Without a doubt, the GMVC may well be sunbathing in its increased media exposure, especially with aggregate attendances which seem as certain to increase annually as the inflation rate. During the 1989-90 season 660,181 paid to watch Conference football – an average of 1,429 per game (or a lot more if you disregard Fisher’s crowds). Although this trend ought to continue to reflect the yearly trend of improvements, the presence of newly promoted clubs with traditionally low support, namely Bath and Gateshead, will probably ensure otherwise.
But all this success is not immune from springing a leak, as the unjust, and ultimately self-destructive, refusal to permit runaway NPL and Southern League champions Dover Athletic and Colne Dynamos into the Conference has proved.
Exactly what the GMVC management committee thought they were doing in arriving at this decision is currently shrouded in an incomprehensible haze of deserted logic. Both clubs won their feeder leagues with a respect-demanding total of 102 points each, and one with a full-time squad and a side enjoying more media time than the weather. Strangely, Colne’s inability to receive promotion led to millionaire owner Graham White disbanding the club on 31st July 1990.
Understandably the GMVC wants to guard against the embarrassment of ever seeing a club win the Conference, yet possess a ground which is sub-standard for Football League entry. A fine ideology, until you consider that the league presently boasts/shamefully admits the presence of Runcorn and Fisher Athletic, who would find it difficult gain admission to most Sunday leagues, let alone the League. Even so, should promotion be fairly won, then the clubs would have the opportunities (possible Football Trust grant?) to amend their facilities to the desired level.
Presently it appears that the standard of the football the side play, plus the level of support, is secondary to how many empty plastic seats you can provide at every home match. Dover and Colne were both averaging over 1,000 per game last season.
In fairness, Colne’s case was not quite the equivalent of Dover’s. Successive attempts at signing a ground share lease with near neighbours Burnley, Blackburn Rovers and Preston all proved unfeasible. And so the Lancashire outfit were not entirely vacant of blame, particularly since the Conference did thrice extend their deadline for ground contingency plans. Also, Graham White must have known through the years of Colne winning the lesser feeder leagues that eventually his club would require a better ground, especially as he had willingly invested hundreds of thousands on the playing side, and his decision to disband the club immediately before the start of this season hardly strengthen his case of defence against those anxious to question his pedigree.
Added to this is the commonly known fact that ground sharing equals a “no entry” sign to the Conference, as Redbridge Forest/Leytonstone had earlier found out. One question which positively stands up on its hind legs begging to be asked, is whether, if Maidstone were relegated back to the GMVC, they would be refused entry for ground sharing. Certainly if Maidstone had been applying to join the Conference in 1989, rather than Division Four, then their promotion would not have been forthcoming.
But none of this is applicable to Dover, who started the current season in well-appointed surroundings. Unfortunately, the contracted building work was commenced during the close season, and the GMVC insisted that the ground must be ready for GMVC football at the immediate end of last season! Although receiving assurances from the building contractors that the work would be completed before the 90-91 season commenced, this failed to sway the GMVC management committee, nor a later appeal to the F.A.
Since Dover would provide large gates, plus many travelling supporters, and provide an ideal make-a-weekend-of-it away trip (the BUFC away crew had already planned a Saturday night in Calais), their rejection is an ultimate loss for the Conference. When staring a gift-horse in the mouth, you don’t ring the glue factory.
Paradoxically, it is apparently common knowledge that the GMVC’s other debutants for the present season, Slough Town, did not even receive a ground inspection until May 21st, although the top three in the three feeder leagues were all supposed to have received rigorous, fault-finding examinations in early April. And, as Pilgrims fans found out from their visit to Slough this season, the place makes Cheltenham Town look like Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
Sentencing ambitious outfits such as Dover to an additional year of footballing supremacy in solitary confinement in the feeder leagues, ignores the 12-0 verdict of the jury of common sense. Football and justice are seemingly in danger of becoming the language’s newest opposites. Neither the alleged Queen Mother’s involvement in their case, nor Dover MP David Shaw, failed to sway the appeal to the F.A. in their favour. Still, if there is a bright side here, at least there were two exceptional sides in the Southern League last season, and Bath City’s addition to the GMVC – they accumulated a staggering 98 points last season – does at least provide a decent ground, if usually somewhat spartanly populated).
Not content with this abortion of justice, the Conference then elects Gateshead, (who finished twenty-five points behind Colne), a club without their own ground either – the council owns Gateshead’s athletics stadium and permits Gateshead F.C. to use their facilities. Crowds can generously be described as non-existent.
In addition to this spectator-less atmosphere, the pitch is a vast distance from the stands. Pilgrims fans opting to stand behind the goal Boston are attacking, will find it nigh impossible to see McKenna at the opposite end, allowing for the earth’s curvature. The last time United played Gateshead, we won 6-0 – a scoreline not entirely unreflected in the fact that Gateshead’s manager Kenny Hibbett opted to resign at York Street BEFORE the game.
Twice relegated from the Conference, and now promoted back up for the third time, Gateshead keep popping back up like an irritating turd that you can’t seem to flush down the toilet.