Football: Rebels united in the cause of survival

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AT THE end of last season, the supporters of Slough Town had high hopes for the coming campaign. Their team had finished in eighth place in the Conference and had reached the semi-finals of the FA Umbro Trophy.

"There was a real belief that we would do well this season," Janice Raycroft, the spokeswoman for the Supporters' Association committee, said yesterday. "We really thought it would be us or Rushden for the Conference title this year." What happened in the summer, though, put paid to all those dreams.

At their annual general meeting in June, Conference clubs were shocked to learn that Slough had declared themselves unable to fulfil their fixtures this season, and they were left with no option but to vote the Rebels, as the Berkshire side are known, out of the league.

Slough had got into this state largely because of a poor relationship between the club's chairman at the time, Alan Thorne (once of Millwall), his son and influential vice-chairman, Byron Thorne, and the owners of their Wexham Park stadium, Slough Borough Council. Essential ground improvements required by the Conference were not done and, with future funding looking unlikely, it seemed the club might fold.

The Thornes have now been replaced, though, by a consortium headed by the new chairman, Jonathan Freese, who has business interests in shipping and oil. The takeover was only completed, however, 10 days before Slough were due to kick off the new campaign in the Premier Division of the Ryman League - which had accepted them following their demotion from the Conference.

The new owners brought in Alan Brazil, the former Ipswich Town and Scotland striker who is now a television pundit, as the director of football and Roy Merryweather, the highly experienced former manager of Wokingham Town, as the commercial director and a team consultant. When they arrived they found a staff of just four players: two goalkeepers plus the left-back Paul Hardyman, once of Portsmouth, Bristol Rovers and Sunderland, and the club's Football in the Community officer Mark Fiore, a left-winger previously with Wimbledon and Plymouth.

Merryweather and Brazil hastily rounded up some new players, held a two- day training session the weekend before the Ryman League was due to start, and arranged one pre-season friendly, a 2-1 defeat to Hayes, in which virtually anyone who turned up was given a game.

Amazingly, Slough secured a 1-0 win at Sutton United in their first Premier Division fixture. They remained unbeaten until their fifth league match, last Saturday's 2-0 reverse at Walton and Hersham, and currently occupy sixth place in the table.

Hardyman has now taken charge of team affairs as head coach. "Paul has done an excellent job in motivating the players," Merryweather said yesterday. "The start to the season has been a lot better than we expected - our main priority was just to get a team out on to the pitch." These Rebels, it seems, are not without a cause.