AFC Portchester honoured by Wessex League for helping local community through life in lockdown

AFC Portchester are being honoured by the Wessex League for helping their local community through a succession of lockdowns.

By Simon Carter
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 10:06 am
AFC Portchester Covid-19 Support Group members pictured in April 2020 (from left) Paul Kelly (AFC Portchester chairman), Julie Sexton and Steve Johnson. Picture: Sarah Standing
AFC Portchester Covid-19 Support Group members pictured in April 2020 (from left) Paul Kelly (AFC Portchester chairman), Julie Sexton and Steve Johnson. Picture: Sarah Standing

The club are to receive a special shield from Wessex chairman Nick Spencer prior to this weekend’s home Premier Division match against Bashley.

The league asked all its member clubs to inform them of any services they provided at a time of crisis, and Spencer personally chose Portchester for the award.

The Royals were quick to help the needy and the vulnerable once the first national lockdown was imposed in March 2020.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

AFC Portchester Covid-19 Support Group volunteers Penny Wilkinson and Julie Sexton pictured in April 2020. Picture: Sarah Standing

Within days, they had mobilised volunteers and a support network based at the club’s On-Site Stadium under the umbrella of the Covid-19 Mutual Support Group.

The clubhouse was a venue for the public to donate food items for delivery, while hot meals were cooked on site and also driven out to those in need.

A Crowdfunder campaign raised £2,735 in donations towards the group’s work and several players and coaches from the youth section carried out their own fundraising projects to help raise thousands of pounds for the NHS.

The main legacy of Portchester’s work is the fact the Pantry is still going, based at the town’s Hub in the precinct and named in honour of the club’s ex-chairman Steve Woods who passed away a year ago.

Royals vice chairman Graeme Moir admits the pandemic has actually helped grassroots clubs such as his own to become an even bigger part of their communities.

Recalling the first lockdown, he said: ‘The club became a focal point for those who wanted to help anyone who needed help.

‘More people became aware of the club. You still get some saying ‘I never realised there was a club there’.

‘It’s been a tragic and tough time, but we became more than just a football club.’

Since football resumed following the first lockdown, Portchester’s attendances have risen to never before seen levels.

The Royals’ local Wessex League rivals Fareham, Baffins and Moneyfields have also enjoyed record-breaking attendances this season.

In the Southern League, Gosport Borough - another club who helped their community through the ‘Feed a Family in Need’ scheme - have also welcomed far bigger attendances than they were getting pre-Covid.

‘Since the pandemic people have been looking more locally for things to do and connecting with their local clubs,’ said Moir.

‘In a perverse way, Covid has been a benefit. Our crowds have gone through the roof compared to two or three years ago.

‘We’re now selling scarves, hats, other merchandise - all that’s grown over the last year or two.

‘We’ve had people who were Pompey season ticket holders saying they have fallen in love with football again.

‘The award (from the Wessex League) is great, but there’s a bigger story to it. We’ve seen the benefit of people connecting with the clubs on their doorstep.’

Wessex League chairman Spencer said: ‘During the initial lockdown period, clubs were facing an unknown period of time when they would not be playing football.

‘Consequently, clubs turned their attention as to how they might help the NHS, national

and local charities as well as their local communities.

‘Being aware of the various activities being undertaken, I requested that clubs submit details of projects they were involved in. From the replies received, it was clear that many clubs had been busy.

‘Several of the submissions were impressive; however, the one in my opinion that stood out was AFC Portchester.

‘This is an impressive list of activities and one that deserves recognition.

‘Too often football receives negative publicity. This gives me, on behalf of The Wessex League, the opportunity to present this award and recognise a positive initiative by AFC Portchester.’