I first came to Arlesey in 2008 after spending what seems most of my life in non-league football starting in (I think) 1972 at Dunstable Town, my local club at the time. I’ve always worked behind the scenes selling programmes, working the gates and working on the pitch etc., those were great days for a young lad with Barry Fry as manager and players like George Best (briefly) and Jeff Astle in the side.
That came to an end in 1994 when Dunstable folded completely after several years of struggle and name changes and the loss through old age of most of the old committee and new people being unwilling to come forward, indeed I always say my very small claim to fame (not very positive) is that I locked the gates on Dunstable for the last time as we left Creasey Park, thankfully Dunstable has resurrected and is now playing in the Southern League once again.
From Dunstable it was down the road to Barton Rovers and doing much the same things until I filled the position as Football Secretary in about 1999 when the incumbent secretary left. It was a very steep learning curve in doing this job without the present level of computers but this soon evolved and I spent a very pleasant, on the whole, twelve years at Barton. With one or two behind the scenes frictions toward the end that led to me leaving in 2008.
I was approached by Gary King who was Football Director at Arlesey to be Football Ssecretary at Arlesey at the time and they were restructuring the club and they needed a new secretary as the previous one was moving away. I could see that Arlesey had a modern ground that looked great and were ambitious and this was proved.
They had just moved to the Southern League and this was built on rapidly as they won the Central Division twice in the same year 2010/11 which must be a feat in history as we won the league away at Hayes but had found out that same day that the League had deducted nine points for us playing a player that was suspended although they had not told either the player (as he had moved and it was sent to the wrong address) or me as he had also changed clubs, surely the highs and lows of the game all rolled into one on the same day.
The club and team felt an injustice had been dealt to their hard work and they grouped together and knuckled down and went on to extend their amazing run to ten straight wins at the end of the season winning 0-1 away at near neighbours Hitchin Town who finished 2nd on the last day of the season to take the championship again, truly a great feat and a very special day for all of us. With 1st round proper games away at Salisbury and the following year at Coventry in the Ricoh Stadium these were great days and one of the reasons why we ‘do’ non-league football.
As they say, time moves on and as that team split up things gradually drifted in a downward direction leading to relegation again back to the Central Division of the Southern League and last season relegation again into the South Midlands League.
Crowds have always been a problem in Bedfordshire clubs which creates cash flow problems and that affects the team that you can field and your league status. Also, the off field costs constantly spiral ever upward and this is the continuing frustration of non-league football, people want it to be there to produce players who grace higher leagues (Arlesey have produced Dave Kitson, Craig Machail-Smith, and more recently Stuart Sinclair now at Bristol rovers) but won’t come out to watch it on the cold wet days and nights of a typical English winter, the game as whole now needs major investment at the lower levels if it is to have a long term future and given the vast amounts of money that constantly swill about in the Football League/Premier Division it can only come from that direction but only if the will is there at the top to make it happen.
Arlesey constantly try to produce young players and we have a large youth section and this has recently produced players that have progressed through the reserves to the 1st team which is positive and great news, but even this is tempered by the financial restraints and this season we have with great regret had to drop our reserve team because of the costs versus the financial return, and we now ground share our pitch with Baldock Town, but at least that keeps football at Arlesey every week with them playing whilst the 1st team play away.
This close season sees our ever hard working but very small and shrinking team of volunteers working as hard as ever to prepare for the coming season. We have to hire out our pitch for finals at the end of a season to raise money to pay for the repair of the pitch which leaves the growing period for the reseeded grass very short. This coupled by the fact you need home games in the pre-season period as well to raise cash and prepare the team for the coming season creates a very short growing period for the grass to grow and establish and is a constant problem for a part time volunteer workforce, but this is a battle that we face every season and is one that we always make sure we win.
We have installed a new management team of Matt Endersby and James Hatch as joint managers for the start of this season and are trying to restructure the club and things are looking far more positive than last season, we hope to strengthen the squad even further as we move toward the new season.
We will now be a very young squad but for me that’s good as you look for the next big player and it’s great to watch young players progress year on year and I think that’s the drive that now keeps me going each week. We all want those successful days when we win a championship or a trophy but they come along very rarely and it’s the production of the young players that is the real driving force of non-league football.
Football is in the long term a helter skelter ride of peaks and troughs; we have had highs and more recently lows and the challenge for the coming season is to start climbing up the peaks again.
Article provided by Chris Sterry, Arlesey Town Football Secretary