4:00pm Wednesday 15th May 2013
By Danny Hall
CARRY ON camping is the message from president Mike Tanner as he reflects on a 40-year association with Fairford Town FC.
Tanner was caught completely off guard at the club’s awards evening on Saturday when he received an engraved wine presentation box as a memento of his unbroken service for the Hellenic League club at Cinder Lane.
The president feels as optimistic as he has been for some time about the prospects at Fairford Town FC and has no doubt what has turned around the fortunes of the club which was close to going out of business in 2006 with debts of £25,000.
“I recall we had a committee meeting and the idea was floated that we could rent out our land to visitors at the Royal International Air Tattoo for camping,” said Tanner.
“It took some time to get the planning permission but it was the best decision we ever made because we were able to pay off our debts and that money has been the lifeblood of the club ever since.”
Following a humiliating 9-1 defeat to eventual champions Brimscombe & Thrupp, Fairford have gone on a 12-game unbeaten run since Christmas and finished the Hellenic League Div 1 West in a respectable fourth place.
“We flirted with relegation from the Hellenic Premier for three or four years before it actually happened and we just needed this year of consolidation. We needed it to regroup,” he said.
“But we now have an excellent and ambitious manager in Paul Braithwaite and a hard working team both on and off the pitch.
“Paul instigated the new Young Player of the Year award which was won this year by Cameron McLarty, but there were a number of talented youngsters in the running for that.
“The players began our presentation day with breakfast in the Swindon Harvesters restaurant – all dressed in pyjamas – and came on to the club to play a really entertaining friendly between mixed teams from the firsts and reserves.
“Then we had a barbecue before our awards ceremony and we all settled down to watch the FA Cup final.
“There is a great camaraderie among the group, with the first team and reserves integrating well, something which has not always been the case.
“Next season I think we can have a real go at getting back in the Premier, perhaps with some lucrative runs in both the Vase and the FA Cup along the way.”
Tanner is a passionate observer of non league football and feels it is symptomatic of the game that cash-strapped sides like Sholing, Winchester City and Abingdon Town have all taken the decision to demote themselves from the Southern League, “Unless you have a budget of £2,000 a week, football is just not sustainable at that level,” said Tanner.
“It is perhaps my greatest frustration that the Football Association think grassroots football ends with the Conference. There is such a lack of funding from above at our level.
“Wigan did not need the £1.8m for winning the FA Cup but there would be a real incentive for clubs like Fairford if the prize for getting through the first Preliminary Round was £5,000 and went up from there.”
Fairford Town do not pay their players and Tanner insists that would still be the case if they were to win promotion back to the Hellenic Premier.
“We had no way of competing with the likes of Shortwood, their rich benefactor and a rumoured budget of £1,600 a week,” he said.
“It is the way of the world that players will switch clubs for £20 a week but we value loyalty which is why we gave awards to four long-serving players on Saturday, including Lee Clark (500 plus games) and Dan Bailey (220+).”
Tanner joined the Fairford Town FC committee in 1973 while living in Swindon, and moved to the town in 1980. He was chairman of the club for 22 years before assuming the role of president. But in the last six years he has also had to be acting chairman.
A great admirer of the football hub that has been created at Thame FC in Oxfordshire, Tanner knows just what he would do if his lottery ticket came up.
“Thame now have a marvellous set-up and the first thing I would do if I won the lottery would be to build 3G pitches because that is the way forward,” he said.
“You can train in all weathers and the surfaces are suitable for all sports and ages.”
In the meantime, Fairford Town FC will have to rely on the inspiration of Sid James and Barbara Windsor and – carry on camping.
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