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From almost hitting the wall to the National League with Slough Town's Mark Bailey

Mark is a long term fan and the clubs new Community Engagement Manager

From almost hitting the wall to the National League with Slough Town's Mark Bailey
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It’s been a long road for Slough Town, they might be in the Vanarama National League South now but in the last 20 years the Rebels have gone from the Conference to a nomadic existence and almost dropping down to step four.

The clubs new Community Engagement Manager Mark Bailey has seen it all over the years but now back at Arbour Park, the club is focusing on bringing a new generation of supporters to the club.

Slough is, according to census data, the second largest town in Berkshire behind Reading, and above Bracknell in third and Maidenhead in fourth. The club have some serious history as well to get behind, particularly in the FA Cup, but you can read a bit more about that here.

Football in Berkshire headed over to Arbour Park this week to talk to Mark about all things Rebels, his new role and what’s next. Here’s the full transcript. Before you start though, why not join the new We Love Slough facebook group.

It feels like, in this county we’re in the middle of a great era for football and Slough are right in the mix?

I think so, In terms of Slough, where we’ve come from, you’ll be aware we were out of the town for 13 years. Less than 10 years ago we were getting average crowds of just over 200. Very close to hitting the wall at times.

We were I think, reprieved from step 5 a couple of times. That could’ve been the end of the club.

However, Steve Easterbrook took over, things have improved. He worked very hard to get us back here in Slough. That took him the best part of 10 years. Maybe it’s not the ideal situation, not owning the the ground but we have a great deal and relationship with the Slough Borough Council and we’re making what we can of it.

Slough Town supporters. Photo: Philip J.A Benton/philipbenton.com

Crowds are up, maybe we’ve plateaued a little bit in terms of crowds. For a town of this size.

If you look at Dulwich Hamlet, that’s one of the clubs we’re looking at and thinking why can’t we do something similar here? It’s obviously not exactly the same situation, a very different demographic but we’ve talked to guys from that club and been given a few pointers, now we’ll try and do it in our own little way!

All we’re hoping to do is get the crowds up to average around a 1,000 in a couple of years which will be difficult. Even when we were a Conference side [1990 to 1994 and 1995 to 1998] it wasn’t averaging a 1,000.

To do that we’ve got to get the whole community involved. It’s a very diverse population in Slough but we don’t get that represented in the crowds here so part of my job is to go out there, speak to these communities and try and get them down here and enthused and involved in the club.

How are you going to do that?

We’re going to be launching a #OneSlough campaign hashtag, it’s going to run at least for the rest of this season and will involved me going out to the Mosque’s, Temple’s and institutions distributing posters and free tickets and getting to know them.

Arbour Park. Photo: Philip J.A Benton/philipbenton.com

What we find is that when we get people down to this ground, see it’s a really good place to watch football. There’s a decent bar and facilities, good family atmosphere, once we can get people down here they tend to come back.

That’s a big focus, another is the local schools. I’ve got a lot of experience working with schools. We’re going to be running campaigns with the local schools, again giving them free tickets to get them down here and maybe get a little part of the ground where they can congregate.

What about the current fans, have you seen any reaction?

I think they are very understanding, I know a lot of those people. There’s a hardcore of around 200 of us and I think they all want to see the club grow.

The clubs trying to progress, the clubs trying to move on, we’ve been a non league team for a long time in a huge town.

Aside from probably Reading, Slough Town is one of the most successful in terms of big days out. The Walsall game, the recent FA Cup runs, you’ve had those big days over the last decade or so and feels strange maybe you don’t get those thousand average crowds.

Yeah, I can still remember us being locked out when we played Wycombe Wanderers in the Conference, there was 8,000 people there and 4,000 for the home games. I’m not saying we’ll get those sorts of numbers down here, I don’t think you could actually get them in here at the moment!

But that’s what we’re aiming for, the potentials there and the fans that have been here a long time will realise we’ve have got to reach out to other areas and we might have to offer some incentives.

We are looking at doing ‘days’, Tonbridge Angels on Saturday we’re giving entry to emergency services and armed forces, now we’ll look at that, if there’s a big take up we might look at giving them a reduced fee. Next year I’d really like kids to just come in for free, that’s not ultimately my decision but I’m going to be pestering the management about it.

Financially speaking how does this ground work for the club [it is owned by Slough Borough Council]?

The council own the facility, we pay them a rent and that is recently been extended by five years. As part of that, as volunteers who pretty much run the facility on match days and for other events we have, we split the bar takings 50/50 but the gate is really our main source of income which is why we’re so focused on improving it.

Arbour Park. Photo: Philip J.A Benton/philipbenton.com

As part of that we have KPI’s from the council which is about involving local kids in coaching. Neil Baker and Jon Underwood are going to be doing some sessions in the coming weeks with the local youngsters, that’s the sort of thing we have and want to do as part of our residency here.

Of course you also have a ladies team here now

We have, that’s something we are trying to grow and we have a community team as well. I am not sure if it falls in my remit but I’m quite keen on improving our youth teams as well. It’d be nice to see a more joined up approach and a pathway to the first team. The talent is there!

You’ve said you’ve been a long term fan, how long?

My first game was the Millwall FA Cup game [1982/83] which I think was remembered mainly for the trouble they caused in the town on that day. It didn’t put me off, it was a bit scary. I was a Chelsea fan, that was the first club I went to but as Premier League football became more of a business, the all seater stadia, expensive tickets, I found myself more and more coming to watch Slough and now I just prefer Slough. I’d take a day at Arbour Park over Stamford Bridge any day.

What were the big Slough days you remember?

Obviously the Millwall game for the wrong reasons but also the FA Cup game against Reading [1991/92] that was 3-3. We were 3-1 down and got to 3-3. We were on Match of the Day and we all got on the pitch.

Matt Lench. Photo: Philip J.A Benton/philipbenton.com

More recently we’ve had a couple of good FA Cup runs, in particular the game at Gainsborough Trinity in the division above us and beat them 6-0. It was one of the best Slough performances I’ve seen and Matt Lench’s hat trick was one of the best individual performances for Slough. I really think the team we have now, creating those memories, Bakes and Unders could go down as the most successful managers the club has had, at least in my lifetime!

They’ve won cups, two promotions!

Anything you’d like to add?

Yes, we’ve the Tonbridge game on Saturday, we’ve got a charity head shave after the game which has gone really well. It’s for one the charity Mind which has helped one of our players Simon Dunn who’s recently had some mental health issues, he’s written some good articles for the web site so we’ve got that happening.

We’ve got a day for the homeless, shower, feed them and then the Wealdstone game on Boxing Day doesn’t really need any promotion, there will be no gimmicks for that, it could be top against second!

Slough Town have raised £1,582 for the Mental Health charity Mind. If you’d like to donate you can do so here. You can read some of Simon Dunn’s pieces on the sloughtownfc.net website here.

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Tom Canning

Tom is the co-editor of Football in Berkshire. He has played at the lowest possible level of football. In real life Tom works for Reach PLC. Former manager of Binfield Ladies in the Thames Valley Women's League.

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