Saturday, 3 November 2007

Don't take anything for granted

There are many things in life we know will happen. Night follows day. We are born, we will die. We pay tax. Our knees will eventually give up on us. These are certainties.

Then a there are things in life I take for granted, which I know I should not. Water. Electricity. My wife. My family. My health. Sugar.

And there are things in life that perhaps we should do, but never do. Enjoy your youth before it's too late. Do one thing every day that scares you. Don't worry about the future. Dance. Sing. Floss.

In football there are perceived certainties. We know that one of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal will win the Premier League this season. Maybe not? We are certain that England will lose the next penalty shoot out they are involved in. Who knows? We can say confidently that a club outside of the Premier League will not win the FA Cup in the next ten years. Who can say? Maybe in this beautiful game there are no real certainties.

In reality these are things we are just taking for granted.

Regular readers will no doubt have gathered that the FA Cup is my favourite football competition. And there are certain things I have always taken for granted. The excitement of the games; the David v Goliath match-ups; the Cup shocks; the fact that the BBC always chose to televise a dull all-Premier League tie in the Third Round.

And the thrill at the small clubs when a big team comes a visiting.

On the eve of the Eastbourne Borough v Bromley match last week, the FA allocated draw numbers for clubs that would be in the hat for the First Round Proper. My post that day was all about the "prize" of a small club pulling out a big name in the cup. Eastbourne Borough v Leeds United or Nottingham Forest, for example. Go back to an earlier post in this blog and I dared the Sittingbourne fans to dream of a home tie against Liverpool.

I have always assumed that if you spoke to anyone involved with a non-league club they would positively drool at the thought of a big club coming to town. But during my visit to Eastbourne Borough, a comment from committee member Lee Peskett really caught me on the blind side.

It made me question something I had always taken for granted.

I put this question to Lee. "I guess you fancy Leeds or Forest at home in the next round then"? I felt at the time that this was a rhetorical question. Goes without saying doesn't it?

But no, it doesn't. Lee painted the picture for me. Yes, a home tie against a big club would be great. The fans would love it. It would be a proud moment for the club. It would capture the imagination of the town. And so on; things we hear every season at this stage of the competition. But there was a but. A big but.

For a small club, drawing a big team at home could be a logistical nightmare.

Lee pointed out that there are many additional things that need to be considered if a big team comes to town. For example, segregation. This does not simply involve throwing up a gate between two sections of ground. It has to be installed to meet all of the Health and Safety standards. The segregated fans must have safe access in and out of the ground. Refreshment and toilet facilities need to be made available. Things we take for granted at the top grounds, but at places like Priory Lane, things that cannot be changed overnight.

And then there are increased costs associated with bigger crowds. More turnstiles to be opened, more programmes to be printed, more chips to be fried. And the Police expenses can be astronomical. Many clubs at this level could feasibly lose money when a big team is in town.

In this situation the club's feelings can be mixed. And under FA regulations, clubs can no longer choose to switch their game to be played elsewhere, unless the Police insist. So for many non-league clubs, an away tie at a big club would be preferred. Clubs get 50% of the gate for FA Cup ties so the benefits of an away trip are obvious. Getting a big team at home is not all that it is cracked up to be.

So there you have it. For us footy fans, we simply turn up. We pay our money, we watch the game, have a bit of a moan, a shout and (if we're lucky) a cheer. Then we go home. The club is always there and the volunteers are there long before we arrive and will be there long after we have left. And many of us (myself included) perhaps don't appreciate the detailed planning that goes into running a club and organising a match day, especially an FA Cup game against one of the big guns.

It is something we just take for granted.

No comments: