The Football Club & The Trade Union
Way down near the bottom of the English football pyramid, where a hand to mouth existence is just about the most that anyone can hope for, a football club was withdrawn from its league at the end of last week. So far, so depressing, but still so familiar. Even though the game in this country has more money sluicing through it than ever before, that money is almost entirely concentrated in the hands of those at its very top end, whilst the little guys are left to fend for themselves. What is somewhat surprising about this particular story is the identity of the owners who have folded the club, an organisation from whom we might have expected slightly better behaviour than the standard fly by nights who frequently pitch up at this end of the game.
Reading Town Football Club is not, of course, to be mistaken for Reading FC. Formed in 1966 under the name of Lower Burghfield, the club bounced around the local leagues, occasionally changing its name, before settling upon Reading Town and moving to a new home at Scours Lane, in the Tilehurst area of Reading, in 1993. Two years later, the club would get its big promotion, when winning the Chiltonian League entitled the club to claim a place in the Combined Counties League. This is where they would stay until 2008, when it took a sideways step into the Hellenic Football League, which would remain the club’s home until this month. Cup performances were unspectacular, with just two appearances in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup to show for nineteen appearances in the competition, though the club did reach the Fourth Round – the last thirty-two, in other words – in 1997 and 2012.
With Reading FC dominating the local football landscape, the existence of any other club in the near vicinity was always going to be limited, but the site of the Scours Lane ground had alternative uses. Situated next to the site of the Reading Festival, the club was taken over a couple of years ago by the Battersea & Wandsworth Trade Union Council, who had the contract for security at the Festival and wished to use the ground as a base for the festival with the guards camping in the ground. Taking over the running of the football club was, therefore, easy way to reduce costs, but the problem with running a football club at this level of the game is that, with sponsorship money and gate and bar receipts unlikely to cover running costs, it will as likely as not cost money.
So it turned out for Reading Town FC. The club’s committee began to take umbrage at the fact that the owners only seemed interested in office and camping facilities while the rest of the ground started to fall into disrepair. The Battersea & Wandsworth Trade Union Council began to understand that this might not necessarily be the bargain that they had at first assumed it would be. An argument between the owners and players last season over the payment of expenses led to plyers refusing to play in a number of games and the row eventually led to the whole first-team squad and every official leaving the club, which staggered on with a team that wasn’t fit for service and was relegated at the end of last season to Division One East of the Hellenic League.
The final straw seemed to come when Battersea & Wandsworth Trade Union Council lost the contract to provide security to the Reading Festival. Over the summer the owners had sought to offload the club, but demanding a price of £40,000 in the distinctly optimistic hope that it could recoup the costs that it had incurred since taking it over prevented anybody from coming to the rescue. The BWTUC have already agreed for another local club, Highmoor Ibis, to take over the use of Scours Lane, but, even though results on the pitch had finally started to turn around of late after a disastrous first half of the season and both the players and committee of Reading Town had indicated that they wanted to play on until the end of this season, the decision was taken to withdraw the club from the Hellenic League with immediate effect and close it down altogether. Woodley Town, another local side who have been ground-sharing at Scours Lane, will be allowed to use the ground until the end of this season. At the time of writing, the club’s name remains on the league table on the Hellenic League’s website, but for how much longer this will be is unknown.
It is to be hoped that Battersea & Wandsworth Trade Union Council do not dip their mucky paws into football again, if this is how they are to treat a football club that falls under their radar. If this was an “entrepreneur”, property developer or any one of a number of other parasites who leech off football clubs at this level for their own ends, then we would be justified in criticising their behaviour as self-centred and immoral. Being members of the trade union movement doesn’t exclude Battersea & Wandsworth Trade Union Council from criticism in this respect. Indeed, if anything, we might have hoped for a little more probity than we have so frequently seen from the sort of shabby business-people that have dipped their toes into lower league football with the overarching aim of feathering their own nests.
There is little to suggest that Battersea & Wandsworth Trade Union Council actually ever had any interest in Reading Town FC itself, only in the lease for the ground at which they played, and this seems to be backed up by demanding the amount that they put into the club when they put it up for sale and the summary way in which the club was folded, with the lease being handed over to another football club instead. If this was a venture capitalist acting in this respect towards a football club of any size, said individual would justifiably come in for considerable criticism. Battersea & Wandsworth Trade Union Council have cut their losses, but the organisation’s reputation is tarnished by behaviour like this.
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