Martin Hardy: Danger flames flicker around Aldershot again but phoenix club are refusing to panic
Life Beyond the Premier League
Nicky Banger walked into his chairman's office two weeks ago and delivered an ultimatum. "I said, 'I'm sorry Mr Chairman, you're going to have to move,'" revealed Banger. "'I want to sell your office.'"
Kris Machala, the man in charge at Aldershot Town, started laughing. "His office was a hospitality suite," Banger explains. "He would bring in his laptop, his paperwork and cupboards and I couldn't use it. I asked him to move somewhere else and I sold his office for hospitality."
Eighteen years ago, it was Banger himself who was being sold, for £250,000 to Oldham Athletic. He had started at home club Southampton, went to Oldham for three years before moving on to Oxford. There would be a further eight clubs before he retired from the game after landing heavily following a collision with a goalkeeper.
"I'd hurt my back before that and got chronic sciatica in my hamstrings and for that I had an epidural. I was a bit scared of anything near my spine and I retired. I had to make money as soon as possible.
"I was at Eastleigh in the player-coach role. We needed some money to get us up the leagues so I started running the commercial side because I knew a lot of people in clubs. I really, really enjoyed it. I put the business side to it. It wasn't just people putting money in. We raised the income to about £200,000 at a Ryman's League side. I did that for two or three years. I eventually got headhunted a couple of times and moved to Aldershot."
Almost twenty years ago, Aldershot FC became the first English Football League side since Accrington Stanley 30 years earlier to fold during a season. They came back to life as Aldershot Town but, with parallels to AFC Wimbledon and Darlington 1883, were forced to start five divisions lower than the Football League, beginning their new life in the Isthmian League Division Three. At times like these, you find out what, if anything, football clubs are made of. Aldershot Town marked their first full season by winning their new league by 18 points. By 2002, under the guidance of Terry Brown, Aldershot Town gained promotion to the Conference. Almost 4,000 saw their first game at the new level, coincidentally against Accrington Stanley. In 2004 they went full time, and by 2008, the rebirth was complete, gaining promotion back to the Football League, winning the Conference National with 101 points.
In the fifth season of life as a Football League club, Aldershot Town are in trouble. Tomorrow they face Oxford United as the 91st placed team. If they lose and Barnet defeat AFC Wimbledon, they will fall to the foot of the league.
Banger, in his role as head of commercial affairs, has given reassuring backing to Dean Holdsworth, the former Wimbledon forward who took over the managerial reigns at EBB Stadium last season, and masterminded safety and a run in the League Cup that ended with a home tie against Manchester United.
They could repeat that achievement, but in the more glamorous surrounds of the FA Cup if they can beat either Rotherham or Notts County at home in the third round at the start of next year – a reward for beating Fleetwood last Saturday. It would be the furthest the club has gone in the competition.
It is one of many reasons, including not least the drive of Banger, which should ensure Aldershot will have league football right through 2013.
"We have to stay in the league," he adds. "We can't afford to go down. With Dean, we haven't pressed the panic button if we lose a game. With the fixtures over Christmas and all the games we've got, there are plenty of points to play for.
"We have been back in the Football League for five seasons. It was an incredible journey. We're very proud but we don't want to go back there. We fought so hard to get back into the league. That is the underlying factor. The main focus is to get stability.
"You have to work hard. One minute you're sweeping the floors upstairs, and then you're doing the commercial side of the business, bringing money into the football club.
"I've been here for five years. I'm quite proud we've gone up from £46,000 to £800,000 in the money we bring into the club. We've brought new people to the club. Where you move, you build relationships. You learn your business savvy.
"We played Manchester United last season and Sir Alex Ferguson said it was one of the most advertised grounds he had seen outside the Premier League.
"We have a five-year deal with Elliott Baxter, which are one of the biggest paper suppliers in the country, with the ground and a three-year deal with the shirts. We're always looking for ways to increase income. I've been in football since I was 16. I'm 42 in a couple of months. I love sales relationship and my passion comes out.
"I only remember the football side when people mention it and of course it helps give me a greater understanding of the business. I loved playing football but it is like another life to me now."
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