Saturday, 20 October 2007

Your football club wants you!

More than once in this blog I have mentioned the role volunteers play in local football. At clubs such as Chertsey Town, Sittingbourne and Camberley Town, where financial backing is scarce, the role of the volunteer cannot be understated. They are the life-blood of clubs and without them many would not survive. Across the length and breadth of the country this is evident; it drills right down into the heart of football in this country, even below the non-leagues. Into youth football, school football and Sunday park pub football.

I looked up the word volunteer in the dictionary, partly to make sure I spell it correctly (my spolling is terrible). It is defined thus:

vol·un·teer – noun
1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay or reward.

Whenever I hear the word volunteer I think of the Battle of the Somme (July 1916) in the First World War. Not an obvious association you might think, but I have more than a passing interest in the battle which was one of the bloodiest in history. The reason I associate the word volunteer with this horror is that the majority of military personnel that died were volunteers of the Territorial Force and Horatio Kitchener's "New Army". Now the thing that fascinates me the most is the willingness of young men from all parts of the UK to give their lives in the name of their country. The willingness of young men with seemingly their whole lives ahead of them to step over the top into certain death. A sacrifice that, no matter how much I read about it or think about it, I still struggle to fathom.

Anyway, back to the football. Don't believe for a second that I am comparing the voluntary work that goes on in our national game with the giving of life in the First World War (or any other war for that matter). The two are beyond approach.

But the part of the definition that stands out for me is that volunteers "give freely" and "without personal reward". And down at Eastbourne Borough, this is happening to an extent that has really taken me by surprise.

I guessed that the degree of help given freely within the local community would dissipate the further up the pyramid one progressed. Eastbourne Borough are, after all, joint top of the Blue Square South (as I write this), only two steps away from the Football League. I had every reason to believe that the set up at Eastbourne Borough would be a little more "full-time" than that witnessed at clubs in the earlier rounds.

How wrong could I have been?

Eastbourne Borough FC only have one paid employee (the Commercial Manager) and she only works four days a week. There is no one bankrolling the club and the club rely on a team of dedicated volunteers. There is also a full time Bar Steward employed by the sports club but that's it. Other bar staff are part time and nearly every other person at the club (including the Chairman, Chief Executive, all the Committee and the match-day Stewards) offer their services freely.

Eastbourne Borough is a "members club" which means that it is owned by the members. Membership of the club committee is open as long as interested parties have the skills (and time) required to help run the club. No one individual has any financial interest and any 'profits' that are made go straight back into the club.

The club is also an important centre of the community. They provide adult education; a nursery for foundation learning; a bowls and an archery club; plus a massive youth section comprising of approximately 500 boys and girls in over 40 different teams.

Eastbourne Borough for the best part of their history have been a sports and community club. In 1964 Langney Football Club was founded, taking their name from nearby Langney Point. The picture (left) is of the Langney Point Martello Tower, an image represented in the club crest. This is one of a series of Martello Towers along the South Coast which date from the Napoleonic Wars.

Four years later the club became Langney Sports Club with affiliation to Langney Community Association. In 2001 the name of Eastbourne Borough was adopted. Many of the people who played in a youth team in the 1960s have since stayed together, formed the club, built the ground and built the clubhouse themselves. Much of the money raised has come from their own fund raising efforts and many still serve the needs of the club.

I have been invited to have a look behind the scenes at Eastbourne Borough and I am honoured and intrigued in equal measure. By all accounts the Chairman and Vice Chairman will (before the game this time next week) be laying bricks for the smokers' shelter outside the club bar. Marvellous.

And one last thing; I must question the "without reward" element in my earlier definition of the word "volunteer".

In the case of Eastbourne Borough there is reward. The results of all the hard work and effort by the band of volunteers at Eastbourne Borough are tangible. The actual existence and continued survival of the club is due, in no small measure, to the time and dedication of the volunteers within the community. A real altruistic contribution in every sense of the word. There is a genuine sense of pride and community spirit that oozes out of Eastbourne Borough Football Club.

And I haven't even been there yet.

Credits: thanks to Lee Peskett and David Bauckham at Eastbourne Borough FC for volunteering invaluable information that I have used in this post.


The Punter's Friend - The Bookies Enemy! said...

One slight amendment needed - Eastbourne Borough are no longer joint top of the Blue Square Southern. After beating Sutton United 3-0 today, and our nearest local rivals Lewes losing 3-0 against Eastleigh, Eastbourne Borough are now three points clear at the top, and looking to make it into the Blue Square Premier next season (and, fingers crossed, League Two in a few season's more?).
Promotion would mean a change to the club set-up; I believe FA rules dictate a full-time club Chairman as a condition of entry to the Premiership, and, as the club grows, more paid staff become a necessity - maybe even the players!
Of course it will mean losing something that the club is proud of, it's pure volunteer base, but, so long as we don't become a financial play-thing for a mega-rich Russian gangster, we should be able to hold on to our traditions while still growing.
Looking forward to next week's game (I'll be the one wandering around the terraces wearing an Armani EA7 jacket (it has 'EA7' in big letters on the back - my 'Lucky Jacket'!), if you want to stop me for a chat and a cup of tea); hope you'll be staying with us for a few games yet, hopefully until we pull off a major giant killing at Anfield in Round Three!

Rob said...

You'll have to come to Hayes Lane before you start thinking about Anfield as I think it may well be a hard fought draw.

Besides, I got the impression the author of this (quite fantastic) blog enjoyed Bromley's ground and would quite like to go there again! ;-)

The Punter's Friend - The Bookies Enemy! said...

Let's just say that I am quietly confident, and have placed a small wager on the outcome - best odds available for the match are 4/5 for Boro to win, 9/4 for the draw (both with Skybet), or 10/3 for a Bromley win (with Corals).
I've done a double for Bromley to win and for Grays to make it a perfect weekend by knocking out our local rivals, Lewes! Slightly better than 3/1 for the double.
Mind you, I wouldn't mind a return trip to Bromley; I lived for several years in Orpington and Bromley Common, and noticed that the little place I bought fifteen years ago for £48,000 is now back on the market at £198,000! Maybe I should have stayed!