Club in Crisis – Hereford United

Another visit to court for the Bulls and another adjournment. We think it might be the eighth adjournment to date.

On their last visit to court the clubs thuggish owners claimed that they had £1.5m investment lined up but , as you might have guessed, this claim proved as substantial as every other claim these lying gits have made since taking over the club and relegating it two divisions .

In today’s hearing they played the abusive fans card so beloved of Geoff Moss. We wont bother you with the detail . Basically the investor had been scared off by a few brutal e mails from Bulls fans.

Hmmm.

Havent we all seen the sickening site of a fat faced little bully boy claiming victim status ?

Anyway , cometh the hour cometh the man and at the darkest ebb a saviour stepped forward in the ample shape of the clubs Chairman , convicted fly tipper Andy Lonsdale.

Mr Lonsdale will pony up the necessary and his cash would be backed by guarantees by a company called European Finance Guarantee Ltd. We will come back to this company in a little while.

In the mean time it is worth noting that the clubs nominal owner, Alpha Finance , did not make any offer to settle the clubs obligations and in fact it is not known if the “owners” were represented in court today.

That cannot be said of the clubs previous “owner” Mr Tommy “trucks” Agombar. The convicted lorry hijacker was present and held long discussions with the legal team representing the club.

We have to applaud this gentleman’s concern for his former club. A few months back Mr Agombar fell foul of the F.A.s “ODT” test and was told in no uncertain terms that he was not to be involved in the affairs of the Bulls.

However since that sad day Mr Agombar has been a prominent figure at Hereford games and has even taken the trouble to share his views ,pitch side , with the underpaid youths who comprise the current squad.

Such devotion to the club is inspiring and it is sad to state that the Edgar St tifosi continue to sneer at Tommys willingness to pitch in.

Lets go back to European Finance Guarantee Ltd.

They are listed as “dormant” at Companies House.

The company has two listed directors – Carlo Pallone and Francisco Vila Botella.

These characters are also directors of EuroFin Securities Ltd.

This is the company that sold Leeds United to its current owner Signor Massimo Cellino.

It’s a small world aint it ?

You may remember that those churls at the FA had some objections to Signor Cellinos take over at Leeds. It was claimed that he had close links to certain Italian social and cultural organisations.

We say that nothing was proven and let that be an end to it.

In light of all of this nonsense the more discerning Bulls supporters are now reflecting on their long held views of the thuggish low lifes who now guide their clubs affairs.

Where it was once felt that they were in it for the development potential at the club. That view is now laughed at in all the best drinking dens of the old City.

Most folk now believe that it is a money laundering play with a possible development as the “Brucie Bonus”

Sad times indeed at one of our old rivals.

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Politics, Neutrality and ‘kipperminster

Kidderminster fans last week noticed an unfortunate addition to Aggborough this weekend: a “Wyre Forest UKIP” banner hanging from one of the stands.

The club attempted to justify their decision to allow UKIP to advertise at their ground because the club are “politically neutral”.

“Political Neutrality” is, ironically, a phrase loaded with ideological baggage. Essentially it’s used by advocates of the status quo to shut down debates.  Oppose Ched Evans returning straight into football? Quit bringing your politics into football. Think there should be measures to prevent football clubs being owned by states where a third of the population live as slaves? Well we’re just being neutral – we don’t want to get into politics.

Neutrality doesn’t exist as a position. If Kidderminster are neutral, does that mean they accept all advertising?  Would they accept a banner in support of the EDL? How about one from ISIS proclaiming the Caliphate of Worcestershire? I doubt it – even if Kidderminster are flat broke: “political neutrality” permits only a narrow band of acceptable views to be neutral about.

Ah, you say, but if I was to ban all advertising from political parties, wouldn’t that be neutral?

Well, it might sidestep this issue but you still can’t claim you’re neutral. Would you allow trade unions to advertise? Businesses in dispute with trade unions? Companies that don’t pay living wage? Multinationals who exploit workers in developing countries? Multinationals who exploit the environment? Banks and estate agents who exploit the poor here? Charities like the Poppy Appeal and Help For Heroes?

None of these are politically neutral, however much they might try to pretend they are; the status quo is enforced by pretending default positions are in fact self-evident truths.

So if neutrality does exist, it’s a pretty radical position.

What then is the alternative if attempting to stay neutral is a terrible way to run a football club?

My alternative would be that the club should state the politics for which we stand explicitly and proudly.

These would be politics that should be uncontroversial (I hope) to most of our fans. Pro-Wrexham. Pro the people who live in Wrexham. Anti-racism. Anti-fascism. Anti-sexism. Anti-homophobia. Anti-bigotry. And we would try to ensure our sponsors are compatible with that.

This is sound commercial practice too. The Kidderminster-UKIP controversy will put off other local businesses from investing in the cash-strapped club. Ensuring a set of ethical principles makes you more attractive to those companies that do buy in to those values.

UKIP, for so many reasons, are not compatible with those principles.

A 100% Organic, GM-Free Basket Case

Having had a slight dig at Grimsby, a few weeks ago, we must now consider the undisputed Kings of Doping, Forest Green Rovers.

The club is a shining example of sustainability in football. Vegetarian food, solar powered watering systems and electric cars power the Rovers image of all things green and good.

There is just one area where the sustainable cloak falls short: Finance.

The club currently has liabilities of £4m and a turnover in the region of 800k.  The debts are going up and the income is actually going down – by £200k in the last two years.

2013 –
Turnover – £864,476
Wages – £1,500,664

Yes, that’s right. They are spending at around 200% of income on wages.

The club are owned by Ecotricity who are in turn owned by Mr Dale Vince, a former New Age traveler turned renewable energy tycoon who now seems to be ever-present on the radio where he spouts his pious solar powered drivel for our benefit.

It is possible that Vince could explain away the spending on FGR as necessary to raise the profile of the parent company. Certainly we had not heard of Mr Vince or Ecotricity before their involvement in FGR.  With the club rebranded to Ecotricity’s corporate colours – including Cardiff City-esque changes to the badge and the kit, it’s certainly a good marketing vehicle.  Especially when you can drip feed PR stunts to a pliant football media always willing to take a funny non-league story and ask no questions.

The views of supporters over this rebranding were of course treated with contempt.  As they have been with every unpopular change Vince has foisted upon the club – from the contents of the pasties to the manager.  But I digress.

Throughout his four year involvement with the Gloucestershire club Mr Vince has not been able to come anywhere near making them sustainable.

Big wages on average players have kept expenditure high.

Unfortunately their income has not matched this outlay. And nor will it. The club is based in Nailsworth which is roughly the size of Ruthin. Nearby Stroud, the only populous town in the area, is still smaller than Buckley.  They do really well to get a crowd over 1,000 in an area that is dominated by fans of the two Bristol clubs.

At Wrexham we remember their poaching of Danny Wright. It is ridiculous that a team from a town the size of Ruthin can outbid a club like ours to sign a decent player. That’s the way it is in football these days. Crawley, Eastleigh, Fleetwood, Forest Green are all pumped up entities feeding the ego of tinpot-Abramoviches for as long as the club can keep them entertained.

Anyway, having got that off our chest lets return to the Shire.

The problem for Mr Vince remains how to get his money out of the club and also stem the £1m losses.  And here is his answer – relocation.

The club owners have their eyes on a site that is currently earmarked for an incinerator. That proposal is still to be decided on by Eric Pickles but if he gives it the thumbs down then Vince is ready to move FGR away from the New Lawn.

Unfortunately, the new proposed site is not in Nailsworth, it is in Gloucester .

Of course, Gloucester already has a team.  Gloucester City currently play in Cheltenham but are hoping to return to Glaaarster in the near future.

Quite how Vince’s ambitions will make that possible remains to be seen.  With a hugely popular rugby club in situ their probably isn’t room for two footie clubs.

Perhaps the best solution would be to allow the megalomaniac to buy Gloucester City and allow FGR to continue to serve the small Cotswold town that has been its home for the last 125 years.

Who would pay off this guy though ?

As we type this FGR have just been deducted 3 points for playing an unregistered player and are once again struggling to make a decent challenge for promotion.  Not only that, but they were recently ordered to pay out a six figure sum after being judged to have unfairly dismissed Andy Mangan six months into a three-year contract.

How long their ambitious owner will persevere with manager Ade Pennock is a cause for much discussion.

http://www.stroudlife.co.uk/Forest-Green-R…tail/story.html

Seeing Ghosts: Revisiting Underhill

I’ve only seen Wrexham play at Underhill once.  But the match, the occasion and the ground itself left a big impression on me.

When Wrexham travelled to Underhill, in the spring of 2007, they looked a side destined for relegation to the Conference.  They hadn’t won any of Brian Carey’s first eight games in charge and had slipped into the relegation zone.  For the first half of the match, it looked like nothing was going to change.  Wrexham looked like a side going through the motions; toiling up-hill in the first half; going a goal behind.  We’d seen it all before that season. We’d huff and puff.  We’d lose.  We’d go home disappointed.  Rinse and repeat until we go down.

But something changed.  Maybe it was the bright spring sunshine; maybe it was kicking downhill.  Who knows?  But come the second half, the Wrexham fans started singing.  One man spent the entire second half banging one of the East Stand pillars – alcohol no doubt numbing what must have been his increasingly bruised hand.

And then Lee McEvilly scored.  A 25-yard screamer.  Then, three minutes later, he scored again – this time a looping header.  We then had to wait thirty, agonizing, minutes to clinch the victory.  It must have been worse in the dugout; Brian Carey seemed too paralyzed with fear to even make the usual time-wasting substitutions lest he somehow break Wrexham’s fragile advantage.

But somehow we prevailed and the support, the atmosphere and the relief that game were unlike anything I’ve felt watching Wrexham before or since.  It felt like a turning point and so it proved; we lost only four more games that season, surviving relegation on the last-day.

It was partly because of this that I was saddened to see Barnet move away from Underhill at the start of last season.  The stated reason was a trumped-up feud with the local council.   It doesn’t take a paranoid Wrexham fan to suggest that a chairman with property interests in High Barnet might well have a vested interest in wresting the football club away from its historic home.  When Barnet moved into The Hive in Edgeware (a ground originally built for Wealdstone), I assumed that Underhill would be no more, lost like so many other historic London football grounds.

It was, then, a surprise to learn that Underhill is still standing, and, all things considered, in great nick.   Even more unlikely, it was hosting a football match again.  Ironically, given where Barnet now reside, Underhill is now the temporary home of Edgeware Town.  The Wares are themselves something of a ghost;  a reformation of a club that died not long after my first visit to Underhill.  My visit was to be their very first home game since reforming.

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The crowd was 172.  No doubt a respectable crowd for a team five tiers below the Conference but about a sixteenth the crowd that had seen that Wrexham’s turnaround.  The place had a slight Mary Celeste quality to it.  We were watching a match at three o’clock on a Saturday, in a football league stadium, yet hardly anyone was there.  We occupied the padded seats of the directors box.

The crowd was an eclectic mix.  A selection of old Edgeware Town fans made up the bulk of the crowd, augmented with groundhoppers keen to see Underhill for maybe the last time.  Also present were about thirty or so Barnet refusniks who are boycotting the Bees while they play outside the borough.

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The match, a “derby” with Barnet-based London Maccabi Lions (the highest place Jewish team in the football pyramid), was a poor one.  A howler from the ‘Ware keeper gave Lions the lead before Edgeware responded in the second half to earn a draw.  But I wasn’t really there for the football.  I was there to see the ground.

Underhill is magnificently ramshackle.  The East Stand, running the length of the pitch, starkly illustrates the slope of the pitch.  The weest and North sides of the ground are a hotch-potch of little stands – as though every time the regulations have changed someone has just tacked a new stand on to the ground.  It is charming, and, in an age of soulless newbuilds (of which Barnet’s current ground is a prime example), increasingly rare.

When Edgeware Town move back to Harrow (something that will happen as soon as they install a 3G pitch), Underhill will fall silent again.  Perhaps it won’t ever host a football match again.  It will be a big loss to football.

 

The Search For Real Football: Wiener Sportklub vs Red Bull Salzburg

The magic of a midweek cup game. The big boys coming to town. There’s tobacco and bratwurst smoke in the air, creating a thick fog of excitement and anticipation. It’s a recipe for a once-a-season dream for the locals.

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In one pocket on the north west side of Vienna, Wiener Sportklub (5th in the equivalent of a Conference East) brace themselves for the arrival of Red Bull Salzburg; Bundesliga powerhouses with not just the energy of the Austrian top flight behind them but the energy drinks backing of Dietrich Mateschitz too.

Despite there only being 24 places between these two teams, in terms of magnitude this is Manchester City vs Bromley; the sugar daddy from out west versus the historic battlers from the capital with heritage stretching back over a hundred years. In terms of importance however, this was Milton Keynes Dons versus Royal Engineers; a franchised club with less than a decade on the clock versus the cup winners of a bygone age.

But I’ll touch on that later. With an average attendance of 1300, it was an encouraging sight to see over 6200 fans packed into the Sportklub Platz. This was a small and compact stadium, but three sides of terracing for us and one seating stand for them brought back memories of being in the Kop. Packed in like sardines, every one of us. We were all here for one thing and one thing only; to see the mighty Wiener SK come rain or shine, win or lose.

The game kicked off at 20:30 and from this point on there was a roar from the Friedhofstribüne which lasted the whole game. “Sportklub, Sportklub”. This was something I hadn’t experienced, not even with the Town. 90 minutes of completely solid singing, both in English and Viennese dialect. The diversity was fantastic; we had variations on the Indiana Jones theme, Guantanamera and other English classics such as “We love you ___, we do” and my personal favourite, a constant bellow of “We’re going to win the game” to the tune of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.

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As for the on the pitch action, Salzburg opened up a two goal lead inside 15 minutes. Who were we kidding? You would have to be delusional to deny the gulf in quality, and the Wiener SK players knew this too. But it didn’t stop them trying. Perhaps lacking composure and decision making in the final third was a hindrance, but Sportklub constantly plugged away and the fans appreciated that. Every single pass, every single interception, every tackle, every header, every dribble, anything Wiener did with the ball was met with rapturous noise and applause.

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Then on 31 minutes, something happened. A blitzing run from the Wiener left winger saw him speeding into the box at a tremendous rate of knots. The centre-back came across, the winger cut inside to give him the slip… he goes down. No penalty! But this didn’t concern Pollack; Salzburg couldn’t clear their lines with a player on the deck and the Wiener #9 crashed the ball into the far corner. 2-1! A goal for the minnows, in front of the whole country.

This was as good as it got for Sportklub. After that, the goals flew in at the wrong end. It was 4-1 at half time and an incredible 12-1 at full time. Had the occasion gotten the better of them? Maybe, maybe not. I asked some fans about it and they all commented about how Wiener had some defensive frailties. Sometimes in football, you have to admit that the other side has much more quality and today this was emphatically demonstrated.

Strangely enough though, this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game. I loved it, not just because I saw 13 goals as a neutral. The constant singing, the idiosyncratic action of everybody jangling their keys when there was a set piece, good food and 100% effort from players and fans in the face of serious adversity made for a thrilling evening for this Wrexham fan.

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And that’s what brings me to the title of this essay; real football. What is that magic X Factor? It’s the atmosphere. It is being amongst your fellow supporters, no matter your background, getting together and putting a big smile on each other’s faces as your heroes strut their stuff. It felt brilliant.

My next challenge on Football Manager will be taking Wiener Sportklub back to the Bundesliga.

How can I sum the night up? Well there I was, a Welsh guy, living in Slovakia, watching a football game in Austria.

Travel: €25

Ticket: €16

Football Without Borders: Priceless

After the game, I caught up with a senior member of the WSK fan club to ask him on his thoughts not only about this game, but about some topics in Austrian football generally.

I mentioned earlier on that Red Bull Salzburg are somewhat comparably with Milton Keynes Dons. SV Austria Salzburg were a proud club going about their business until they were taken over by the Red Bull group in 2005, when their name and club colours (from violet to red) were promptly changed. A group of fans set up a new SV Austria Salzburg were placed in the 7th tier of Austrian football.

From the brief chat I had, I happily found that many people dislike RB Salzburg exactly because of their Borg-like assimilation of Austria Salzburg and sugar daddy backing. Furthermore, the club board actively discourage the traditional football culture and actively try to run every facet of the club’s life. Let me tell you, it was a big shock that 1200 fans saw their team score twelve goals in one game yet remain completely silent throughout.

They have won 5 Bundesliga titles and 2 Austrian cups since their 2005 rebranding but for football fans, there is a happy ending on the horizon. SV Austria Salzburg 2005 have rocketed through the leagues over the last 9 years and have won 4 promotions to find themselves in the third tier, one off the league system and two away from the top flight. They are actually now in the same tier as Wiener SK but in the western division as opposed to the eastern. In two years time, we could have the Austrian version of Manchester United vs FC United.

But what of Wiener SK? How do they regroup following a 12-1 drubbing? They are currently 5th in the Bundesliga-Ost. Having finished 16th last season and therefore narrowly avoiding relegation, this season is about consolidation. They will improve their defence and look towards a real promotion challenge next season. Sound familiar?