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© Mark Sandell

Staines Town: 130 year history “kicked into long grass”

You may have seen the controversy unfolding at Staines Town this year, where the end looks to have come for the 130 year old club who failed to register for next season’s competitions and shuttered their online presence.

Here Staines Town supporter Mark Sandell, podcast and radio producer, talks us through the club’s decline…

Staines Town played their very first game in 1892. What will almost certainly turn out to be their last was an 8-1 home defeat to Northwood in April. The official attendance was 126 .

Although listed as a “home” match it wasn’t played at Wheatsheaf Park, the three-thousand capacity stadium which has been “home” for most of the last 70 years. The club’s owners were boycotting their own ground in a dispute with the landlords.

It was only after a fans campaign – and the generosity of local teams agreeing to groundshare – that the remaining games were played at all. The 12-0 loss at home to Hanwell wasn’t even in the top three saddest moments of the season.

Up until 2018, Staines Town FC was in fairly good shape. Crowds of 3-400 weren’t unusual as the club bounced between the Conference South (finishing a creditable 8th in 2010 ) and the Isthmian League, with a few good FA Cup runs mixed in.

Wheatsheaf Park had, for five years, also been the home of Emma Hayes’s Chelsea team, which brought more families (and more trophies) to that corner of Middlesex.

The main reason for that stability was Alan Boon, a popular and successful local businessman who pumped a lot of his own money into the club during a 40 year association.

During his tenure Wheatsheaf Park was improved but, in order to help pay for it, the freehold was sold to Sheffield United PLC. In 2008, they in turn sold it to Downing LLP listing the business as “a premium health and fitness club, (the Thames Club which is part of the main stand) conference and banqueting operation, together with a football stadium leased by Staines Town FC.” They were now the club’s landlords.

Alan’s son Matthew took over as club chairman in 2011 and followed his father in ploughing money into the operation, but in 2018 decided to sell up. He told the Non-League Paper at the time that the club was debt-free and they’d even turned in a small profit.

Step forward new owners: U.S based Joe Dixon (chairman) and Paul Jaszynski (CEO) – described in Surrey Live as “prudent” businessmen who announce they will make Staines a Football League club in the next 10 years but they won’t be “splashing the cash.”

Boon admits they have no experience of running a football club, but “they are quality people and I can see them making a success of it.”

Supporters remember being broadly happy with the plan. Dixon, then 29 years old, was the “football man” – a midfielder who came through the ranks of Manchester United’s youth team and had spells in Turkey and Romania but never broke through into the big time.

Jaszynski was the “businessman” who would bring in the cash with the duo’s Asian backers. They are according to the outgoing chairman: “well-connected and know a lot of influential people.”

The new era begins with an attempt to buy back the freehold but nothing comes of it. It doesn’t take long before rumours circulate that players and managers aren’t being paid. Fans who meet Dixon (who travels on the team coach) say he tells them that he can’t spend as he’s taking on the Thames Club.

What makes this more puzzling is Dixon is seen at a press conference in Bulgaria heading an alleged 250 million pound takeover of Levski Sofia. Again, nothing comes of it. The fans start a “boost the budget” fund so that the players would get something for their efforts.

At one match last season, away to Guernsey, the fans paid out of their own pockets so that the players could have a pre-match meal. Staines still lose 6-2.

The backdrop was Dixon’s ongoing feud with Downing LLP. While Staines were suffering regular heavy defeats and heading for another relegation, Dixon announced a new- six month- tournament called the “Travellers Community Cup”.

It promised football every day with half the club’s parking spaces made available for “caravans, mobile homes, horses and other vehicles”. Due to start in April, it didn’t.

In March, the club owners issued a statement suspending football operations and accusing Downing of having links (through investments) to environmental crimes and human rights abuses. It is complete nonsense, but makes the news for a few days.

Refusing to play at Wheatsheaf Park, their home games take place at Wealdstone (20 miles away) and Bedfont instead. The club fulfills its remaining fixtures, finishing with a goal difference of minus 95, losing 30 of their 36 league matches in all.

The fans get together to discuss founding a phoenix club. In a vote, they decide it will be too expensive to rent another ground while starting at the lowest level. Although they get offers from other clubs outside of Staines but decide to stay in the town and collaborate (I have been told many times in no uncertain terms that this is NOT a merger) with Staines Lammas to become an enhanced club Staines and Lammas FC who play at Step 7 in the Surrey Premier League.

The aim is to one day return to Wheatsheaf.

Staines Town FC still exists, in name only at Companies House. At one stage, Joe Dixon offers the club to the fans for a million pounds, which falls to 400 thousand pounds when that is rejected. Bills are unpaid and the club is in debt.

Dixon resigns as a director in June, with a Brazilian called Antonio Silva taking over, from a registered address in the British Virgin Islands. Coincidentally it’s the very same address as Dixon’s “Fulcrum” holding company.

The deadline for STFC to enter the FA Trophy and the FA Cup has long passed and the Combined Counties League eventually and reluctantly withdrew their offer to play in their league next season.

Everything of value at Wheatsheaf Park, from the café microwave to a second hand lawn mower, has been stripped from the ground and in one final act of spite, one of the goals has been broken.

Nobody’s quite sure why Joe Dixon got involved – was he looking at a potential development? Was it just devilment? A big hoax? Or is it incompetence that spiralled?

Dixon hasn’t responded to recent emails, has changed his number and shut down the club’s website and socials.

What is certain is that he and his associates have kicked 130 years of history into the long grass that now grows at Wheatsheaf Park.

 

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