Friday, 15 May 2015

Building for a successful future

It seems like a long time since a thousand or so of us heard the news that Hendon had drawn and our result at Dulwich had virtually made us champions. 

It is difficult to describe my feelings of relief and elation because I had never before felt such an overwhelming sense of achievement. Oliver, Bill and I will be eternally grateful to the staff, the stewards and volunteers who gave so much time and commitment to get the club to where we are now. 

Being able to share the moments after the Dulwich match and after the final game at home to East Thurrock with the supporters, who have followed the team in such great numbers throughout the season, meant all of our efforts have been worthwhile. I am so grateful for being part of those joyous moments. 

The minute we knew that we would be promoted we put the finishing touches to the fundraising and plans for the east stand extension. 

Work starts on Monday (18 May) and we expect it to be complete by 7 August, the day before we play our first match in the NLS. 

We have a new lounge with 52 seats and we have 175 seats in the stand extension that we have been able to offer as season tickets. Incredibly all these seats have been sold for the start of the 2015/2016 which has vindicated our decision to spend £600/£650k on this development. 

There will be about 100 seats that we cannot sell as season tickets because we must offer them to our opponent's supporters when games are segregated. These seats will be available for sale on a pay on the day basis as the majority of games will not be segregated. 

Although the schedule for completion is tight we will be working all the hours necessary to fulfil our commitment to those supporters who have bought seats for the start of the new season. 

These works, along with extending the terraces at the north and south ends, will increase our capacity to 2,600 but to achieve the required capacity of 3,000 we must also install new stairs and new turnstiles in the north east corner. 

We have submitted plans for this work and are hoping to schedule this in alongside the east stand extension. We have until March 2016 to get the capacity to 3,000 to satisfy the requirements of the NLS.

To sustain all of our successes we know that we must continue to support Jay in his ambitions to secure the club in the NLS and put a team together that can challenge for a place in the higher league. 

We have the support and we have the infrastructure to play at a higher level and we intend to reward that support by putting together a team that we can get behind and be proud of. 

We will be facing opponents with substantially more money to spend on their squads but we have given Jay a budget that we feel will give him every chance of winning matches.

We have enjoyed three exhilarating years and had an amazing journey and we fully intend to have more years of excitement and success.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Does anyone have the right to behave badly at a football match?

Does anyone have the right to behave badly at a football match? 

The answer is obviously no. 

So why recently have we had one or two so-called supporters take it upon themselves to think they have the right to throw beer over the opposition management, players, or in fact anyone who should be in the immediate vicinity is beyond me. 

These people need to have a quick rethink!

May I remind everyone that the throwing of anything is totally against our ground regulations and anyone caught doing so will be issued with a banning order.

At our league game on New Year’s Day when we played Tonbridge Angels a very serious incident occurred mainly through the stupidity of one individual who decided, for whatever reason, that he would throw the contents of his container at an opposing official. An individual then decided to seek retribution.

The actions of these individuals were so out of order and it is the first time that we have ever witnessed this type of behaviour at our stadium. Had it not been for the quick and professional action of our security team this, in my opinion, could have erupted into a significant incident.

Bad behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. These two individuals will be banned from the ground.

This has since brought about a huge debate suggesting that we should consider withdrawing alcohol on match days. Now, I have very strong opinions on this subject and get totally hacked off when the minority, who always have a nasty habit of messing things up for the majority, cause this type of debate to even take place.

Here at Maidstone United we have always believed that the majority of our supporters are sensible people and why shouldn’t we as a club allow our supporters to make the decision that if they fancied a lager, cider or whatever, they could buy it at any time and go stand or sit in the stadium and relax and drink it. We spent a lot of time and money making sure that our supporters could enjoy that decision to have a drink anytime, anywhere in our stadium.

So once again the mindless idiots take it upon themselves to mess it up for the large majority and decide to throw beer pitch side and cause everyone untold problems. 

So my solution to the minority is a simple one, if you throw anything we will catch you and ban you from watching any home games – as I believe that it is fairer to try to educate the minority and eradicate them from our crowd - than punish the majority who just want to have a drink and enjoy a game of football.


(The incident is currently being investigated by The Football Association and Kent Police).

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Standing out from the crowd

The level of concern raised by the supporters over the incidents of bad behaviour in the crowd is confirmation that the vast majority of our fans find the abusive and racist language of a tiny minority quite unacceptable. 

There are three incidents currently under investigation: the first involves the setting off of a flare during the Stevenage replay which injured two of our supporters. It was a mindless and dangerous act which ruined the match for some of our genuine fans. We are still looking for the culprit and if we can identify him the club would ban him instantly. 

The second is the person who made racist comments while standing with his young son. 
He does not seem to have returned to the ground as all of our security staff and stewards are carrying a photo of him and if they see him he will be ejected from the ground. 

Finally the abusive behaviour of the three people at the Herne Bay match, which was so depressing to listen to, have been identified and we are currently making efforts to contact them to speak to them.

These idiots do not have the right to destroy the enjoyment of our proper supporters. 

Their behaviour could be deemed to be a breach of the peace and lead to police prosecution if they were conducting themselves in this way on the street. 

These people have absolutely no right to single out a young person just because he plays in goal for the opposition to the levels of abuse that he had to endure that evening. The conduct of the racist, the three morons who were so abusive and the idiot with the flare is intimidating, upsetting and will ultimately put at risk the thousands of real supporters who are passionate about their football team but know how to conduct themselves.

Currently we pay a substantial proportion of our match income on security and we are prepared to spend more so that the real supporters can watch the team feeling safe and comfortable. 

We are looking at the way these incidents were dealt with and acknowledge that we could do more. It is such a shame that the subject of the blog cannot be that we are second in the league, still in the FA Cup and also still competing in two more cup competitions, and have probably the best Maidstone team for many many years.

I think that Wrexham will be tougher than Stevenage and Welling but with the team we have anything is possible. To all of you genuine supporters who are travelling to North Wales please do what you do every week and make us all proud of our wonderful football club and its magnificent fans.


Friday, 7 November 2014

My views on The Football League vote

After the announcement that The Football League had not approved 3G at its meeting yesterday there seems to be some uncertainty and worry amongst supporters. This is understandable but we should not be too pessimistic. 

Yes it is disappointing that The Football League didn't approve 3G yesterday as both The Football League and ourselves expected. Yes it does raise the question as to what The Conference will now do. But anything more is pure conjecture at this stage.

One detail to correct: at the September meeting of The Football League where an informal vote was held we understand 17 Championship clubs voted in favour together with 14 League 1 and 15 League 2 clubs. That gives the 46/72 (64%) figure. At yesterday's meeting this percentage fell to 50% as we know but we do not have the breakdown of the 34/68, plus four abstentions.

Our information after yesterday's meeting is that The Football League clubs wanted more information on certain aspects of 3G. We don't know what that information is but it may well be to do with safety and injury questions. The PFA statement yesterday was anti-3G and 'menacing' and yes the Welsh game in Andorra was of course 'bad press'. Clearly the pro players have genuine injury concerns and unfortunately you can always criticise injury research, even FIFA/UEFA/FA research, and claim it's not relevant or not lengthy enough or wrong or biased, etc...

Despite all this 3G was only one vote short of being approved up to League 1!

Following yesterday’s meeting we understand The Football League is going to try and answer questions, reply to any concerns and provide further information to clubs before planning to hold another vote next year. 

As for The Conference, well they already said clearly they intend to allow 3G next season. For me this is clear. I do not believe the Conference has to hold a vote on this matter. Of course the Conference Board could get nervous because The Football League have not yet approved 3G and decide to alter their stance. This is possible for every issue they deal with at any time. However I believe it is extremely unlikely they will go back on their declared intent because:

  • they will realise that The Football League are close to voting in 3G and probably just need a bit more time
  • The FA will continue to press for 3G. It is one of FA's leading policies going forward to improve English football at all levels
  • The FA hold considerable sway over Conference, much more than they do over The Football League
  • more and more clubs are turning to 3G and more and more 3G stadium projects are being considered by clubs at our level and below. 3G is growing everywhere as an accepted high-quality pitch surface. Two clubs now play in SPFL on it and an international rugby match will be played on 3G for the first time in a weeks' time at Kilmarnock. And if it's OK for rugby…
  • they in any case have come round to believing it is the right thing to do and in the interests of their clubs...
  • (and they know we ain't giving up without a fight...)

So despite this irritating hiccup – perhaps the 3G campaign was indeed taking us all too far, too fast? I do honestly believe we should not be overly worried. If we were to be promoted in May I still believe we would be able to go up.   

You don't have to believe me of course, that's up to you. But don't please let the issue upset the buzz about this Sunday's big game and the tremendous season we're having in general. It certainly won't upset mine.


Sunday, 3 August 2014

A wonderful victory

The achievement of Maidstone United Football Club in changing the face of non and lower league football should never be underestimated. 

By allowing artificial 3G pitches the Conference have opened the doors to football in the 21st century, which can now be played on even and true surfaces. 

I feel we will look back, as we look back on the pitches of the sixties and seventies, and wonder why it was ever in doubt that 3G surfaces would eventually prevail. 

Although I am not bitter about the song and dance Oliver had to go through, the extraordinary attitude of some of those running football became a symbol of what is wrong with the nation’s favourite game. 

Each time I heard a dissenting opinion about 3G it was obvious that yet another dinosaur of the game hadn't bothered to do any research on the realities and benefits of using an artificial surface. 

I recall meeting with the supporters after another depressing defeat playing at Ashford and being asked whether the surface will never be accepted and beginning to doubt whether this incredibly risky decision to install 3G would explode in our faces. 

Bill never doubted the decision and Oliver, by his efforts, clearly was never going to back down. We were alone and isolated in the football world but we knew we were right this had to be the only way forward. 

What then happened is that the football loving public of Maidstone gave the 3G surface the most overwhelming vote of approval. This was no longer a battle for Bill, Oliver and I – it became a cause for almost two thousand people every week. 

The supporters were clearly telling the rulers of the game, the politicians and the football hierarchy that they should embrace the new way that the game should be played. 

Each time we stood up in front of the supporters and said that we would win the battle one day it was your support that kept us going. We have as a club much to be proud of. 

We should all recognise the efforts of Oliver in achieving this momentous change. His skill and determination has been prodigious and an object lesson in perseverance and bloody mindedness. 

I know he would want to acknowledge the various people who helped, such as Matt Dickinson from The Times and Matt Dunn from the Daily Express who so eloquently made the case for 3G and gave it a national profile, and to Greg Dyke and his colleagues at The FA for showing great leadership on this important issue.

The 2014/2015 campaign is going to be another battle but after this victory we must believe that anything can happen.

Thanks for your support.

Terry Casey

Friday, 27 June 2014

Can there ever be any excuse for underachieving?

After my Directors XI had once again taken the supporters team to task in our annual football match down at the Gallagher Stadium, we all carried our very tired bodies into the Spitfire Lounge for a couple of drinks, a bit of pizza and a friendly chat.

The conversation was varied but there was one subject that kept coming up from most of the regular supporters – who kept reminding me that the season wasn’t very far away – was: ‘what do I think we will do better this season and not make the same mistakes?’. Or more to the point: ‘can we stay clear of the injuries and can one or two players up their game?’

It jogged an age old problem that I have faced throughout my whole football career. I know exactly where everyone is coming from as I am the same – I hate getting beaten and want my team to win every game – so what I believe everyone was asking me indirectly was: ‘can there ever be any excuse for underachieving?’

We made a lot of genuine excuses last season, mainly to do with the injury crisis that struck and it is the only excuse that I believe any coach can accept. If a player has a genuine injury or is ill, it is impossible for him to perform at his highest standard.
How often have you read after a very good performance the manager or coach says: ‘We have set a high standard and now we must reach the same each week’? 

The formula to getting each player to achieve his very best standard of play each week is a very complex ingredient as there are so many factors involved. But it is what the management have to strive for and somehow place that ingredient somewhere in that player’s brain.

So what does it really take to make a championship team? 

I believe that the most important ingredient is, if possible, to select and sign the best players available. You then need to get the balance of those selected players right, train them well and get them to a highest level of fitness. 

You also need to instil a clear understanding of the different systems that the team is going to use, drill the set plays into every one of them and sharpen every aspect. Add to that making sure that each player feels good about himself, his fellow team mates and the club. Some people would call that creating a good team spirit. 

When you put it all down on paper it all sounds relatively simple, but of course it isn’t and even when you think that you have got it all right – out go the team and they get beaten 4-1 by the very same team that they had beaten 4-1 a week earlier – you ask the question: ‘what went wrong?’

It turns out on this occasion that although everything you did was in fact the same – three players had played with slight injuries, the centre half got a pulled hamstring just before half time and two of the players had rows with their wives before they left for the game the very same morning!

So to all those supporters who spoke to me over a pint and think that they have all the answers, hopefully you can now see that it certainly isn’t a simple task trying to make sure that every player we sign doesn’t ever underachieve!  


Sunday, 11 May 2014

A cunning plan…

I have now heard about the proposals for League 3 and heard the reaction from the non-league world: outrage, annoyance, fear, disbelief, any number of negative sentiments. Hardly any in favour. 

People have questioned the logic, questioned the Commission membership, questioned the motives, questioned Greg Dyke’s credibility. I too believe the proposal to be misguided and wonder why it was put forward in what appears to be such a clumsy and provocative way. Deliberate surely?

There remains the strong underlying issue here of an FA, which has to run an England team but which doesn’t control the source of its players anymore: the Premier League. After all the Premier League were not even on the Commission and let’s face it, Premier League clubs, foreign-owned in many cases, don’t care if no English players play for them as long as they win things and make heaps of dosh! The biggest challenge Greg Dyke has is to wrest some control of English football back from the Premier League, a tough ask.

League 3 is supposed to be a solution to the challenge of producing more talented young English players for the national team. Even Greg Dyke himself admits it may not be the best solution but it’s the only one they seemed to all agree on and he invites us to propose a better solution or accept this one because something needs to be done. Well it has certainly got the debate stirred up.

League 3 is wrong firstly because it ignores the unique nature of non-league and lower league football in England, which cannot be compared easily with other countries’ structures. We have about 100 full-time professional clubs. Is there any other country in Europe, which can claim such a huge figure? The huge number of followers and supporters of non-league and lower league clubs is also exceptional. In France’s professional Division 2 for example, the bottom four clubs’ crowds average 2000, comparable with The Conference, our Division 5. Our pyramid structure is highly liberal: all clubs can legitimately aim to rise to the top. Nothing but merit restricts them.

Additionally League 3 adds an unfair element of imperfect competition: clubs will inevitably put together their (reserve) team not simply in order to win matches and the competition as a whole, but in order to ‘practise’, to improve players, their experience and ultimately their club’s first team. This will skew the results unfairly. The division will be compromised and the results almost irrelevant in sporting terms. This pollution of the pyramid is undesirable to say the least. The pyramid is not perfect (e.g. the absurd situation by which non-league clubs at AGMs get one vote in Step 1, 3 and 4 but virtually no votes in Step 2…) but it’s not bad the way it is, thank you very much.

More importantly it doesn’t seem to be the best solution to the problem. After all the FA Commission highlighted the problems: too few coaches in English football; too few good pitches; too little competitive football for 18-21 year olds because existing reserve leagues are not deemed competitive enough; surely they are not trying to tell us that the only answer they can find to all these questions is the League 3 idea. Surely they know we will realise they can’t be that stupid?

Let’s look at the questions and answers:

We need more coaches? Well create more courses and coaching/training facilities and make sure conditions and costs are such that more top football people are tempted to apply and qualify.

Too few good pitches? Well yes it was only going to be a matter of time till I got to that one. Then continue to promote 3G pitches throughout English football; not just in grass roots but in lower league stadia that will improve the standard and frequency of football being played. It’s one thing we can learn from our fellow Europeans: it works. In this respect the FA have started to shake up football’s reactionary governing bodies in England and perhaps League 3 is a cunning plan to harass and provoke these bodies into creating a stir, the volume of which might cause a rethink at Premier League level where change needs to happen and where The FA is weakest?

Too little competitive football for top reserve teams? Well set up a competitive reserves competition. Perhaps the obscenely wealthy Premier League clubs should put some of their millions up as prize money for a Premier B League, to give a proper incentive to win games? £5 million for the winning club should make it competitive.  Or improve the player loan system to encourage clubs to loan out players to lower league clubs but limit the numbers allowed to be loaned to each club. It’s hardly rocket science but would it not work?

And why not push for limits on players not qualified to play for England in the Premier League? This would be similar to what the French Rugby Federation have recently chosen to do in the Top 14 competition, comparable to England’s Premier League in football, in order to improve the poor results of the national team and combat the increasing numbers of foreign mercenaries being imported by rich clubs.

And why was there no consultation of non-league bodies? There are a few non-league bodies who are capable of demonstrating common sense, vision and leadership, e.g. the Ryman League, who should have been asked their opinion. However having listened to the Non-League Show there are clearly some who continue to live in cloud cuckoo land: issues like 3G show up the failings in bodies like The Conference. They do not, contrary to what is claimed, stand up for non-league football as a whole. They are not leaders they are followers contrary to what their spokesman claimed; they are more concerned to secure additional promotion places to League 2 (perhaps now League 3?), an issue of importance to maybe 25% of Conference clubs, rather than promote 3G pitches, which, as they themselves admit, would be welcomed by far more clubs, even in The Conference itself, let alone throughout the wider world of non-league, where so many people now support more 3G pitches. For Brian Lee to state that “the FA have lost the plot” is laughable. The Conference need to have a good look at their own plot first: voting rules, membership of their Board and governance, communications, representation of non-league as a whole, all have much room for improvement.

And why not encourage non-league clubs to form academies, as we have done and the NPL are doing as a League? This can only provide benefits in every sense. Instead there is still no real financial incentive for clubs to go down the complicated and costly set-up costs of academies because the rules are such that Premier League clubs can freely poach players and no financial compensation structure exists for smaller clubs.

So it just cannot be possible that this is the end result of The FA Commission’s deliberations. Greg Dyke is too canny for that to be the case. He and the FA have recently shown great courage and leadership in the 3G campaign, throwing open its competitions to 3G and pushing other bodies to embrace 3G. Their actions will encourage more clubs to install these pitches and they have virtually removed all remaining barriers to 3G in non-league. I can only assume therefore that this wacky League 3 proposal must be part of a very cunning plan…

Oliver Ash