Hackney Wick FC face being homeless next season and may have to cut ties with Hackney, says founder Bobby Kasanga
PUBLISHED: 17:17 04 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:42 06 February 2020
Hackney Wick FC may be one of the most recognised semi-professional football teams around, but they face being homeless next season and may have to cut ties with the borough.
The club, which has won praise for its work transforming the lives of youngsters, has been told it will no longer be able to play home games at the Haringey Borough FC stadium once the season ends in April.
It has been groundsharing in north London as an emergency measure this year after an agreement to play at Clapton FC's Spotted Dog ground was cancelled at short notice, costing the club £4,000.
Founder Bobby Kasanga, a former gang member who set up the club in 2015 after leaving prison, has been featured in numerous documentaries and articles and a Nike advert and TV series are on the way.
But the only offers at the moment include playing in Wormley, Hertfordshire, and a groundshare with Witham Town in Essex.
Bobby hasn't ruled out rebranding the team and moving, but wants to find somewhere closer to home - though it probably won't be in Hackney, which is the only borough in London without a football stadium.
He told the Gazette: "There are issues in east London in general. There are so many teams ground sharing. One stadium has three teams sharing it."
With Hackney Marshes known as the home of grassroots football, Bobby doesn't see why the council don't agree to his suggestion of a stadium on Mabley Green.
"I don't think they understand the value of it," he said. "It's not just football, it's education and the ethos. Most of our kids are aged 17 to 25. We are giving youths the chance of being scouted. We have had three go to Colchester in the last few months.
"We are producing these kinds of players but if you can't play in your own borough you can't do it. People don't want to travel to Wormley. They said: 'Where the hell is Wormley?'.
"We take a minibus for away games now but if we had to do that for home games it's another added cost and we couldn't then pay expenses."
Bobby goes above and beyond in helping players secure work. He recently took one boy to a meeting at which he secured a role coaching a women's team, and has also demanded his players be given auditions for the TV show.
"We keep hearing about youth violence," he said. "We are trying to give them the opportunity to go on and have careers even if they are not in football. It's about what can we offer them.
"Our profile is getting bigger. But with all these things what are we getting in return? We're not getting much love. If we had a ground at Mabley Green all the people who can't afford to go and support these big clubs could come down and watch their local team. It would bring the community together."
Two stadiums in east London have been identified. The London Marathon Community Track stadium, which does not currently meet FA regulations, is one. Bobby says the regulations, for things like the number of showers in the changing rooms, could be relaxed, but the owners are apparently reluctant for it to become a football stadium.
The other is Leyton FC's old ground in Lea Bridge Road, which has been disused for years and has protected status. No one has been able to convince the landlord to let it be used.
An LLDC spokesperson said: "There are many community groups that use the London Marathon Community Track and pitch, including athletics and football clubs, as well as the Bobby Moore Academy which uses the facility as its sportsfield and playing field. The facility is in use seven days a week and this could be compromised if an arrangement gave one club the opportunity to take control of the pitch.
"We are always happy to talk to any community club about hiring the facility, but we are also committed to making sure the track and pitch can be used by as many different community groups as possible."
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Hackney Gazette. Click the link in the orange box above for details.