Back in 2012, Horwich St Mary’s got the funding that every grassroots club dreams about. Over £700’000 was donated by the Football Foundation to support the clubs plans to improve their pitches and facilities. The donation is just the tip of the iceberg, behind the huge cheque was nearly years of hard work, determination, setbacks and incredible amounts of planning to get the club to a point where the Football Foundation were willing to pump funding into the club. Horwich St Mary’s were founded almost 40 years ago and it is staggering to observe just how far the community club have come, what started as one boys team created in 1978 now boasts 35 teams starting as young as 4 or 5 all the way through to adult teams partly due to the introduction of smaller sided games.
This expansion didn’t happen overnight though; it was only in 1995 that the club allowed games of different sizes i.e. 7 a side. This changed was received positively by the community and led to an influx of new players. As well as adding the Horwich town badge with permission from the council the club also became a Charter Standard Community Club given to clubs by the Football Association for which they are recognized to prioritize child protection, quality coaching and adheres to FA Respect Policies and Codes of Conduct. That in itself was a struggle to begin with as the club were collecting cash through subs as the secretary Lesley Allon explained “The managers would collect cash which made it difficult to pay bills if meetings were only every few months, we introduced standing orders to show the charter group our finances were in order and for a time we struggled to pay bills”
. The benefits of become a charter standard club were important to the club as recognition of the hard work that the volunteers had put in. Most members of the committee started off as parents or managers for instance the club chairman Thomas Allon started off as a parent, then manager, then secretary and now club chairman “I started just bringing my son down and helping out then I was asked to manage the team while my wife helped out bringing snacks and everyone just pitches in it’s a great club to be a part of” In 2011 it was announced that £1 million would be injected into the Horwich St Mary’s to help improve the facilities at the club but one thing that goes under the radar is that grassroots clubs must fund 25% of the donation themselves (now 50%). Although the premier league funded £700’000 of the donation the club raised £300’000 to ensure that the fund was granted.
The club had to overcome objections from neighbors against the proposal, political problems due to the pitches being in the Bolton borough but the car park being in the Chorley borough. An architect was brought in to design the plans before any money would be handed over and were constantly sent back and forth until the FA agreed with the plans.
The biggest struggle the club faced was finding the 25% they needed to cough up themselves “It took years and years of fundraising” said secretary Lesley Allon. Although they believe they were fortunate to receive the funding they can’t understand why they must raise so much money themselves. “We are the volunteers, we are running this so why do we have to find this money ourselves, our commitment is there”
As mentioned the club came up with as many possible ways they could to raise funds including a Guinness world record attempt for the longest line of 2p coints which although didn’t break the world record, stretched an impressive 23.5 miles long and raised thousands for the club. The club were also aided by donations from former Bolton Wanderers star Kevin Davies of £20,000 and author Rick Banks who donated all proceeds from his book Football Type to Horwich St Mary’s.
Eventually after years of struggle and graft work began on the site and the club recently opened their brand new clubhouse and a fantastic new pitch which you can see in this post. Work continues to take place on the site with pitches behind the clubhouse still to be relayed and although members of the club admit it remains a challenge to maintain the pitches and the upkeep of the ground they are extremely grateful for the funding and felt they had a ”duty’ to ensure it was at a standard that a 21st century club should be at.
It is clear that support for grassroots football needs to be more available for clubs to exist, just the day to day costs for clubs can make it a mammoth task. Factoring in the upkeep of pitches and facilities make for hard graft and parents believe this could be why a lot of Sunday league clubs are disappearing “They struggle, they have to play on local parks and council pitches that aren’t really looked after, they can’t afford to develop their own ground and it becomes impossible”