It Takes Two, Baby
As plans for the G14 to expand to 36 clubs and fly off in a spaceship to the moon (where they can play against each other and no-one else for all eternity) take shape, more news from non-league football, where near neighbours Hayes and Yeading, of the Conference South (itself soon to renamed the “Blue Square South” – oh, sponsors, when will you learn?), have decided to merge under the name “Hayes & Yeading FC”.
On the face of it, it appears to be a sensible decision. The two clubs are just up the road from each other, and have both been struggling to attract crowds over the last few years or so. Even when Hayes managed to get to near the top of the Conference several years ago, they struggled to get more than a few hundred hardy souls in to watch them play. Yeading, meanwhile, were one of those clubs that I could never quite see the point of. They seldom made crowds of even two hundred in the Conference South, and visiting their ground was one of the more crushing reminders that my team would almost certainly never amount to anything. There was a small bonus in that you could watch the match from the bar there, but I suspect that the people that were behind the decision to put the bar in such an optimum position were fully aware of the fact that you often needed a stiff drink to watch them play.
If I were a Hayes supporter, I’d be unconcerned by it all. The new club will play at Hayes’ Church Road ground, with Yeading’s The Warren being used for reserve team matches, youth team matches and as a social club. I can’t help feeling that this is something of a sop to Yeading’s small but, I daresay, enthusiastic support. Real estate is too valuable in London (and, indeed non-league football clubs are too impoverished) for a small club to own two grounds. Curiously, neither the Hayes nor Yeading websites make any reference to what colours the new club will wear, though this will probably prove to be unproblematic – Hayes wear red and white stripes, and Yeading wear red and black, so some sort of red, black and white monstrosity would appear to be likely.
Mergers are more widely tolerated in non-league football, where practical concerns over the ongoing existence of clubs often have to take precedence over more abstract notions of identity, than in the Football League. I’ve covered Dagenham & Redbridge and the bizarre set of mergers that brought about their existence on here before, but there are plenty of others that have taken place with varying degrees of success. In the League, though, it’s still anathema to mention it, and rightly so. Mergers come about through necessity or greed, and I suspect that the sole reason for the merger of two Football League clubs would be the latter. The Football League blocked the merger of Fulham and Queens Park Rangers in 1987, and Robert Maxwell’s attempt to fuse Reading and Oxford United into Thames Valley Royals a couple of years prior to that was rightly laughed away. At the same time, rumours persisted regarding Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace and Wimbledon, but nothing came of it (apart, that is, from Charlton eventually moving back to The Valley and Wimbledon debunking to Milton Keynes, but that’s a different story altogether).
Non-league football is considerably tougher than people credit for. Crowds below the Football League are the highest that they’ve been for forty-odd years, and most clubs, in an era of still spiralling wages and minimal sponsorship money, get by extraordinarily well, considering the fact that 99% of the football world pays them no attention whatsoever. It has survived through evolving. Slowly, and often with considerable resistance from those that actually run it, it has become a quality, low cost alternative to the absurd theatrics of the Premiership. The future of the game, no matter what you might read, doesn’t lie in a European Super League – it lies in small community clubs offering a football match, a pie and a few pints for half the price of the cheapest seat at Stamford Bridge.