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End of season thoughts

Well, there we are, it’s the NPL next season and hello again to Guiseley, Matlock, Macclesfield and FCUM. Probably wise for me to say that this note is more my own thoughts than the official football club’s view. The football issues speak for themselves, and we will all have a view. So close, yet so far away! In the end, for me, I think the most unfortunate event was the Jordan Preston injury. I’m sure he could have helped us win the extra points we needed and we wish him well in his recovery.

It’s been a while since we had a relegation and whilst the NPL is truly based in the north and our loyal, travelling fans will experience early evening returns home, both midweek and on Saturdays, we need to see this as a chance to build a more competitive and comprehensive squad and to get back to winning more than losing. We all hate failure, but we all want our club to endure and prosper.

Through the other end of the periscope, I’m not so sure I can easily feel the thrill of Wrexham’s promotion, based as it was on a £2m input to funds from the Hollywood pair. Happy for their fans, as their fanbase has remained strong over the years out of the EFL, and lucky to be without major clubs nearby, but hopefully their next aim will be financial stability rather than more and more cash funds from rich movie stars carrying out an experiment that might as easily have been done with Macclesfield or Bury, though Macc have their own benefactors now.

It’s hardly ‘plucky little Wrexham’ but more like a smaller version of ‘lucky little Newcastle’ in terms of buying in success. The glad-handing and back-slapping doesn’t make me think that this is the way forward for community, grassroots football, but merely more of a very strong echo of the Premier League’s behaviours. Either we are looking in future for hundreds of multi-millionaire funders for grassroot teams or we are aiming to be operating more sustainable local businesses, based on sports activities, funded locally, and with better Premier League distributions if possible.

Had the Premier League thought to spread their TV largesse firstly across grassroots clubs rather than on themselves, their players and agents, we might have seen more kids getting more from our national game rather than clubs trying to get rich quick. Great to see them investing locally, where that is happening, but it could have been so much more, so many more and so much better, morally and financially. Players earning more in a couple of months than many supporters do in a lifetime isn’t healthy, even with their short careers. Thankfully some, like Sadio Mané, put a lot back to help others.

Interesting to see Kevin Philips leaving South Shields after finally getting the club promoted. In the inevitable ‘club statement’ the owner mentioned ‘sound budgets and using their successful Academy’ going forward. Smacks of too much common sense and the ‘mutual consent’ is open to speculative thoughts: did he fall, was he pushed, was there no increased funding? Another club promising a manager an open cheque book?

No doubt Kev’s next stop will tell us more, as will the owner’s next appointment, Julian Arca, locally based, former player, long association with the club – now there’s a template! Hopefully, with the crowds generated up there, they can operate efficiently and can build with a manager who wants to work within a budget and with an umbilical cord to his Academy. That’s the way to do it!

Then there’s ‘plucky little Southport’s’ situation. Just saved their NLN status, lost 2-0 to us, and were poor, after slamming us earlier in the season, with the manager mightily slagged off during and after the game here, by their ‘fans’ and yet again last week by all accounts.

A manager turned director, so not an easy contender for a ‘club statement’, but, along with colleagues there, talking of new investment and wondering if those complaining loudly want a club or would prefer going out of existence. Very easy to join a baying crowd, much harder to sustain a football club. As I moved to Southport from Bradford, many years ago, I wish them every success in their rebuilding. I can’t say my allegiances changed but when you move round the country in your career you look for a local club to go watch to get your football fix. My journey included Bristol City, when Andy Cole was on loan there from Arsenal, Southend Utd, when I tried to help them relocate and add a casino to their new site and Luton Town, watching them yo-yo down and back up the divisions.

Well, we know what going out of existence is like, and the despair of losing a decent stadium with a big main stand and we can only sympathise with people accepting roles if it helps the club survive. Many have been there, done that, along with many others who did their bit for Avenue, some who departed these shores, some dearly departed, others who may have reached a financial watershed. We salute their fond memory.

And then we come to the Peterborough Sports example – a tale of how to survive promotions whilst closing your eyes to league ‘rules’, or so it might seem lately? Just buy good players so you stay in your league, or get promoted, then persuade the league directors that a change of ownership (all due diligence checks properly and speedily completed I guess) can allow the league to bend its rules. Sod the principle of stadium safety, improvements or operating standards required, for which there is a very competent stadium safety advisory body, even if it means going to another ground to finish your season! And to a ground shared by a now ex- NL club and a lower league club because that NL club blew its financial fortune years ago, when it had a top-class ground. The PS players will have coped, because the Burton Latimer pitch is arguably as poor as their own. No investment there and probably none expected for either stadium’s pitches. Ground grading at step 4/5 had already concluded a week after the end of their respective leagues. There’s a case for it being done before you get promoted, not after.

We have been fined for not playing planned games during the covid crisis, essentially for being unwilling to help spread a deadly disease. No refund for us after the league then did the same thing two weeks later; no thought that the £6k fine might have hurt the club with costs to bear and players to pay.

We were also not allowed to defer a game when our injury list was greater than our squad numbers. Nobody has yet heard about shared financial data from clubs, as promised from the NL some months ago, nor about any penalties for late submissions of financial data, as will be required by an independent regulator. Well done Peterborough for uncovering the soft underbelly of the National League! It defeated us. I’m keener than ever to see independent regulators in place!

It’s been a tough old season and who knows if we’ll hear about a few more grubby things under rocks turned over as we prepare for next season, but onwards and upwards as we fight valiantly to offer our own city and its kids a better sporting life, better facilities and a football team aiming to improve its fortunes sensibly. Our end of season run gives me great hope for next season.

I’m not sure I need to see much more of the National League for a while, or its nonsense in calling Hereford, Gloucester, Brackley and Kettering ‘northern clubs’, or having rules made for bending and rules made for ignoring and thankfully I won’t be obliged to sit and listen to the fawning over Wrexham’s success, with the NL trying to capture some reflected glory from it, rather than working out that copying the Premier League’s worship of self-invested cash isn’t the way forward for grassroots football. The only admirable side of the NL is its NL Trust work, which is under-funded and should be more widely publicised. Hopefully, when we return, their systems will have been much improved.

The sooner we get three up, three down through all leagues and the NL’s Premier League, which has mainly full-time clubs, becomes the EFL’s League Three, the better off we will all be. It may let the NL create three leagues again, with a north, south and midlands separation, with the top three promoted to League Three, or with an extended play-off system to include more clubs, knowing whether they can afford the uplift and have comparable facilities.  

Alignment in the NPL, SPL and Isthmian leagues should then create many more local games, better crowds, less travelling and then all we need is an independent regulator ripping money away from the PL and investing it in grassroots football so that all these clubs can operate with greater financial oversight and the integrity to go with it.

Having seen both success and disappointment in my six decades as an Avenue and football supporter, I look forward to a brighter future as I am very confident that we are on the right track as a club, despite losing NL status and visibility. We have an improving stadium, an improving Academy and a desire to be increasingly financially viable and that keeps us all going. Good people wanting good things to happen.

The journey continues, we merely pass through in our own time and I hope we see you at the pre-season friendlies.

Up The Avenue!