‘Football freak’ Derek Pope approaching 40 years of service to Havant football
Chairman Derek Pope’s long-standing devotion to Havant & Waterlooville Football Club deserves great admiration.
The major driver in the merger between Havant Town and Waterlooville FC in 1998, Pope has been a critical cog in getting the club and Westleigh Park to how it stands today.
Yet, the Hawks chairman’s affinity and association to the ground and merged club stretches back even further.
Pope first joined Havant Town as manager way back in 1982 - and has remained at Westleigh Park in some capacity in each of the 39 seasons which have followed.
After a couple of years in the dugout, Pope was persuaded to take on a director’s role alongside Peter Wilson and Ray Jones.
Since then, he has been a boardroom mainstay at the club which means so much to him.
When Havant Town and nearby Waterlooville were struggling to establish themselves as a non-league force, Pope enquired about a merger between the clubs.
Hawks have managed to become a non-league force, though, even enjoying a one-year stay just a division below the Football League in the 2018-19 campaign under Lee Bradbury, and every step has come under the watchful presence of ‘football freak’ chairman Pope.
‘I came here as a manager, would you believe, I was at Moneyfields (before),’ revealed Pope.
‘I did make a few appearances, only when needed when we were short.
‘When I came here there was just a small clubhouse - and I mean small - a little bit at the back (of the ground).
‘There was just an outside wooden fence around the ground, six-foot high, you had a handrail around the ground and everything was open.
‘What happened was the people who brought me over, Ray Jones and Peter Wilson, they wanted to become directors to push the club and drove it on.
‘We set up a limited company and just basically started from there.
‘We went our different ways; Pete Wilson had ideas which were down to him, we had a general vote and went the way we wanted to go with the football side rather than the clubhouse side.’
Pope has certainly had plenty to cheer watching his Hawks in the 23 years since the merger, although there have been agonies as well.
There was an amazing run to round four of the FA Cup in 2008, which culminated in a 5-2 defeat but only after the visitors had led twice against Liverpool at Anfield.
Later, Pope was faced with the agony of his club dropping down into the Isthmian League Premier Division for the 2016-17 campaign.
However, successive promotions followed under Bradbury to take the Westleigh Park outfit into the National League for the first time.
But the stay would last just a season, with Hawks immediately dropping back down to the sixth tier.
Yet, despite all the euphoria and painful experiences down the years, Pope insists his thirst for the sport and the club he’s served for nearly four decades will never diminish.
He said: ‘It’s interesting. All the time the money is coming in from different areas and we can fund everything, that’s all that matters. Players are not cheap, are they?
‘When I first came here - not that I want to put people down - but it was not as good as Horndean is today.
‘The pitch was deep in mud, there wasn’t any grass, it was just progress there onwards, really.
‘Billy (Gilbert) did a great job in the first year, he got us up to the Southern Premier League.
‘We lost so many play-offs (National League South) semi-finals - it was incredible.
‘It’s been part of my life, Dos (Paul Doswell, Hawks manager) is like me, we’re just football freaks.’
Pope estimates his Hawks investment to be in the ‘millions’, but pointed out it’s taken large backing from others as well to get the club to where it is today.
He has overseen a Westleigh Park rise from the ground up - literally - and hopes the growth can continue in years to come.
Pope said: ‘There are a lot of people who have put a lot of money in over the years, it’s not just me. There are a lot of directors who are not here now who took money out their own pockets etc to make this club like it is.
‘I hate to think (regarding his own investment), it’s probably millions, but what do you do? If you enjoy it and this is where you get your fun from, even if you lose, you take those (losses), you come back on Monday and you’re ready to go again.
‘When Saturday comes along you go home disappointed, you kick something, Sunday afternoon you lose it and Monday you’re back to normal again.
‘We’ve had a couple of good seasons in the past couple of years, a couple of good cup runs, but this year is really important.
‘There are going to be a lot of sides up there who want it.
‘He (Doswell) has built a decent squad, I think, but no-one knows what can happen.’
This article originally appeared in the Sports Mail 2021/22 preview on July 31.