By Paul Creeney: There isn’t much money in football at the moment.
As chairmen tighten the purse strings, and financial troubles cripple clubs from Portsmouth to Glasgow, the days of lavish spending seem to be over.
Staffordshire clubs have been as hard hit as any, with Stafford Rangers plummeting down the leagues, and Port Vale becoming the latest professional club to go into administration.
These may have been dark years for both Stafford and Vale, but compared to nearby Alsager Town, even The Valiants’ last 12 months are a mere drop in the ocean.
In February 2011, two days before a league match against Winsford United, every member of Alsager’s playing and coaching staff, as well as the chairman, resigned after the club’s entire budget was scrapped.
Terry Greer, then chairman of Biddulph Victoria, stepped in to help sort out the mess, and with Damien Grocott and Andy O’Connor in charge of the squad, managed to patch together a team to face Winsford.
Unsurprisingly, Alsager lost 3-0, yet they managed to hobble through to the end of the season, finishing just one place above the relegation zone.
With the turmoil of a complete squad and staff overhaul behind them, the close season was supposed to be a time of rebuilding.
Dressing rooms were renovated, new walls were built, and a lick of paint added to the Town Ground.
Then, disaster struck.
Fire ripped through the clubhouse and gutted the changing rooms, and the whole building had to be demolished.
“It was a devastating blow as we had just done it all up,” explains Terry. “There are eight of us, we’re all retired, and I’m the youngest at 64.
“We were down here seven days a week digging trenches.”
We’re sitting in one of three portable buildings brought in to replace the clubhouse, two of which were donated by a local company. Another board member sits behind a table in the corner, selling lager from a mini-bar to thirsty fans.
“We had spent a lot of money, and so didn’t have any left to build new changing rooms and so on.
“I phoned a friend at BAE Systems to see if there was anything he could do. He sent some contractors down voluntarily, and other companies donated materials and building facilities. What you see now is the result.”
In all, volunteers and contractors from local companies carried out £10,000 of work on the Town Ground free of charge, with the club having to find £2,500 to reconnect the electricity.
“In July and August it looked like the club would go under. Never mind being in the top ten in the league, just being here is a massive achievement.”
This never-say-die spirit has transferred to the team, with Alsager currently going well in the North West Counties Premier Division, despite playing their first 15 league fixtures away from home, and finishing in the bottom six for the previous three seasons.
Port Vale may be around 100 places above Alsager in the football hierarchy, but having entered administration for a second time in ten years, fans have every right to worry about The Valiants’ plight.
The nails are a lot further away from Vale’s coffin than they seem, however.
Their minnow neighbours have shown how the smaller clubs have faced much bigger crises – and lived to tell the tale.