Horndean scrap reserve team – with chairman warning of huge problems for grassroots football once current volunteer generation have gone

Horndean chairman David Sagar is worried about the future of grassroots football once the current generation of volunteers have passed away.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 8:31 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 8:31 am
Horndean boss Michael Birmingham. Picture Ian Hargreaves

The Deans have scrapped their Wyvern Combination League reserve team - partly for financial reasons and partly for the fact they didn’t have enough people willing to give up their free time to help support it.

Both Sagar and first team boss Michael Birmingham are keen to reintroduce a second team one day, but at present are philosophical about scrapping the team who were ninth in the 14-team Combination Premier Division when the season was halted in mid-March.

That was after Horndean were promoted as runners-up to Baffins Milton from the East Division in 2018/19.

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Horndean's Jack Maloney, right, scored twice in the 4-1 home win against Alresford - one of his club's best results of an inconsistent 2019/20 Picture: Keith Woodland

Sagar said: ‘I’ve always felt in the 12 or 13 years I’ve been chairman we should have a reserve team. That’s the bottom line - the reserves can feed into the first team and likewise first team players coming back from injury can play in the reserves.

‘But to run a reserve team you need the right people in the background to help.

‘You need volunteers to help out.

‘We have a lot of volunteers for first team games, but not enough to run two teams - that’s the problem.

‘The reserves are also a financial drain. You’ve got to pay the match officials but you’re not making any money. You’re not getting the crowds, we don’t open the tea bar if the reserves are at home, and you find that players disappear afterwards without going into the bar.

‘We have had reserve teams in the past and they have been financially draining.’

Finding enough bodies to volunteer is hardly a new problem at grassroots sport, but Sagar is concerned for the future.

‘It’s difficult to find people to volunteer.

‘When we go to other grounds you tend to find all the volunteers are old people - 60/70 years old, a lot of them are retired. No-one asks about money, because there is no money.

‘Every summer we go up the ground, cutting the hedges, getting the ground ready. Some have been up last week, and when I’ve finished self-isolating I’ll be there.

‘When this generation dies off, you will need people to come forward - but people these days tend to be want to be paid.

‘Once this generation (of volunteers) goes, it will be very difficult for grassroots football to survive.’

Birmingham has been at Five Heads Park for four seasons, having taken over in the summer of 2016 from Craig Pearce who had himself replaced Dave Carter the previous autumn after the latter had joined Moneyfields.

Regarding the scrapping of the second team, he said: ‘When I went to Horndean there wasn’t a reserve team and I desperately wanted one.

‘Ideally we would have one - and we might in 12 months, 24 months, three years time.

‘But Horndean Football Club has to come first and we have to make sure it survives. The reserve team is an added cost and we thought that for next season we could probably do without one.

As all grassroots clubs try to survive during the pandemic, Birmingham is delighted to be working with ‘the best committee members anyone in the Wessex League could ask for.

‘Ian Sheppard, he had a triple heart bypass operation last year, he’s down the club all the time. There’s two groundsmen - one’s 81, the other’s 82. Our pitch is amazing.

‘The chairman David Sanger … I have only got the highest praise for all these people, they’re amazing and without these sort of people clubs wouldn’t exist.

‘A lot of people don’t realise the work these people put in behind the scenes, but I do - that’s why I make sure all my players shake everyone’s hand on a matchday.

‘People don’t understand how well the club is run.

‘I had been offered the reserve team manager’s job at AFC Portchester, when Horndean asked if they could speak to me. Paul Kelly agreed, but I wasn’t going to go - it was my wife who persuaded me.

‘I went down there and as soon as I walked in the social club the warmth hit me - it’s the happiest I’ve been at a club.’

In his first three seasons the Deans improved their best ever Wessex finish three times - from sixth to third to second. They were sixth when 2019/20 was halted due to the pandemic - 14 points adrift of second-placed AFC Stoneham but with three games in hand.

It was an inconsistent campaign. When they were good, Horndean were very good - completing the double over leaders Alresford (2-0 away and 4-1 at home) and winning 2-0 at Bashley, for example.

But when they were below par, they had some poor results - such as losing 2-1 at home to lowly Solent University and only drawing with the same team 3-3 away (one of only two points the students collected in 13 home games in 2019/20). There was also a 4-0 home loss to Fleet Town.

‘’We were disappointed we didn’t do as well as we did before,’ said Sagar.

‘Perhaps that was a kickback after finishing runners-up the year before.

‘We will regroup and go again. Michael is an exceptional manager, but he’s also an exceptional person.

‘We know we can’t compete with come clubs (financially), but next season I think will be more even. A lot of backers who had put money in won’t be there, and it could be more of a level playing field.

‘We are obviously keen to go again, but only when it’s safe to do so. I think the Premier League have been too quick to want to restart. If we end up with a second spike we will have huge problems - it could go on until Christmas.

‘It’s the same with schools - June 1 is two weeks too early, or even possibly a month too early.

‘We want to progress, we want to win the league and test ourselves at the next level.

‘Financially, it would be crippling (to go up). The travelling expenses would be horrendous, and we would need better players.

‘It all comes down to finance and we are well aware of that. We would have to deal with it if it happens.

‘It becomes a very expensive hobby - it would be like going into a different world.

‘We want to do well in the Vase, the cup, the local competitions.

‘Though winning the league is seen as the be all and end all, the cups can bring in money which is very handy.’

Birmingham, meanwhile, is hopeful that the pandemic will result in clubs at Wessex Premier level - the ninth tier of English football - paying more realistic wages.

‘It could bring the Wessex League back down to normality. I’ve heard players getting £200 or £300 a week - it’s ludicrous, our level is only two leagues above pub football.

‘Going forward a lot of club who have been paying these sums could feel the pinch - I don’t think Horndean will feel the pinch as hard as others.

‘A few years ago I had a meeting with a 19-year-old who had been at Petersfield. He had an agent and wanted £100 a week. Let’s just say the meeting did not last long!

‘Three or four years earlier I’d only been on £50 a week in my last year at Bognor, and here was someone who had done nothing in their career wanting twice that.

‘Clubs at our level don’t get the people through the gates to warrant those sort of budgets.’