Come all you friendly bombs...
By Tim Pseudonym
According to a sign just outside Slough town centre, it's seventeen miles to Watford. It's one of those directional signs that only has two places on it that, if read by an optimistic football fanatic with a good imagination and an interest in the team bearing the town name, can read like a football score (Slough 2, Watford 17). Are you all still with me? I think I've been reading too many of IG's match reports.
So where does Slough fit into all this? Well, the place doesn't really, which is probably good news I suppose for those John Betjeman fans amongst you. You see, I have a theory. My theory dictates that as well as supporting your main team, most football fans will also look for several other teams' scores of a Saturday evening (or now every day of the week bar Thursday, thanks to R.Murdoch Esq.). And my theory also states that one of those teams will be down in the depths of the Vauxhall Conference or in my case the premier division of the Rymans League, the current, hopefully temporary, home of Slough Town.
There have been several non-league teams vying for my affection over the years. Walton & Hersham tried with some success for a couple of years in my early teens, my affection born as much of the fact that it was somewhere to go and that we used to get a free lift on the team coach to away games (we went as far as Oxford City once!). Hayes also tried, unsuccessfully, but for an away game at Aldershot in the first round of the FA Cup which was marred by some predictable crowd trouble. Predictable due to the Aldershot Constabulary's misplaced belief that fans from non-league teams don't cause trouble and therefore don't need segregating. Probably true in 99% of cases but Hayes, at the time, often attracted a fair share of Chelsea fans for big games. The fact that any Chelsea fans lived in Hayes was surprising in itself given the amount there are in Slough. Oh yeah, Slough.
My attention shifted to Slough Town in 1990 when I started working in the area. The following year I moved to Slough and my infrequent support for Hayes quickly turned into something stronger towards the Rebels, although never approaching my fervent adulation for the Hornets. Despite this feeling of belonging to both the town and the club, my first visit to Wexham Park was not until a couple of years ago and even then it was to support the visitors - Watford's reserve team in a pre-season friendly. An entertaining 2-2 draw in the sunshine with Watford surrendering a 2-0 half time lead. This much to the amusement of my wife, Slough born and bred - no jokes please, she's lovely.
So where is all this going? Well, in Slough's case almost straight down the pan after their owner had a close season row with the Conference, the Council, the Club (and probably his cousin Colin from Catford) and failed to comply with league regulations by putting in an extra forty-nine seats. Consequently, the club were almost declared non-existent, demoted several divisions before managing to convince the Rymans League to allow them a place in their premier division literally days before the start of the season. The owner (tosser) I believe has now departed, with Alan Brazil (yes - that one) installed as Director of Football and Graham Roberts (yes - that one) poached from Enfield as manager.
So with all of this going on, I vowed to try and get to 'The Park' more often which I managed to do for the cup replay against Macclesfield. I'd forgotten the chasm of difference between league and non-league which was initially highlighted three days before the game when I purchased my ticket from the club bar. Being greeted by two elderly gentlemen overseeing a small cash tin, handing out a barely more elaborate ticket than that normally exchanged for a box of biscuits at a tea dance raffle is a far cry from queuing at The Vic on Sunday to purchase my £25 entry to witness another White Hart Lane victory.
The entry into the ground on the night was equally eye-opening with both Macclesfield and Slough fans mixing openly (fortunately no repeat of Aldershot as all the Chelsea fans had probably gone to Hayes). Then, once past the lovely smell that is festering burgers, it hits you. The unmistakable, instantly recognisable aroma of freshly applied Ralgex. All of a sudden you realise that you are part of the action, that you are close enough to take a wrong turn in search of the toilets and end up on the subs bench. I miss that at Watford. Yes, the 'new' Vic is great and it beats standing in the rain but you remain somewhat detached from what it's really all about. You lose sight of the fact that these guys that are paid thousands are just like you and me or anyone else that has coated their legs in half an inch of Ralgex on a Sunday morning. We only see them from the 'outside' world, from the relative comfort of the North Stand and they become players on the pitch, not people like us.
Standing on the halfway line that night at Slough, a few feet away from the touchline, you could see what it was all about. Eleven part-time guys trying everything they could to reach the second round of the FA Cup in order to meet Cambridge. Cambridge - the team we had struggled so badly against this season. If Slough had beaten Macclesfield, their league game against Walton & Hersham would have been cancelled. Walton & Hersham - the non-league team I had 'followed' en route to Slough. The irony of it all made me smile. Slough didn't win, although they fully deserved to, but they did beat Walton & Hersham on the day that Macclesfield were doing what Watford were unable to do on three occasions.
Greavesy was right. It is, and always will be.