2:00pm Wednesday 30th October 2013
TIMES are hard for football in Abingdon, but the town’s two senior clubs are trying to keep positive, writes MATTHEW BRUCE.
Sat at the foot of the Uhlsport Hellenic League Premier Division, Abingdon Town and Abingdon United have both so far endured a miserable season.
Basement side United have picked up just three points in their first season back in the Uhlsport Hellenic League, having spent the last seven years in the Southern League.
After resigning from the league in May the club have struggled, crashing out of the FA Cup in the extra-preliminary round for the first time in their history and losing every league game this season except one – a 3-2 win at home to Shrivenham.
“We have such a young team and they have found it difficult so far,” said chairman Debbie Blackmore.
“This season we really wanted to get back to the grassroots with a local manager and local players, but those players are very young and they haven’t had the chance to play much football and gain experience yet.
“But there’s been a vast improvement and the performances recently have been much better than for a long time. We’re very confident that we will avoid relegation.”
The current situation is a far cry from the last time the club graced this level of football, in the 2005-06 campaign.
That season, the club’s 60th since forming in 1946 as a rival to the pre-existing Abingdon Town, United claimed promotion to the Southern League under manager Andy Slater for the first time in their history .
But after seven seasons in Southern League Division 1 South & West, which saw the club record their highest-ever league finish, finances forced the U’s to resign and return to the Hellenic League in order to rebuild.
However, after a difficult start crowds are down from a previous average of around 100 to less than 80 this season.
Blackmore said: “The crowds are not as good as we’d like and we’ve not had many people at all coming through the gates lately.
“The hope was that returning to the Hellenic League would attract more people to our games and it did at first but performances on the field have put people off a little bit since then.
“Hopefully as the team improves and begins to pick up some points people will come back again.”
It’s a similar situation on the other side of town at Culham Road.
Having regularly achieved crowds of up to 500 for big games during their mid-90s heyday in the Isthmian League, Abingdon Town have since become perennial strugglers at the foot of the Hellenic League.
Attendances have dwindled to around 40 and Paul Lee, who managed the side between 1993 and 1997, admitted he was saddened by the decline of his old club.
“We used to attract attendances of 400-500 on a regular basis and we were very successful back then,” said Lee of his time with the club.
“It all started to go downhill when the club sold the ground to the current owners.
“Attendances dropped massively after they left the Isthmian League and it’s backfired on them really.”
The 143-year-old club have struggled in recent years and this season is no exception, as they continue to search for their first league win of the campaign.
Former chairman and lifetime supporter of the club, Phil Evans admitted the Abbots are living a hand-to-mouth existence.
“It’s no secret that we exist week-to-week,” he said. “Every penny we make from the social club and the nightclub goes out on football.
“If a massive bill suddenly came in from out of nowhere we would find it very difficult to cope.
“We’ve tried everything to raise awareness, there is nothing more we could have done to get people interested.
“I think people need to realise that if you don’t use it you lose it. Crowds are as bad now as they have been since we rejoined the Hellenic League.
“We’ve had as few as six people through the gate for a midweek game this season and we can’t survive on that.”
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