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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Floodlit Dreams

According to Ian Ridley, renowned football writer and author of Floodlit Dreams, a football supporter goes through three stages.
Firstly he wants to play for his club, secondly he wants to manage his club, and finally he wants to run his club. It is the third option that Ridley explores in this book, a personal memoir of his time as Chairman of his team since boyhood, Weymouth.
A story which is familiar at least in part to Maidenhead fans as it covers our original doomed foray in the Blue Square South, it is a rare expose of how clubs at our level are run.
True to the dreams alluded to in the title, Ridley bravely describes his journey with Weymouth as a romantic crusade which ends up with him having spent thousands of pounds and with the club in a worse financial situation than the dire one they were in at the start of the story. He cranks up the sentiment with frequent reference to the arts such as the film “Field of Dreams” and the U2 song “One”, but his sharp writing prevents the book from becoming nauseatinly saccharin.
Ridley is a football journalist by trade, much respected for his thoughtful columns in the likes of the Observer and the Mail om Sunday, not to mention his distinctive biographies of Tony Adams and Steve Claridge.
The tale begins in the spring of 2003 with Ridley sat in the Weymouth car park waiting for the verdict of the board on his takeover proposal. With the Terras a quarter of a million pounds in debt they surprisingly rebuff him at first but eventually give in to his persistence in time to see the team struggle to avoid relegation from the Premier Division of the Southern League.
Grasping the nettle Ridley sacks incumbent manager Geoff Butler despite an attempt by his predecessor in the chair to stymie his progressive plans by awarding Butler a new contact. Thus Ridley his left with a blank canvas on which to paint his dream for the club. The move from his Home Counties home back to Dorset is given added poignancy by the sad sub plot of the ailing health of his father who dies before he can see his son transform the club.
This transformation comes astonishingly quickly, Ridley assembling a team on and off the pitch which catapults the club from the fringes of relegation to potential champions within twelve months.
The man who delivers this in the dressing room is new manager Steve Claridge but his appointment perhaps sowed the seeds of Ridley’s swift demise.
Faced with a choice of two ex players in Claridge and Shaun Teale he opts for the Hollywood option of Claridge. That the irrepressible nature of the striker leads to the club being invigorated and virtually reborn cannot be denied, but the money that was required to attract him from the professional game only serves to increase the need for outside investment. This is readily available thanks to the raised profile of the club but unfortunately Martyn Harrison wins the race to be the man to take the Terras to the next level.
One cannot help but wonder if Ridley had opted for the more conservative choice of Teale, already schooled in the mores of non league management, then the club would have progressed at a more manageable rate.
Yet in trying to “Live the Dream” with Claridge Ridley nearly pulls off an unbelievable championship win which would have given promotion to the Conference.
Instead its entrepreneur Harrison who with funds unavailable to the salaried Ridley ultimately takes the Terras up, at the price of mortgaging the future earnings from a ground move that never materialised.
Packed with fascinating financial details of a non league club at our level, ultimately the books serves as a reminder of the thin line between success and bankruptcy that we all know so well.

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