BY OLIVER ASH
There's on-field and off-field at a football club. We have all been very occupied with off-field matters over the past few months. Fortunately Jay and the players have had an excellent start to the season on the field.
As I write this we are in a strong position close to the top, with a couple of games in hand and able to put in first-class performances on our day. We would have signed up for that at the start of the season. In fact those of us who thought play-offs were a reasonable target sometimes forget that that implies there will be a few defeats as well as the run of victories in style. We can't always play attractive, entertaining, winning football. Even Barcelona have off-days.
We now need to consolidate and make sure we don't have too many of these off-days. If injuries are not too unkind to us we will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. We don't have FA Cup, Trophy and Youth Cups to distract us anymore. While this might be a good thing in the longer term as we can concentrate on the league; I am disappointed we didn't get further in these competitions. The FA competitions are the glamour end of non-league (and of course there's the prize money) and who wouldn't trade a league win or two for the chance to do what Brackley FC have just done by knocking out Gillingham in the first round...? I have a sneaky feeling next season is going to be ours for a majestic cup run. Just remember you read it here first...
Off the field we have been concentrating on making sure match-days are safe, entertaining, friendly and with a good variety of food and drink outlets. We hope we are getting this pretty much right most of the time. No doubt you will continue to tell us if we don't! We're also planning to increase the range of merchandise you will be able to purchase and we are improving the on-line shop to make it easier and quicker to order on-line.
I am surprised that I have managed to get to the fifth paragraph of this blog without mentioning 3G. Do not fear, it is still my number one obsession. Over the past 12 months more and more people in football are coming round to the idea that 3G is not the devil but has a huge and positive role to play in football at every level. In the top divisions in Wales and Ireland it is allowed. In Scotland there are 11 clubs playing on 3G in the Scottish League. There are two 3G clubs in The Scottish Championship - Falkirk and Hamilton. Hamilton are currently runaway leaders of The Championship and are a case in point: several years ago they were promoted to SPFL and chose to rip up their 3G pitch. Their community and academy programmes suffered considerably in the following years and it took relegation and a decision to put 3G back in to their stadium to rebuild the fortunes of the club. It is hard to imagine they will choose to rip 3G up this time if they achieve promotion and much more realistic to imagine The SPFL taking the sensible decision to allow 3G in their league.
Closer to home let me update you on latest 3G news:
- Our open letter in September to Greg Dyke at The FA received nearly 20,000 hits on the Maidstone United website and we received countless messages of support for our proposals from clubs and individuals around the country. In his reply Greg even admitted agreeing with us on 3G. In fact we still haven't heard one single, sensible, objective argument against 3G being allowed at all levels of the English game since we set up 3G4US (now 50 clubs strong) two years ago.
- All this makes it all the more surprising that The FA has not subsequently addressed the issues we raised with any serious attention. In Greg Dyke's reply to us he said he had put a senior executive on the case. However the executive in question confessed to me when I spoke to him that he was not qualified to address the 'political' points raised in our letter. We wrote back to Greg Dyke to take issue with this anomaly. We have had no reply. I can only leave you to imagine how we feel this matter has been handled...
- We have written to The Football Conference to request that they reconsider their refusal to allow 3G in their competition. We have added some new arguments resulting from consultations we have had with barristers, who specialise in sport and competition law. We are raising all these issues again with The Conference in a few days time. We remain confident that common sense will prevail and that The Conference will find a way of opening their doors to 3G.
The other issue we raised with The FA was academies. There is still precious little sensible support for clubs like ours running academies to be protected when the big clubs come sniffing around. The system is really designed to protect and enrich the bigger clubs at the expense of the smaller ones. As a direct result we find our top young academy players are being scouted down and hassled by agents on a regular basis, which is disruptive for them and for us, although we acknowledge it can ultimately be in the player's interest. Well when we have resolved the 3G problems, we will turn our attentions to urging The FA to organise a general debate on this issue.
Well all that remains here is for me to hope that we come out of the next couple of weeks of very tough matches with a few points and some high octane performances to warm us all up in the chill.
Take good care.