Sporting Hackney seek to move up league ladder
- Credit: Archant
Matt Brown shares the same dream as any new chairman at a lower-league club in reaching out for a higher status – but he is only too aware of the long road that lies ahead for Sporting Hackney.
Brown has only been chairman of the Middlesex County League club for a matter of months, but he has been involved with them for the past 18 years, from his days as a player in the mid-90s through to being on the committee – first as a secretary and then as vice-chairman – before taking charge at the start of this season.
The victory over Kent Athletic in a recent Anagrams Cup tie shows the current squad is capable of overcoming higher-ranked sides, and Brown is adamant that many of the players would excel at a higher level – but he acknowledges that the club is not alone in wanting to better itself.
“There are all sorts of logistical loopholes that come with moving up the football pyramid, from ground regulations to costs – and we are largely a self-funded club – so making ends meet is always very difficult,” Brown told the Gazette.
“We will have to look at the figures very closely before we decide entirely what to do. But it’s an ambition to move higher up the ladder certainly, and we are looking into it.
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“As we’ve become more successful, the need to progress the club has become increasingly more apparent. We’ve been in the top division of the Middlesex County League for a few years and are gradually doing better at this level.
“Pete Harrington [the manager] and his assistant Dan Portsmouth have done a fantastic job in improving the quality of our first team and throughout the club, to the extent that last season was our most successful ever, winning the league and cup double at county level.”
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Brown believes a major part of a community club such as Sporting is to provide players with the opportunity to better themselves, so he is unconcerned about the need to rush his vision for the future.
Of far greater importance to the chairman is the development of a conveyor belt of talent coming from Sporting’s newly-formed youth team. The club are always on the lookout for players for the Under-16s, and Brown is a strong believer that honing stars from within the club will ensure long-term success.
“The ambition of the club is not just focused around the top end, and one of the things we have been doing in the last few years is developing a broader basis,” he said.
“Two years ago we only had a first and second team that played regularly, but now we have a far more active veterans team as well as two youth teams [the Under-16s and Under-18s] playing in the Echo Junior Football League.
“One of the things we want to do is bridge the gap between youth football and adult football. A borough like Hackney lacks a professional football club – even those at non-league level – despite such a high number of players coming from the area.
“We are actually playing at the highest level of any Hackney-based club, so we see it as part of our responsibility to bridge that gap for local young players who don’t get picked up by professional academies.”
Brown believes Sporting, who play their home games on the show pitch of Hackney Marshes, can be the answer for the many players who are let go by professional clubs at the age of 18 with their futures in doubt.
“We already have young players who are 18 making appearances in our first team, so it’s beginning to happen,” said Brown. “We received a ‘Grow the Game’ grant of £3,000 from the Football Foundation and so our goal is to continue developing our reputation as a community club for Hackney itself.”
Sporting were also recently awarded a Tesco Community grant of £1,500 to help with the day-to-day running of the club.
Brown added: “Success on and off the pitch go together, as the better your first team perform, the more attractive that is to the young people of Hackney, who will want to join and be part of the success.”
Figures produced by public body Sport England last year showed a £1.6million cut from grassroots funding, after participation targets were not met.
For the 12 months from October 2012, the number of over-16s participating in at least half an hour of football each week decreased by 183,100 from a total of 2,021,700 in the same period from October 2005.
“We want to become a hub for other clubs within Hackney, whose young players can see us as a route into adult football,” said Brown.
“We strive to address the drop-out rate, and the Football Foundation grant will help us take this next step towards our long-term goal of being a fully-fledged community club for Hackney.”