Twenty years on - the day a football club diedBy Graham Brookland
March 29, 2012
YOU don’t understand what it’s like unless you experience it. That’s what I say to those football supporters when the debate regarding the end of Aldershot Football Club reaches the surface.
When I listen to those laborious football phone-ins as supporters (mainly from the Premier League) moan on about all the problems that are emanating from their club, stating how the club is in turmoil and it couldn’t get any worse, I cannot take them seriously.
Indeed I laugh, you see, because they just don’t get it. It couldn’t get any worse than it was for Aldershot supporters on 25th March 1992.
It is a date that is etched in the minds of all Shots fans. The day that Aldershot Football Club’s 60-year membership of the Football League ceased. Wound-up, liquidated – no more! The day a football club died!
It was a harrowing time – a desperate period and, despite the inevitability of the demise, when the final curtain fell, it created an air of disbelief, shock and anger! For years, the threat of extinction surrounded many clubs up and down the country.
There was always going to be that knight in shining armour wasn’t there? Not in this part of Hampshire, unfortunately. The first club in 30 years to be kicked out of the Football League mid-season and, remarkably, the last club to suffer that fate, too. An unfortunate statistic that will, sadly, eventually change.
It is a period I will never forget. As Chairman of the Supporters Club at the time, it was a desperate struggle to remain optimistic, but we did. We had a fine group of committee members who did everything we possibly could to help save the club. The generosity of fans and other clubs alike was truly symptomatic of the huge affection there was to keep the club afloat. It was, however, not enough.
For whatever reasons, the club’s financial predicament was irreversible. I found it hard to take some people seriously who always assured me that “It would be ok. That a saviour will emerge”. They didn’t and it wasn’t ok. Those people, however, were not given the opportunity to be involved in Aldershot Town and, indeed, fortunately are no longer involved in football, full stop.
That final night at Ninian Park five days before the eventual closure of the club will always be recalled vividly. At the time, the Supporters Club were funding travel to the away matches for the team in addition to being able to donate funds collected by the generosity of supporters to the players who, by 1992, were not receiving any wages. I recall getting a phone call from caretaker manager Ian McDonald on the morning of the Cardiff City match informing me that if the coach company were not paid up-front, it wouldn’t be leaving the car park! In those days, you could only withdraw £100 per time from a building society and I had to make visits to three separate building societies to withdraw the cash. After rushing about to obtain the necessary funds, I recall getting grief upon arriving at the Rec for keeping everybody waiting.
However, travel to Cardiff we did on the team coach. It was a hugely emotional occasion, though. The final whistle was greeted with a wonderful sense of togetherness, but that thought of emptiness wasn’t too far away either! The realisation that this was it. The end! Departing the coach upon arriving back in Aldershot during the early hours of the morning provided an eerie feeling.
All those memories – McGregor, Johnson, Jopling, Brodie, Dungworth etc Unbeaten at home in 77/78 and then there was 1979 and the pure buzz of those special FA Cup nights. My childhood. The place I always felt the safest and the place I always felt the happiest - The Rec! Seemingly gone forever.
I wasn’t at the High Court on the day of the winding-up order, but was present at the Rec. It was surreal. I recall watching grown men in tears standing at the place they would have watched their football for decades. It was truly awful.
I recall a few days later being at the stadium when all the staff (players, management and admin) were all gathered on the pitch at the Rec. All those dedicated people, unpaid for months, being told that they no longer had a job. Soon after and it was a trip to the Auctioneers in Southampton where all the assets of Aldershot Football Club were sold off all in a morning. Pretty sad really.
It is imperative to emphasise the experiences of 1992. The rebirth of football in the town has been a special achievement driven by the enthusiasm of the supporters. The closure of Aldershot FC certainly provided added enthusiasm, determination and courage as the new club was formed and that dedication has continued by the tireless work of the new generation of supporters that have become avid followers.
Everybody should hold their heads high at this club. The adulation nationwide is sometimes missing of the achievement that has been created here after achieving five promotions since our inception, starting with nothing and having to earn the right to succeed.
Next season, we will remember the marvellous achievements that have been created since 1992, but this week is all about remembering Aldershot Football Club.