I took on the challenge, believing that I am unlikely to need to do anything with the heavy rainfall and a pitch inspection at 11.00am which I was led to believe to be little more than a formality.

Nonetheless I managed to establish that Simon Newbury was not a lift option, but I went no further in my lift hunt, there was no way the game was going to be on. So confident was I that the game would not go ahead that at 10.55am I headed off to Tesco to pick up a few last minute supplies for Christmas (beer). Needless to say I was not alone in paying a visit to the supermarket, once I had snaked my way through the queues into the car park it became a free for all, hunting down a parking spot, curb-crawling alongside a shopper laden with bags, hoping to follow them back to their car and then nab their spot before anyone else spotted them; only to then see them cut through to their car in another aisle, losing out to another predator who took their space before I could even find my way to the end of the row.

I finally found a spot, indicated to pull in whilst I awaited a car coming around the corner, only for some other car to come from the other direction and drive straight into my spot. I was furious and let out a rant that did little to portray any Christmas spirit. A couple of cars up I spotted another place and dived into it quickly, just as my phone began to ring.

The game is ON” It was Brian McCarthy

You are joking, I thought they had said there was next to no chance? It has not stopped raining since then…”

Without even getting out of my car, I gave up my hard-fought for parking spot and made my way back down through the legendary Hemel Hempstead Magic roundabout – so good when people know how to use it, a nightmare when Christmas shoppers are let loose – back home to inform the Birthday Girl that I would be leaving her on her birthday after all!

With my passengers due to arrive at my house within half-an-hour, I suddenly remembered that the Physio still needed a lift to the game…A quick call to Martin Woolnough who I knew would be going to the game – he was already in Milton Keynes, Christmas shopping; Brian McCarthy and Roger Payne were heading from a different direction, and Roger was still fighting off a cold, not in the mood for detours… The conversation exchanges went on for several minutes – texts, emails, phone calls – before it was established that Dave Fotheringham had already agreed to give him a lift. Thanks for telling me…

As it happens, St Neot’s is not as far away as I expected it to be, I had always thought of it as being Cambridge, but it is much closer to that, and with the excellent new A421 opened, journey time for the 49 mile trip was a lot less than first anticipated; but, even as Dad, Mike, and Giles clambered into the car, sheltering from the rainfall, I just knew it was going to be a wasted journey. Still, the pitch inspection less than two hours earlier had said it will be fine, so, well, I guess it must be.

The in-built Satnav that came with my Vauxhall Meriva, now three years old, is excellent in terms of timing, accuracy and instinct, but it has a major flaw (in my opinion) in that when inputting a destination you cannot put a postcode, only towns, road names and house numbers – not always ideal when trying to find a football ground. Particularly a relatively new football ground, on a new, unfinished, residential estate…Fortunately the written instructions printed off from the website were good, and within the hour we were driving up the unfinished roads towards the new build ground that, if I am honest, was not as impressive as I had been led to believe from those that had visited previously. Maybe I was just in a negative mood, I still could not help but feel that this was going to be a wasted journey, unnecessarily made, and using up hard earned brownie points with me being at football on Mrs Calder’s birthday.

Once parked up (not a huge amount of parking for a new ground?), we went on the hunt around the impressive exterior; large doorways for officials; another for sponsors; named parking players for various club representatives from President to Secretary, we were greeted by a tie-wearing official who pointed us in the right direction for a pint. Not a hint of doubt in his voice. There was nothing at all to suggest that we were here on a pointless mission.

Inside the bar, Giles bought a round of drinks. It was another of these bars that is more suited to a function room, not my cup of tea, but a necessity to make ends meet I know, I just think they have the character of a church hall in a Mormon village in the midst of a dryathlon.

Huddled around a table were the Chesham United players, decked out in their smart black & white Macron tracksuits embroidered with the Chesham United crest. The tracksuits are an expensive luxury, but they help to convey a level of professionalism and togetherness; a relatively small price to pay for generating such impressions. There were exceptions, the returning JK was donned in his own grey fleecy tracksuit and Bobby Bartley had not yet been given back the tracksuit I had gone out of my way to collect from him at Concord Rangers when we travelled to Canvey Island a few weeks back.

We were only half way through having a pint when Ryan Woolnough, son of Martin, Community Officer for the club, came into the bar to announce the inevitable. The match referee had called the game off.

With no intention of sticking around any longer in a place I knew I should not have bothered travelling to in the first place, I made my passengers down their drinks and we set off on the journey home. As we left, we took a closer look at the sodden pitch that was being so attentively brushed when we had arrived fifteen minutes earlier. It was soaked. There was never a cat in hell’s chance that this game was going to go ahead and I have no idea what will have been going through the mind of the local referee that came out to do the 11.00am pitch inspection.

It’s a shame. The sad ground hopper in me liked the idea of going to a new ground, particularly one that came so highly recommended, and a club that is clearly going places, and is clearly getting the backing financially. I have no understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of other clubs, and I have no intention of second guessing, but I was sad to hear that Dennis Green had left the club over the summer.

I have a lot of time for Dennis Greene – He walked into Chesham United as manager at a tough time when the wage bill was really quite low and had pretty much been halved from where it was to cope with the financial crisis the club found itself in. We inevitably struggled for any results and he left the club, only for the wage bill to be pretty much doubled again when former Watford and England player Luther Blissett took over the hot seat in February 2006.

I returned to my home in Boxmoor, a sour taste in my mouth, about twenty minutes after Mrs Calder had returned with her parents for the Christmas break.

“You’re game was called off today then?”

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