Aldershot: Turkeys who voted to clip their wings and survive

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The Independent Football

As a metaphor for the state of a club, the turkeys that Aldershot FC gave their players one Christmas took some beating. The birds were rotten inside - and that, according to Karl Prentice, the chairman of the re-born Aldershot Town, was before the finances really started to fester.

Prentice, who runs a design and print business and became involved with the original Aldershot club by helping with the match programme, was among the disgruntled creditors when they died of debt and shame during the Fourth Division campaign in 1991-92.

Their successors lie third in the Nationwide Conference, a point behind the leaders, Hereford. They have an average gate of 3,400 ("the biggest at Aldershot since the Sex Pistols were No 1") and aim to make today's trip to Grays Athletic the first step in an overdue FA Cup adventure.

The new "Shots" are, in Prentice's description, a "cottage industry". All five directors are "supporters, 100 per cent". No ego-tripping entrepreneurs or salaried executives strut the corridors of the Recreation Ground. "There's just the manager, Terry Brown, secretary and two girls in the office," he says.

They work within tight budgets and disdain overdrafts. Almost all the players are part-timers. "John Ryan at Doncaster Rovers has largely funded their return to the Football League himself, and that's great," Prentice notes. "We've got where we are by good housekeeping."

Living within your means does not preclude lofty aspirations. Prentice's ambition is simple and bold: to restore the League status the Hampshire town lost so ignominiously. "I remember the old club beating Wolves in the play-offs of 1987, which seems bizarre now. There was an FA Cup draw at West Ham in '91, but it went downhill rapidly after that.

"You never think a club are going to fold. You always feel someone will come in and save it. We had people who promised to pump money in but couldn't. There was the whole Spencer Trethewy scenario - he was the teenager who claimed he had a six-figure sum to invest. He ended up getting a high profile on TV, yet he never put in a penny."

Attendances dipped below 1,500 in the final season, when 36 games brought only three wins before a High Court winding-up order put them out of their misery. "The players were travelling from all over the country, but they weren't paid for weeks," Prentice recalls.

"I lost a few bob when Aldershot folded. I wasn't too happy about that but agreed to help out with the new club. It was like AFC Wimbledon in that we formed from nothing - nothing except the backing and enthusiasm of people in the town.

"We started in the Diadora League Third Division with a crowd of 1,493 against Clapton. It was our lowest that season. We'd take 2,000 to places like Petersfield where they usually get 34 men and a dog. A visit from Aldershot Town was 10 years' income for some clubs."

While seventh is Aldershot's lowest placing in their current incarnation, they had spent four years in the Ryman Premier Division until Brown arrived 18 months ago.

"It was a bold move because we had some well known applicants whereas Terry's pedigree was with Hayes and Wokingham. He led us into the Conference at the first attempt."

Grays have gone full-time since finishing 18 places below Aldershot in May, but Prentice expects a following of 1,000 in Essex, a reminder of his "best moment" since the grim days of foulest fowl.

"Seeing 800 fans travelling up through Birmingham for a midweek tie at Hednesford," he reminisces. "That showed how much this club meant to people."