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The cold reality of life in League Two

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Paul Fletcher | 18:11 UK time, Monday, 18 January 2010

Aldershot manager Kevin Dillon was secretly rather happy when his team were hit by a couple of postponements in mid-December.

His team had played eight games in the space of 28 days since he took over from caretaker boss Jason Dodd and Dillon was relishing the chance to spend some more time preparing his players.

Fast forward a month and he is now itching for a return to action because the Shots have played just once since 12 December as the snow and freezing temperatures have led to the postponement of five fixtures for his side.

What's more, Dillon readily admits that his wife is starting to tire of seeing so much of him around the house.

Thankfully his side are scheduled to make a return to action for the first time since Boxing Day when they take on League Two leaders Rochdale on Tuesday evening.

The last of the snow was removed from the pitch at The Recreation Ground on Sunday and the story of how the ground has been cleared for action is not just about the hard work undertaken by groundsman Andy Nunn but a tale of a community pulling together.

Repeatedly over the last month supporters have responded to appeals from the club to help clear snow from the pitch and the stadium walkways.

Nunn, a former Shots player, was joined by 20 volunteers on Sunday morning - and he told me: "All year round we rely on volunteers to help us survive, with four or five that come in on a regular basis, but recently the help has been amazing."

It was the same story the previous Friday, when the club held what general manager Richard Petty described as a "shovel party" and they are scenes that have been repeated up and down the country.

Accrington Stanley's game against Rotherham on Saturday fell victim to a waterlogged pitch but the attempt to make the pitch playable and the ground safe in the days before brought the community together.

Clubs all over League Two have been reliant on volunteer support Volunteer support is important in the lower leagues

Stanley chief executive Robert Heys described Thursday's efforts to clear the ground as one of his proudest moments in his time at the club.

Supporters turned up, as did the first-team squad, the management team and the club staff. Mick from Redash, a big Stanley fan, appeared with his digger, which significantly increased productivity.

It all placed in perspective what a football club means to a community and how, at a certain level, supporters still retain a central role and indispensible role.

The same can be argued when it comes to a club's finances. League Two is a different economic world to the Premier League clubs that have become corporate, global brands.

"The postponements are a big concern for a club at our level in the football pyramid because we do rely quite a lot on the gate money that comes in," said Aldershot's Petty.

"Put it this way, we are very glad the weather has turned. It is a big relief."

Hey reckons that Accrington have been insulated because of their cup exploits. Stanley reached the Northern Area semi-final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy before losing to Leeds and are in the third round of the FA Cup, in which they play Gillingham on Tuesday evening.

"It gave us a bit of a buffer," he said. "If not we might have had to look at bringing in some money in the short term to bridge the gap."

Accrington, who have not played this calendar year, have received enquiries about several of their highly-rated young players.

Stanley are 11th in the table and with the play-offs still in their sights do not want to break up their squad.

But Heys was candid enough to admit that if the club had not been on such a sound financial footing, selling a player would have been one way of compensating for any shortfall.

Then there are others smaller issues that nonetheless accumulate over time. Hey pointed out that the club has still lost out financially after producing matchday programmes that have not been sold, while Petty cites a loss of momentum in selling advertising and sponsorship.

Two of the Aldershot fixtures that were postponed were away from home, at Hereford and Darlington. The team had already travelled north by the time they were called off and Dillon estimates the cost of each trip at £2,000. He also reckons that his players have spent 20 hours travelling to and from the two games.

Even so, Dillon thinks the situation could have been a lot worse if he had not found alternative training facilities for his squad.

Their normal training pitch at Aldershot Garrison has not been used since mid-December but the Shots have been training at Ash Manor School and, lately, Reading's large indoor dome close to the Madejski Stadium.

"The dome at Reading has been used by Portsmouth, Luton and a few other clubs and we have been very lucky to train there," said Dillon, a former first-team coach at the Royals.

"I'm quite relaxed because we have been able to do a lot of ball-work. In fact, I spoke to Luton manager Richard Money recently and he said he has almost done another pre-season with his players."

Accrington boss John Coleman has also been taking his squad to different facilities to ensure they train properly. They have used the Liverpool Academy facilities, the indoor pitch at the DW Stadium in Wigan and Preston Sports Arena.

One day at the DW Stadium facilities, Accrington found themselves training alongside Burnley and Bolton.

"We have had to go from pillar to post," said Coleman. "It is difficult when you don't train on grass but we are not the only ones."

Coleman, like Dillon, has had to endure the frustration of preparing his squad for fixtures and then try to wind them down and alter their focus towards the next game after a postponement.

Everyone I spoke to is desperate for a return to action - and both Aldershot and Accrington are confident their respective games will take place on Tuesday.

Finally, it seems, their respective communities can once again watch their local teams, while peace and quiet is restored to the Dillon household.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Nice insight into how the teams in the lower leagues manage to keep in shape during a bad weather period.
    It's also good to read that members of the comunity are still there willing to pitch in to help their local clubs. This is what football should be about.

  • Comment number 2.

    The lower leagues (as well as football in Scotland) still maintain (to a certain degree) the post war social democratic ethos instilled by the governments after the second world war. We seldom see this form of collectivist response to any situation these-days, in any walk of life. Here we have fans turning up to aid their local football clubs, not out of any self interest or motivation, but because of a sense of duty towards their local club and community. Unfortunately, this sort of philosophy has slowly been eroded since Thatcher's rampant privatisation and the changing philosophical paradigm since the 1980s, where the ideology of "every man for himself" took primacy, and this philosophy has undoubtedly infiltrated every aspect of modern life, whether its football, industry, government, etc.

    I believe that in the next decade, we may see another paradigm shift affecting political, social and economic philosophies. Hopefully, having seen the success of the German Bundlesliga's socioeconomic model with low prices, standing areas and competitive games, the English FA will realise we need a return to the social democracy of the post war period, not necessarily in terms of political policies, but in terms of attitude. After the stadium tragedies and problem of hooliganism, it is unmistakable that the FA actively wanted to make football a more "middle class" game at the expense of the working classes. The knock on effect of that policy is working class fans not being able to afford the exorbitant prices, and the increasingly commericalised nature of the game, although this has happened mainly due to more free market approach taken by countries since the 80s, which has unsurprisingly affected football as well, with foreign takeovers, etc.

    The problems the lower leagues are suffering with regards to cancelled games and the lack of concern from the football fraternity is not so much the fault of the individual teams' chairmen, but this self interested philosophy that has contaminated people in general. The solution, although it might seem extreme, is possibly the nationalisation of the football in England and/or clubs being run as collectives so that it is run with the welfare of the fans at the forefront of the clubs objectives. Moreover, with a nationalised league, the incentive is for all the clubs to pull in the same direction, and help each other out. This will not diminish the rivalries that exist, but ultimately, most football clubs are united in their formations and, although a lot of people say football and politics should be kept separate, one cannot deny the social and political significance that football has, and that should be used to unite clubs.

  • Comment number 3.

    England simply can't deal with snow.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well that's truly taken the sting out of my comment!!

    I run a local boys team (local to Aldershot) and we train at the Aldershot Garrison pitches - all weather - although these have been unplayable as has every grain of grass in the area. However we don't have the power to use Ash Manor or other such sporting colleges, we just have to basically wait.

    So whilst League Two is getting worse and worse, the impact on grass roots football, and particularly youth football is going to have a massive problem.

    The knock-on from here, is that the leagues (my lot are Under 14's) will now play two or three games a week on hard pitches in the summer just to get the games in, which will lead to injuries, problems and the lack of rehabilitation of the pitches.

    So is their an answer?

    -Winter breaks are not suitable as you cannot predict when the weather will come to bear.
    -Shared/Council pitches are now massively over-used but will "Sunday League" football ever be scrapped.

    Answers on a postcard???

  • Comment number 5.

    It has also hit the Irish league pretty bad.

    Loss in ticket sales is HUGE for the clubs in Northern Ireland.

  • Comment number 6.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank you... Its very nice to have a little light shone on the lower leagues, and to be honest its nice to hear something positive about my little town. I'll be honest i wasn't one with my shovel out at the rec but the growing community of our club in the last three years is brilliant, long may it continue... As a fan it has been very frustrating not be able to watch any footy, but the players must be getting cabin fever... Roll on tuesday. I counted only yesterday and in the last 53 days we have played 5 matches (and one of them was an absolute whomping to Burton, so it doesn't really count!)... But i can confirm from my walk to work today that all the snow has finally left aldershot now...

    Thanks again Fletch, great to read about my club, and you even managed to mention my old school...

  • Comment number 8.

    It's great to support a lower league team, the standard and entertainment value is pretty good too I've been able to surprise some of my friends who doubted that.
    Regarding sponsorship and advertising, I was at Accrington for the local derby vs Bury on 28th December (4-2 to Bury to prove the point above) - at both ends behind the goal at Crowne Park, are boards promoting a certain brand of pie - at half time I went to order one and there were no pies in stock! Oops!

  • Comment number 9.

    The problem is also compounded by the fact thqt postponed games are resheduled for mid week meaning lower gates, and lower revenue.

    For Macc Town midweek vs saturday can mean a £10k loss in gate money alone.

  • Comment number 10.

    SR819 - many thanks for your thoughts. I started reading them several minutes after you posted and have just finished trying to digest the full meaning of it all. I think that I agree in full.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the lower down you go, the stronger the bond between club and supporter. As a fan you are not just another revenue stream - you are integral to the club you support.

    Teamtalker (post 9) - I asked the people at both Accrington and Aldershot and they were surprisingly quite chipper about the prospect of so many Tues-Sat-Tues fixtures. We'll seen.

    RedBlueArmy92 - pleasure.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nice to see the players helping aswell at some clubs as they earn their wages from the real fans who turn up. It means alot to meet the players and hear their thoughts on the game/club when you see them on the pitch every week. After doing this myself I now have better understanding on some of the issues I had with certain things that happen at my local club.
    SR819, I have had to read that 3 times, great post! I agree that much could be learnt from Germany and other countries but I strongly beleive the FA feel they are superior and will not listen. Be good to see some increased input at top levels of the FA from the lower leagues as they can give an alternative view on many situations to create better solutions for all.

  • Comment number 12.

    SR819, I don't agree with you on several points and think you are trying to make a political point out of football.

    First of all on Saturday the 9th January many games were cancelled due to the weather conditions. Many games were cancelled because of the surrounding areas were too dangerous and/or the pitch was unplayable.

    Those with working underground soil heating would have got their pitch ready but what can they do about the surrounding areas, local authorities had to treat important roads. Not pavements and roads just to get to 1 game. If Man Utd, Liverpool or Chelsea needed fans to clear snow then they would show up in their thousands.

    I wanted to watch my team play Chesterfield, i offered to come down early with a shovel and help. The club called it off because it was an impossible task to get the pitch playable. I'm would not consider myself 'working class' but i am very passionate about my team.

    I pay much more for a ticket now than i did when i first started going and it does concerned some people might be missing out. The price is not value for money (£19 per game) and i am currently watching the worst season for a long time.

    I think measures need to be brought in to safeguard the clubs future. The last thing we want is the beautiful game nationalised. This current government has enough problems and what is too say they wouldn't make cut backs, possibily think it would be a good idea that Bristol only had 1 team.

  • Comment number 13.

    Just spoken to an upper table league 2 club and they reckon on a 20% drop in attendance budget-wise for midweek vs saturday matches.

    Maybe Accrington and Aldershot are trying to put on a positive spin?

  • Comment number 14.

    Brilliant article! And great to hear more about the lower leagues.

    One thing your article didn't mention was the cost to fans when games are cancelled (particularly at the last minute).

    I was already in Darlington for the Darlington v Aldershot match on Saturday when they called it off - having driven for five and a bit hours and paid the cost of fuel and a hotel room. Given the distances and the price of travelling, a bit more thought for the fans wouldn't go amiss!

  • Comment number 15.

    #2: SR819:

    Excellent comment. I completely agree with you.

  • Comment number 16.

    Bring back the oranage ball. No harm in a bit of snow. It's the police and council that's the big problem these days calling off games not the snow.

  • Comment number 17.

    Check out Luton vs Pompey with orange ball in 1994

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJYFwVLSJUE

    and Estonia vs Canada in 20cms of snow and -6 in 2008...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzp3pWnH8rY

  • Comment number 18.

    shotsphil - Very good point. Richard Petty mentioned that due to the late postponement of Saturday's game Darlo will have to cover some of the costs incurred by the Shots. But what about the fans? Out of pocket and a day wasted. You didn't even get the chance to visit that moment to bonkers planning that is Darlo's largely empty stadium.

    I agree that, as cobblers1897 has also pointed out, football is an expensive business yet to an extent in the lower leagues clubs still need their LOCAL fans to survive.

    Teamtalker - I'd love to know what club that is - though I suppose you have to protect your sources? Perhaps Shots and Stanley will discover over time that what you say is true - but they might also save on travel costs for midweek games if they go and come back on the same day. I guess that they are also quite chipper at the moment because both are enjoying good seasons.

  • Comment number 19.

    Im worried - as we will be there in a few years :)
    Shotsphil - next time you play darlo you and RBA can stay at mine!!! Up the shots

  • Comment number 20.

    I'd like to see Robinho and Man City's other prima donnas shovelling snow. Then they'd know what real work is, instead of prancing around for 50 minutes for £150,000 a week

  • Comment number 21.

    Spare a thought for Gills fans and players who have had to go up to Accrington twice to find out the game is postponed! Not me personally but I have some friends who were getting really paranoid earlier today, expecting the game to be called off again!

    Good blog :)

  • Comment number 22.

    Great blog again Fletch, always a pleasure to read.

    I also agree with much of #2 says, seemingly David Sullivan does too following his comments today re: West Ham's proposed move to the Olympic Stadium; "If we have a huge ground, we can take football back to the people, reduce admission prices and become the cheapest Premier League ground in the country."

  • Comment number 23.

    The "upper table" side is more than probably Bournemouth, who suffer from away fans missing a nice weekend in the sun :-) even Aldershot fans (I live in Ash too RBA92) were complaining that their games were a Tuesday night and never got a weekend outing.

    We also suffer from the "Red/White mob down the road" fans not bothering to transition the Hampshire-Dorest Divide during rush hour for a game, whereas quite happy to take on extra games when South*mpton are away and then boo and moan at our player that the standard is rubbish.

    Note no-one picked up on previous comments on youth football - unsuprisingly.

  • Comment number 24.

    I disagree with shotsphil. When you travel to an away match at this time of year (especially with the relatively harsh winter we've had this time around), surely any sensible fan would know that there's a risk of the match being called off. It's not always easy for a football club to be able to say a day in advance whether the match will be on or not. In the case of Darlington v Aldershot, the game was off due to a waterlogged pitch - the club expected it to be playable but the rain carried on more than they expected.

    Yes, it's a pain when you've travelled a long way and paid for somewhere to stay - I can empathise with that - but this is an inherent risk when you travel to a League 2 away match in winter. Basically, these things happen and it's nobody's fault.

  • Comment number 25.

    I agree completely.

  • Comment number 26.

    Good to see how football teams deal with the weather.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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