by Paul Burkmar
The events of the last few weeks have left me recalling past experiences that I can draw parallel with in an attempt to make some sense of all that is going on. People's character is the same the world over and my mind has fallen back to a couple of events in my teens.
Occasion one sees a 16-year-old Mr Burkmar starting work in a local pub (The Castle in Hadleigh for the 0.01% that may know it). Unfortunately for me this first day at work coincided with the recent introduction of £1 coin which, if you can remember, was none to popular as a replacement for the £1 note. One of my first customers was a guy called Bob, a builder, which for the purpose of this story I shall refer to as Bob The Builder, any attempt to get back at this guy being gratefully seized upon by me.
After paying for a pint I gave him his change devoid of any £1 notes, coins being their replacements. Being new, and barely seen at this stage, a gruff Bob The Builder growled "Oi" in a way which informed me not only was he not happy, but that I may well be within an inch of death. He told me I had short changed him and I, as lippy a 16 year old as you ever did see, explained, in with full sarcasm that these shiny round gold things were indeed worth the £1 equivalent and prepared to serve my next customer. It was at this point that Bob The Builders fist darted across the bar and seized me by the wrist. The vice like grip, from a forearm that resembled a tugboat, upon a wrist that resembled a bamboo cane with skin stretched across it was an unfair contest. As he twisted the wrist back the pain was immense, I mean, we all had "Chinese Burns" as kids but this was affecting the bone, not the skin itself.
Feeling that an explanation was needed, and pretty girls being present, I attempted to put him down with irony this time. I muttered something about it being the Chancellors decision and not my own. Big mistake…huge in fact. Bob The Builder did not like lippy 16 year olds, well, at least not this one. He twisted further which had me standing on tiptoe, twisting my whole body in an attempt to alleviate some of the pain. In desperation I explained that there were no notes in the till, I could not replace them if I wanted. The twisting got harder still. Geez, what did this man want for Pete's sake, there was nothing else I could offer him. At this point, taking pity on the poor wretch of a kid, one of his cronies defused to situation with a simple "I don't mind the coins Bob, here, I'll swap them over with you". That done he released his grip but not without a glance that told me that if I ever pulled such a crazy stunt again, my life would shortly afterwards, be over.
What was wrong with Bob? I know you don't know him but we all know a few like him. I mean, I didn't like the coins myself much at first but I wouldn't break someone's arm when given one. He may well have liked things the way they were but did he really feel that the whole world should stop turning to suit him? Changes may happen but only if that happened around him?
Perhaps it's the pub crowd but this story leads on to another, that if you cannot draw the parallel with our current plight, your name must be Stevie Wonder. A few miles away in deepest Essex, was another pub (The Tarpots, again for the 0.01%). It was a large pub with a spit and sawdust image. Although those that used it at weekends were undoubted drinkers, a pub as you know, must survive throughout the week. It constantly lost money despite various owners, assorted revamps, introduction of disco-quiz nights-hall hire and the like. The regulars took some pride in this. Every attempt to work them out of their beloved watering hole met with failure. This was THERE pub they felt, and nothing nor nobody was going to change it.
Romantic though this connotation may well have been, the pub lost money, pure and simple. The day finally came therefore when the current owners simply said no more; they closed the pub and sold out to a conversion………to a Harvester restaurant of all things. You would think that this story ends there, but you are forgetting the resilience of your average Essex Man. Undeterred at their pub being changed so drastically, about 10 regulars march in on the new opening night and took up position along the courtesy bar and ordered drinks as usual. They were rude to staff and customers alike but the management could not rid themselves of these men. The would serve only half's and charged well above average compared to pub prices but still these men kept coming. This was their pub, it had always been, and they were not changing their ways for anyone.
Now part of me admires such defiant souls but the other part of me says, "C'mon fellas, get a life". I mean did they have nothing else going on in their lives to keep them from such a futile action. They had families left at home, jobs and other interests I hope but this to them, was the best way to spend their time. The pub lost money. No matter how much you like or even love something as life moves on, and I accept not always for the better, some things you have to just accept cannot continue as they have done in the past.
I wonder how long Bob The Builder or The Tarpots Ten kept up their actions before accepting the way things had become? Does Bob still break every poor kids arm some 20 years on and, are the 10 hardy souls still perched on their stools behind the salad bar?
This brings us to the Den, our beloved home and venue for such passion and atmosphere (well, on a good day maybe) that no one that belongs to would in their right mind wish to change. You can stuff your "harvester" style clubs, your palaces and Charltons. Ours has character, a personality, we like it as it is thank you very much. Who needs the "have a nice day" attitudes and you "set menus meal combo's". WE understand our home, we like it that YOU don't.
Just like the plight of the £1 Note there are facts I must sadly point out at this stage. I'll leave the sarcasm at home though. Many obtain a great buzz from a whole visited town being in awe of us, their police force being on full alert with all hands on deck just to march us to and from a train station. They on the other hand, have had enough. It's taken a good few decades but no longer are the world and his brother prepared to tolerate this any more. "Lets just close them down, extinguish the problem" has often been the cry. Not just at our club, but others as well although we always appear to be top of any such list. "Civil liberties" and all that have seen this prevented up until now but has the elastic we have all been stretching finally snapped?
Let's just not renew their safety certificate thought one bright spark; lets make them pay for the policing thought another. There are easy ways to close the Den without actually fastening a padlock around the gates.
Again, the facts. Governments promise to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" and yet the public see that not enough Bobbies are on the beat. They try initiatives, recruiting and all that before someone looks at us. The police lost 47 officers that fateful night a few weeks back, since then another 50 odd have claimed they are just too disturbed to work. Over 100 officers lost, still receiving full pay, from a police force that is undermanned and has a problem recruiting the standard they want anyway. Guys, they are not going to put up with this anymore. They feel they can't police us without casualties, so they have decided not to police us anymore. They've tried everything else so, no Safety Certificate, end of problem.
Recently, on television, we saw certain hooligans and how pleased they were at the trouble they caused the police. Having to walk them around all day, draining all resources, leaving no officers to cover other crime going on in the area. Let the clubs pay for this seems to be the final outcome. "Full Recovery" is a term you will hear more of where a police force say it will cost £50k to police a match, the club should pay this. If they don't, no Safety certificate again. Oh, and high profile games, you know, the ones that we have to have quite often, helicopters used and the like, they can cost £250k, just thought I'd mention it!
Still when reading message boards I read the "it's always been like this" "it's not our problem" "if Theo try to change it he'll feel the wrath of the REAL fans". Do not Bob The Builder and the Tarpots Ten spring to mind? Did the miners feel that they simply couldn't or indeed wouldn't close profitable pits? Did those poor students in Tienamen Square think that they wouldn't/couldn't drive tanks over their bodies with the whole world watching? All through history actions have happened when common sense told you other wise. That Jesus geezer being crucified springs to mind. Do our so-called "real" fans still feel that they simply can't change the Den, and that they simply wont allow it?
The club just cannot pay either £50k or indeed £250k per home game to survive. If they did find a way, our squad would be so depleted it would hardly be worth watching, Conference Division anybody? Theo appears to have just the one option left open to him. Turn the club, metaphorically speaking, into a Harvester.
I have a fair idea of the how the horror this suggestion will be greeted by supporters; anger, denial... the full works. Can I first ask you to consider though:
For the reasons stated above, there is no second option.
This leaves myself feeing the only way we can advance is to accept that fact but to try to retain as much of our club as possible. What we lose we can at least attempt to claw back over the coming years. We could of course have Bob The Builder's approach of refusing to accept what is happening. The £1 Coin did come into being however, despite is one-man stand against the 16 year olds of the world. Then there's the Tarpots Ten. Ignore the facts and just keep going as before. Are they still there or did it all seem finally futile to even them?
I do not know the answers but unlike some, I do at least recognise the question. I know I personally hate Harvesters and was none to keen on coins instead of notes. But nothing I said or did at the time was going to change that. What I do know is that the next season, and certainly the few beyond that, is going to provide nothing short of carnage amongst certain clubs, history tells us that much. Millwall sadly, and often unjustly will be at the forefront of these changes. I know enough to say that none of us want these changes but also enough to know that we cannot prevent them. I do feel we should at least be debating them, attempting to control them or direct them in some ways, denial of them, is not an attitude I would advise taking.