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[note: I’ve written this on the assumption that Margate go under, as at time of writing they haven’t. Even if they survive, the main point of the article still stands. 26/06/07]

There’s something strange yet depressingly familiar about writing this opening paragraph. As I put fingers to keyboard, it looks like Margate are about to go belly-up. Basically, despite the sale of Danny Hockton to Bromley, somebody has pulled the plug on them.

While the whole thing did come as a bit of a shock – I would have put Margate as the third biggest club in the Ryman, and a team likely to do well in the future – it probably isn’t as much of a surprise as you may think. Certainly their ground redevelopement was suddenly going from about April 2006 to July 2007. When that starts happening, something is most definitely up.

Shame really, as like many I “like” Margate. They gave us backing over the 18 point fiasco last season, it seemed a well organised, friendly place to visit (even if it was in Kent), and apparently some of their fans even read this very site. But the news that somebody has pulled the plug just makes me shake my head and think “here we go again”.

Margate’s demise follows on all too closely from Scarborough going under. Suddenly, non-league football looks shaky. I’m certain there’s never been a time before when so much money has been in the amateur game. Except it’s not quite so amateur now. Our manager is full time, other teams in our league have full time players, etc etc.

And yet quicker than a bank charge on an overdrawn account, the whole thing is starting to sway in the wind. Margate are gone. Scarborough are gone. Farnborough are gone. Hayes and Yeading have to merge to stay afloat. All within a matter of months of each other. Thing is, why?

Well, firstly, there’s the money aspect. Maybe as a result of pro players needing to come down to our levels, the demand for wages goes up. Teams in the lower reaches of pro football get gates of 4000 and they struggle. So how do teams with gates of 500 (or less) cope?

We all know why. The big benefactor is a cancer within non-league football, sacrificing long term stability for a get-up-quick approach. We’ve seen it before so many times – benefactor comes in, flashes the cash, team does well for a few season (maybe even get into the Conference), benefactor gets bored, plug is pulled and so does the team’s chances.

Seriously, how can Bromley really substain paying £5k to £20k (depending on who you believe) for Hockton? Truth is, it’s Goldberg splashing the cash. When he goes, so does Bromley. We’ve already seen Fi$her turn back into Fisher. Weymouth have suffered too.

And can other big spending clubs like Chelmsford, Billericay and AFC Hornchurch really say to themselves it’ll never happen to them? Perhaps not so much Chelmsford who are at least attempting to do things “properly” but the others?

Mind you, can we say the same? With us, and at the risk of sounding a bit smug, it is a bit different. Our fanbase at its lowest for a league game was 1939 against Ashford last season, and our lowest attendance at KM ever was 551 (Banstead in the Slurrey Senior tin). Even if we slipped to the point that we got 600 odd each and every week, that would still prop us up in the Ryman Premier level. Maybe even the Conference South. And that assumes that the circumstances leading to such a fall weren’t addressed.

Could somebody pull the plug on AFCW? It’s possible, but unlikely. All the while AFCW can attract a mixture of fans putting hands in pockets, sponsorship, one or two people with a bit more clout and any grants we can get, we’ll be all right. That’s four methods of funding, not one. One could argue we’re too “big” to suffer a Margate. While that’s a dangerous assumption to make, it has an element of truth – at the highest level, can you really see an Arsenal, or Man Utd, or Liverpool ever collapsing? At our low level, I suppose the same could apply to us.

But perhaps the real reason for so many teams flopping lies not in the boardrooms but the League Committee offices. Now, you might roll your eyes here, sigh, and think I’m about to go on yet another rant about the Ryman League and its various “quirks”. And you know what? You’re almost right.

You see, half of these failures could be avoided if the leagues (not just the Ryman) and the FA applied some simple but strict rules for clubs. Perhaps licences should be issued for clubs – prove by a certain date you have the money, fully filed accounts, and accept limits on wages etc and you get to play the next season. If you don’t, you don’t.

OK, it might have degrees of enforcability. Let’s be honest, with some of the people you see in non-league football, they’ll easily find ways of paying their players extra money. The title of this very article sums it up. But the criminal thing in Margate’s decline isn’t so much their fall, it’s the way it came out of the blue. Granted, as fans you’re generally fed a particular line when things are going badly, but surely regular checks on club finances by the leagues/FA/other bodies would highlight it before the shit hit the fan?

The trouble is of course that the authorities could do something about it but can’t. Or won’t. Maybe it’s because by keeping an eye on how clubs run it’ll step on a few toes? Apparently, there’s a Ryman Prem club who haven’t, or hadn’t, submitted accounts on time, which I believe is supposed to get them into major trouble. Yet for some reason no action gets taken. Again, the story might be bollocks but if true, it’s gotten swept under the carpet.

It seems that to take clubs to task over their finances is too big a risk for the leagues/FA to take. Yet they’re happy to deny clubs promotion on some really petty ground grading rule. And yes, fill in a form wrongly and get a huge amount of points deducted, then kick up a massive stink when even the FA realise it’s too harsh. But feel free to turn a blind eye to when a club is about to go under……..

Margate are the latest club to spend like a movie star and go down quicker than a porno star. But the sad thing is, they won’t be the last. There’s no appetite within the authorities or the clubs themselves to avoid it happening again. Nobody seems able to learn from it. Or maybe they just don’t want to learn. If you live beyond your means you will always fail in the end. People on the Kent coast are the latest victims of this suicidal approach.

As for what it means to AFCW? Well, on a purely selfish level, Margate would probably have a couple of decent players knocking about reasonably cheap I would guess. And we do face the inconvenience of having 2 weekends spare in the coming season, unless the Ryman break the habit of a lifetime and do something competent.

But then, inconvenience is why we’re reading about yet another disappearing outfit….