The Trouble With Bashley
We hear a lot of the word “crisis”, these days. When a Premier League football club fails to win a handful of games in a row, press vultures descend and an elaborate game begins that usually ends with the club concerned and its first team manager agreeing a little mutual consent and a new man stepping in to take over. In the Football League, the same rules may be seen to apply, though such is the parlous condition of the finances of so many clubs at this level of the game that there will usually be at least a couple of clubs at which the feeling that something isn’t right is more than cosmetic, that there is a structural issue within the management of a club that could come to threaten its long-term future.
It’s at the level of non-league football that a crisis really becomes a crisis. Numerous non-league clubs have gone out of business in recent years, and the reasons for these failures have been as many as there have been clubs in this unfortunate position in the first place. On occasion, however, a non-league football club can pass straight through definitions of crisis and into the territory of What The Hell. These clubs may be spotted in the league tables pages of the Non-League Weekly newspaper, propping up the divisions in which they are nominally said to be “competing”, with improbably bad goal differences and points tallies that may not even stretch very far beyond zero. These are football’s equivalents to the lands that time forgot, the outposts at which devotion means a little more than shelling out for a season ticket once a year or players deciding between a clutch of plump contract offers.
At the start of November, the BBC’s website asked the question of whether New Mills FA were “The worst team in English football?” At the time, the club had lost all nineteen of its league an cup matches over the course of a season in Division One North of the Northern Premier League. Two weeks ago, however, New Mills picked their first point of the season with a two-all draw at Witton Albion. Providing all their players are registered properly and no-one behind the scenes at the club does anything daft between now and the end of the season, New Mills will at least finish their season with a positive points tally. There are a clutch of other clubs at county league levels who find themselves in a similar predicament, but the only to find themselves in this sort of position from Step Three up are Bashley FC, from the New Forest.
It might be argued that 2016 has been kind to Bashley FC. Inclement conditions have meant that the club has lost just three matches so far this year, although this may be largely due to all of their matches so far since the turn of the year have been postponed on account of the weather. At the time of writing, Bashley have lost twenty-five matches in Division One South & West of the Southern Football League, conceding one hundred and twenty goals in the process. It’s a record which suggests that, even allowing for more than a third of season still being left to play for the club, finishing way adrift at the bottom of the table is surely already little more than a formality.
Furthermore, the troubles that are besetting Bashley FC are only really a repeat of what happened to the club last season. The club finished the 2014/15 season in the same division with just eight points, but were “reprieved” – if such a word is appropriate, considering the way that things have gone this season – from one of the division’s two relegation places following the relegation of Clevedon Town and the resignation of Sholing, both for reasons relating to ground-grading. It’s worth noting, of course, that Bashley could have resigned their position and sought to play on at a lower level, but this was not the decision that was reached by those running the club, and so it is that this season has already turned into something of a copy of last time around.
Results on the pitch have been of the sort that make one shudder, simply to read them. Bashley conceded seven goals in their Red Insure Cup match against AFC Totton, eight goals twice, against North Leigh and Banbury United, nine goals against Wantage Town and ten at home against league leaders Cinderford Town, who found themselves three-nil up in nine minutes when the two sides met at the end of November. The club was due to be starting the season with the former Chelsea defender David Stride in charge of the team, but Stride was sacked by the club’s new chairman after forty days, and with a week still to go before the season actually even began. His replacement, Steve Riley, until the second week in November before being replaced by a former manger, Tom Podomo, who has been in charge since then. At least results have improved since his first match back in charge of the team, which was the aforementioned home demolition at the hands of Cinderford Town.
In amongst these swine of results, one pearl does shine out. At the start of October in the Preliminary Round of the FA Trophy, a Dave Maher goal was enough to give Bashley a one-nil win against Cinderford Town. It was the team’s first win in more than twelve months – last season’s solitary win came against Taunton Town on the 20th September 2014 – but it failed to kick-start their season in any meaningful way. They were knocked out of the competition by Mangotsfield United in the First Qualifying Round, by a resounding scoreline of six goals to one. The quest for another result to match the earlier one continues, thus far without any success.
But what are the reasons behind this club’s failure to be able to compete at even this modest level of football? Bashley’s original rise in the mid to late 1980s was funded by investors, and the club reached the Premier Division of the Southern League, a division below what we now call the National League, in 1992. Relegation followed two years later, but Bashley found their way back to this division – which, due to the creation of the Conference North and South in 2004, was by this time a division lower than it had been during the 1990s – and stayed there for seven years before the funk that the club now finds itself in started to take effect.
Bashley is owned by thirty-seven members, and is dependent upon sponsorship and match-day income, as with so many other clubs at this level. At the end of February 2014, a statement from the club’s now former chairman stated that, “Bashley Football Club has defied logic for many years as the village soccer club that made history by attaining Southern Premier League status. The rise from park football to Southern Premier was driven by the enthusiasm, hard work and the investment of football-loving local business people, but these have dwindled with the ravages of time.” In March of that year, the club took a vote on whether to dissolve at the end of that season. The decision was made to keep going, but financial assistance has been thin on the ground, and even attempts to relax the licensing conditions at the club’s clubhouse – which would potentially provide a crucial potential source of income – have been resisted by people who live near the ground.
It seems unlikely that Bashley will be able to avoid a drop down to the Wessex League this time around. Indeed, when we consider how this season has passed for the club so far, we might even suggest that the reprieve offered last summer was just about the worst thing that could have happened to it. Perhaps dropping down a level at the end of this season will give the club the chance to win a few games, regroup, and start to feel a little better about itself. After all, there is still a team there. There are still seventy-odd hardy souls who are – postponements notwithstanding – still turning out to see if the team can break its league duck for the season. For those people, any real sense of crisis only really begins if the club isn’t there any more. And when that next win finally does come, it’s going to taste all the sweeter for the amount of time it took to arrive.
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