Wish we were at home for Xmas

The new Supporters Direct campaign is a cracker (no pun intended) and really strikers a chord as Gloucester City AFC ends another year in exile.

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Find out more about the campaign on the Supporters Direct site.

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Three is the magic (of the FA Cup) number

The lovely Etheridge brothers doing their bit to promote their clubs ahead of their FA Cup meeting tomorrow.

Ace video

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Some clubs are more equal than others: Bishop’s Stortford’s £12k

All’s fair in love and war, but evidently not in the world of non-league football given today’s announcement that Bishop’s Stortford will receive a £12,000 sweetener for playing in the Conference North.

This is apparently to cover the extra costs needed for transport and overnight stops in the North, despite the fact that they do not have the highest mileage (hello Workington and Blyth) and are only around 0.050 degrees further south than Gloucester, who were not given so much as a penny when they were promoted into the Conference North three years ago – when the ground (Cirencester) they were playing at was geographically further south than Braintree, Chelmsford, Worcester and, um, Bishop’s Stortford.

So will this set a precedent for other clubs (Weston, Chelmsford) who could find themselves pushed into the Northern half of Step 2 if relegations / promotions are skewed again.

Conference chairman Brian Lee told the Non-League Paper that this won’t be the case.

“It’s not a precedent for any other club,” he said. “Every case will be treated on its merits. Bishop’s Stortford have accepted the place in the North and out gesture to help them with the costs. They didn’t ask for anything.”

Presumably the ‘anything’ doesn’t cover the move back to the Conference South which Bishop’s Stortford demanded, via their local paper, because it was only right that they should be able to play in a league close to other teams. Or the appeal that they quietly dropped this week on legal advice.

Now lets rewind a bit here and remind ourselves of some key points.

Firstly – Bishop’s Stortford are not a ‘Conference South’ club, they are simply the 22nd most northern side at Step 2, there is no god-given right to be in either league in Step 2, just ask Worcester City, they’ve played in both.

Secondly – Although it wasn’t until the AGM last month that Bishop’s Stortford were “transferred from Conference South to Conference North on a geographical basis,” due to Rushden and Diamonds being booted out of the Conference Premier (appeal pending) – its not like the problems at Rushden came out of the blue, they were struggling to pay player last December. Anyone with a bit of common sense could have seen that there was a chance, albeit a slim one, of Bishop’s Stortford heading north. After the season had finished it was even clearer (Thurrock having the most points-per-game for a potential reprieve etc) – so Bishop’s Stortford have probably had as much time as anyone else to prepare a team. Gloucester, the 23rd most Northern side at Step 2 have a largely Bristol-based squad, most players travel 45 mins minimum to get to Gloucester (then another 10mins to Cheltenham for each home game)- so the ‘oh but the players will have to travel more’ argument doesn’t wash. I’d imagine the movement of players between Harrogate and Blyth this summer would suggest many of them aren’t based entirely in the local area either. Travel is part of football – if a player wants to play at the highest level possible they have to travel.

Thirdly – Bishop’s Stortford’s handout covers costs for overnight stops for three games, good for them, but how many overnight stops did Blyth, Workington and the other big travellers do last season?

Workington travelled on the day of the game to Gloucester, five long hours through the Lake District then down the M6/M5, and lost. Gloucester set off at 5am to Blyth and won. Redditch had to rely on the kindness of a stranger to be able to afford to travel to Blyth on a Tuesday night. Brian Lee feels overnight stops are needed so is he going to pay for other clubs?

What business does the Conference have in effectively supporting the budget of one team over another – Workington and Gloucester both had to forgo an overnight stop late in the season due to a shortfall in revenue across the whole of the season, albeit with differing results. Bishop’s Stortford don’t have to worry about fewer people coming through the gate or a curtailed cup run affecting their travel plans because of their pocket money handout from the Conference – it hardly makes it a level playing field, to pardon the pun.

As a letter writer in this week’s NLP points out:

“In hard economic times it is important we keep our clubs viable”

Quite, but when the league bosses are giving kindly ‘gestures’ to some and not others it makes it that bit more difficult.

Fourthly – the danger of ‘precedent’ or the lack of it. The Conference have done this before – with Worcester. Shifted from North to South in 2008 caused them to lose players, after complaining to the Conference they were given a two season agreement that they wouldn’t be moved again. If these ‘gestures’ are given to some teams and not others it is almost a return to the old days of election to the leagues, based on who is in favour and penalising those who aren’t. Bishop’s Stortford clearly shouted louder than Gloucester did a few years ago because they’ve got £12K – so does that mean Gloucester can claim the same amount three times over, backdated to their ‘surprise’ inclusion in the North, or get an agreement not to be moved again? I very much doubt it.

To hand £12K to one team alone, when all the teams at Step 2 have to travel significant distances (thanks to Truro being promotion all of the Southern teams have at least one big trip) is a farce – the Conference should be focussing their efforts on trying to work out a way to fix the division of Step 2, rather than creating tension and trouble with a one-off payment. A more sensible idea would be having each club pay into a central pot, covering the cost of the league’s average mileage – that pot is then dished out according to a team’s actual mileage meaning everyone pays the same for travel. It’s not like this situation is a new, unique problem – the unbalance number of ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ promotions and relegations has been causing problems up and down the pyramid for some time now.

Finally – the question of the ‘poor’ fans, the Bishop’s Stortford fans would do well to speak to their counter parts in Workington and Blyth about traveling 150 miles to their nearest game, or to Gloucester and Worcester fans about what its like to pass each other going in opposite directions on the motorway due to being in different leagues. Yes its a pain to travel, but its part of the game, sorry it takes you out of your London/South East comfort zone but if Bishop’s Stortford ended up in the Conference Premier would they be kicking off about going to Gateshead and the like?

It’s about time Bishop’s Stortford took the advice of the just to the Blyth chairman who, when Gloucester complained about being put in the North three years, told the NLP that they should stop moaning do their talking on the pitch.

Last season, without the need for an overnight stop, Gloucester travelled the length of the country and beat Blyth (for the second) year running in their own back yard.

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Publicity is a warm lentil burger

What if your boss announced that from Monday you couldn’t have coffee at work anymore? You could have mint tea only because he had given up caffeine and was now passing on his personal choices to you, the workforce?

You’d probably think your boss was going a bit crazy.

But swap coffee for red meat and boss for chairman and you have the latest strange events to come out of the little (vegan) club on the hill; Forest Green Rovers.

Green millionaire and saviour of FGR Dale Vince has ‘taken meat off the menu’ (apparently this is very different to a ban) – players were stopped from eating red meat a while back and now burgers, hot dogs and the popular cottage pie are no more for visitors to the New Lawn.

It isn’t really that much of a surprise from the club who are the football equivalent of Pheobe from Friends, kooky, weird and sometimes you don’t know whether you are laughing with them or at them.

For now the club will enjoy a couple of days in the media spotlight – reaffirming their ‘quirky’ status but I’m sure some of the fans will be wishing they were in the news for events on the pitch for once.

Whilst this news has the lentil-scented whiff of a publicity stunt about it (it has certainly put Forest Green in the public eye again and follows a story early this season about ‘maybe playing in pink shirts’ next season) I suspect it is Vince, who made his millions from green energy and is a committed vegan, finally starting to put his personality into the club he saved from the brink back in the summer.

He is a properly committed green warrier, having set up Ecotricity in 1995 (he also has an eco-sports car worth around £750,000 for driving around the Gloucestershire countryside) but he is also rooted to his local community, saving Rovers from what looked like certain administration follows various other projects which have seen him try to spread his green ethos to the local area (which is not difficult, Stroud is a hippy enclave).

With such strong beliefs and a major investment in the club it was only a matter of time before he started to make Forest Green a truly green club. He’s admitted he’s not really been a big football man in the past and entrusted that side of the business to manager David Hockaday so obviously he’s taking on the bits that he does know about and the bits he cares about – his statement is certainly passionate.

But at a time when football attendances are plummeting (FGR’s is down around 300 compared to last year) and most clubs are struggling for revenue or to pay off debts/the taxman (Kidderminster, Histon, Ilkeston, Eton & Windsor etc etc) is it really a wise commercial decision to stop selling burgers, bacon sarnies and hot dogs.

Forest Green Rovers’ ground has a pub beneath it, the Green Man, and this has built a reputation for its superb cottage pies, these are no more. Likewise the function suite hosted regular Sunday Carvery events, not any more.

Don’t worry though, the chairman says there will be some meat on the menu:

“The club will still have poultry and fish on its menu, as well as vegetarian food. However the poultry will be free range and the fish from sustainable stocks – in a further step in the right direction.”

Yes, looking at ethical sources of food is important and I get that.

Yes, Forest Green are setting a good example in terms of sustainability and all of that.

But I do feel it’s a bit arrogant – not many clubs can afford to source free range chicken or ethical fish – it’s a bit like Hugh FW getting mums to learn to bake or visit a battery farm, good idea but when you have mouths to feed and there is a value chicken (or pack of mince) so cheap why bother with the happy free range stuff. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth for the other clubs in the league who can barely afford to pay the wages to see another club, one which was so so close to financial ruin, spuffing away money on free range chicken and happy salmon and saying that they don’t need to sell bacon rolls.

And to say that he doesn’t mind if supporters bring a ham sandwich into the ground, again it’s a bit blasé – do FGR not want to make money from food at the ground? They’ve worked hard to make the New Lawn a modern club, with a pub, a gym and function suites but taking away a whole possible chunk of earnings is a bit of an odd decision.

Up the road and over the border at Hereford United there were protests and complaints over the poor quality of the food until a local company Ascari’s were brought in to provide locally made (and sourced) Herefordshire beef pies, which I am assured by a season ticket holder, are the best he’s tasted anywhere…local sourcing is a great idea – its about local businesses supporting local businesses but something about the FGR thing leaves me uneasy.

Some of the fans are already grumbling about the fact it was a half-time treat for sons/ nephews/ grandchildren, they don’t like being told what to eat and the excellent point that if the move is on health grounds why are they still selling crisps?

The FGR fans have had a slightly fractious relationship with the club this season – from the joy of a reprieve and financial security from Mr Vince, to the lows of 12 games without a win and the threat of the relegation zone, players in and out (sometimes controversially), protests to get the manager out, praise for how well the manager has done, its been a rollercoaster and some of them, some of the ones who are already thinking twice about coming to games might be lost.

As one Gloucester City fan put it:

In the words of The Cure’s Robert Smith:”‘If Morrissey says ‘Meat is Murder’ then I’ll eat meat because I hate Morrissey”

I should imagine some Rovers fans might share this view.

Banning the players from eating red meat ‘on health grounds’ is also an interesting approach – does it extend to their home life too? No more lasagne or spag bol? No more sneaky Maccy D’s on the way back from training?

Hmm will they keep to it?

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Sexism in football – “Do me a favour love”

So Sky Sports’ resident Neanderthals have been mouthing off about why women don’t know the offside rule and how we need to pipe down about sexism.

Lovely.

This from a pair who believe punditry extends to bellowing and drawing squiggles on an interactive whiteboard. We are not blessed with great pundits at the moment, what with them, Alan ‘opinions’ Shearer and literally Jamie Redknapp but that is another story entirely.

If Gray and Keys tore themselves away from their lovely bubble where they can get away with patronising a successful business woman they might notice an increasing number of women watching, playing and officiating the beautiful game.

It’s been mentioned elsewhere that any other official or ref (male) would not have had their CV brought up by commentators.

And as Lady Arse has pointed out if the comments were racially orientated they would be out of a job faster than you can say Ron Atkinson, ditto if they had been a Glen Hoddle-style comment on disability.

But sexism is fair game because “girls don’t have a place in the modern game love” *barked in the manner of an overweight Scotsman*

Saying that girls don’t get the offside rule, let alone a qualified official working in the highest level of football is at as offensive as previous pundit off-camera comments about tsunamis.

We all know the TV channel where the women are immaculately groomed and young and the men are invariably middle-aged, clinically obese and less than aesthetically pleasing will do sod all about this, the culpable pair will have some ‘banter’ about it next week.

[update: in the face of a media shitstorm the Shouty man and Mr Hairy Hands were suspended from Monday Night Football]

[updated update: Gray has now been sacked, presumably because a) its not the first complaint against him and b) unlike Keys he did not apologise]

As a football fan, who writes about football for a living, mixes in football orientated circles and pretty much lives and breathes the game, it doesn’t really feel like attitudes will change that quickly.

There are plenty of men who accept women at football but the ones who don’t tend to have the loudest voices, as they explain loudly at the bar just why X, Y, Z decision was wrong like some horrendous 606 phone in that you can’t switch off.

I’ve had the raised eyebrows at the gate when I say I am press, I’ve been asked to move for the real reporter, called love and pet, asked which player I’m going out with (three times, at Southport) and heard the muttered ‘banter’ from away teams when I interview the manager after a game. There was also an incident with a camera phone (ironically at a game refereed by a woman.)

It can feel fairly intimidating at an away ground being one of a handful of women there.

I can’t imagine what it is like as an official, already a target for abuse, blame and ire before the fans spot your ponytail.

Referees are under pressure like never before – one only has to listen back to another meathead (Adrian Durham) berating Graham Poll on Talksport last week to get a flavour of this armchair officiating movement. If you don’t want to listen back (and I don’t blame you) Durham barked at Poll to the point where the referee branded him ‘puerile’, I zoned out after that as Durham seemed to be making the same point over and over again, much to the bemusement of an audibly embarrassed Darren Gough.

There is no doubt that with the advent of referees’ assessors at every single game match officials are under the spotlight. You get refs who play to the rule-book – stop, starting the game and not really playing advantage. You get the nervy linos who flag for every maybe.

But you also get the no drama, no nonsense official who makes the right decision at the right time its just that unless they are on TV, in front of thousands when they make that right decision, no one really mentions it – male or female.

Its not just the women running the line or refereeing the game who seem to be facing the flack.

As one of the few girls writing about non-league it sometimes seems like I have to work harder to prove myself.

Make an assertion which the fans don’t agree with and some of them will have a go – fair enough you might not agree with me but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am wrong. Away forums have had a field day when they realise I’m a girl, because it gives them reason to pick holes in what I write because obviously girls don’t understand the game…

Nevermind the fact that other (male) reporters spell players’ names wrong, miss out key events and all that.

Now if a ref makes a decision, which has an impact on the game, I’ll point it out – last week the ref at Boston v Gloucester missed a clear handball, watched by an assessor who asked for the video footage…

It was duly mentioned in every report.

Just like Wolves v Liverpool, Gloucester v Workington had a female lino yesterday.

She did well, made a couple of good calls, nothing wildy exciting really, she was a helluva lot better than some of the officials we’ve had at Whaddon Road this season but there was nothing which made her stand out.

She didn’t even get a mention in the match report.

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Ollie Barnes – big in Hungary

After writing about Ollie Barnes for http://www.twofootedtackle.com [see here] TigerTV caught up with him after he scored another goal, this time against Stafford.

But he seemed a bit bemused about the whole situation – a footballer who doesn’t use the internet or read about himself…

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The sounds of silence

If you wanted to find out results or info about your local team where would you go?

I set up a website – www.sportglos.co.uk – in the summer to try and provide equal coverage for all non-league teams in Gloucestershire, its doing ok and that’s fine but as a football fan I still want to read reports and find out the scores on a Saturday, that’s what it is all about…so where can I go:

The paper? Decreases in pagination means there is less space in the average local daily these days and whatever report is in there can be cut down to a few paragraphs. It isn’t the fault of the sportsdesks, they are dictated to from above – if a paper goes drops pages it is done usually in multiples of eight, sometimes 16 – for the front of the paper four few pages is a hassle but not a massive issue, for sport it can wipe out the coverage significantly.

Furthermore new deadlines and few staff mean sportsdesks are stretched to the max at the moment – midweek games now appear two days after the event around here, the buzz of filing on a Tuesday night, doing half at half time and the rest as soon as possible after the final whistle has all but gone. Still the print the reports and cover as many teams as possible – they are doing their best.

So what about your local radio instead then? There is a clue in the name and you would expect a mention now and the perhaps? A lot of independent stations around the midlands regularly send reporters to games and receive updates.

But the BBC is a bit more hit and miss…

An update on a Monday morning sports bulletin? Ok some of the lower steps of the ‘non-league triangle’ might have to wait until the FA Cup for some ‘Magic of the Cup’ nonsense if they get a good draw.

But if you were Blue Square Regional, the third highest placed club in the county – you could at least expect results every Monday right??

Wrong

Listeners to BBC Radio Gloucestershire on Wednesday would have heard a mention of the previous night’s Gloucester City match (bearing an uncanny resemblance in the language used to a report from SportGlos – ie the first line almost lifted) in the early bulletin but later reports simply carried the fact that a player had broken his leg, at one point getting his name wrong (it was a stand in presenter in a new patch, I will let her off).  As someone connected to the club pointed out ‘they only want to know when something has gone wrong.’ Still at least they mentioned it.

Anyway, I recently offered to supply updates and mini-reports for the BBC – for FREE! Knowing that

a) I am at the matches every week and they are not

b) With the hefty away trips City fans can’t always make it to Hyde/ Workington/ Harrogate etc so there would be an audience happy to have the news

c) There was slim to no chance of seeing a BBC reporter at the games because they too have been hit by the staffing hell and budget cuts which have affected the papers.

I wasn’t expecting to do live commentary of every game – just a bit of team news maybe, an update down the phone at half time and full time, just a bit more that: Workington 2, Gloucester City 1…

My offer was turned down because covering Gloucester City (even if it is done by a volunteer, for free,  on an ad hoc basis) would ‘dilute’ the overall coverage because there is not someone at the next club up (Forest Green Rovers) who would do the same.

Now IF FGR had stayed down (technically they were relegated) and IF the two teams had been at the same level (although due to the perverse nature of the FA in different leagues) would this have changed?

We will never know and it is a bit galling for the City fans to see the luxury of a spot on the local news and increased coverage FGR have won through the luck of their reprieve – the last time City were on the local news was during the push for promotion, in a piece filmed in Bristol – but they are in a higher league and that is that. It is even more galling to have an offer of reports turned down, only to hear them cribbing from your report on the sports news a week later…(and I know they didn’t take it from my report in the Citizen because of the new deadlines see above ^ ^ ^)

I know there is a clear hierarchy in the county with the golden giants of Gloucester Rugby and Cheltenham Town dominating at the top (with a bit of county cricket in the summer) but in such a vibrant sporting community in the county not covering one team further down the hierarchy because it might upset the balance is cutting your nose of despite your face a little bit, isn’t it?

Also if one person from City is prepared to help you can bet there is someone at FGR too – they have a press officer and two reporters from local papers, not to mention Stroud FM doing there bit.

And then there is the BBC Charter – I don’t want to come over all Daily Mail here but the licence fee comes with a charter, the BBC’s promise of the service it will provide.

The BBC Trust defines it public purposes as to:

1. Represent the different nations, regions and communities to the rest of the UK.

2. Cater for the different nations, regions and communities of the UK.

3. Bring people together for shared experiences.

4. Encourage interest in and conversation about local communities.

5. Reflect the different religious and other beliefs in the UK.

6. Provide output in minority languages.

Well now:

  1. The non-league football community (and indeed the rugby community below national league two) is pretty much untouched by BBC local radio at the moment, which is a real shame when the current FA Chairman Roger Burden is also the president of the Gloucestershire Football Association
  2. Ditto
  3. No brainer – a comprehensive match day experience (catering for rugby too as it is equally important to some people in the county) would be hugely popular – Steve Kitchen’s Match Day is good at the moment, if you are interested in Cheltenham Town, but not everyone is. The OTT world cup coverage on the station (see previous blog rant) tried to create a shared experience, thousands watch non-league every Saturday in Gloucestershire and already have that.
  4. What better local story than the plucky underdogs, who have no home after the 2007 floods (the only ones left homeless still, three years after ‘the day the rains came’) but have still finished with a higher league placing every year for the past five, with a local school teacher as their captain? Who get put in the northern league and have the equivalent travel this season of a round trip to Mongolia? (To which they may well reply, the club on the verge of administration, saved from relegation, chaired by the former MP and potentially saved by an eco-millionaire)

5 and 6 don’t come into it so much….

The whole reason SportGlos was set up was out of the frustration of not seeing Gloucester or Cleeve or Ciren or Shortwood or any of the other non-league sides get a decent level of coverage – ie full length reports, printed as soon as they are ready after a match.

The offer of help to the BBC was perhaps naïve in expecting the free offer of assistance to be snapped up but it doesn’t change the fact the BBC has a charter obligation to cover local communities and it isn’t doing it here…the ‘time and resources’ argument doesn’t come into it when someone else is offering to help.

The BBC website bombards readers with appeals for ‘citizen journalism’ – Plane crash? Were you on it, send us a picture? Ooh coment on this? News happens in a remote area – were you there because we weren’t? etc etc but then the offer to provide such a service is turned down, sometimes it feels like you are banging your head against a brick wall.

SportGlos has been live blogging for Gloucester games so far this season – including updates where possible from other games too – I think we are going to stick to this, the feedback has been good so far, and wait for the inevitable radio piece about the ‘Magic of the Cup’ later in the year….

Yours frustrated,

Thegirlsilver….

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