In November, Walton & Hersham FC traveled to Springfield Stadium in Jersey for a decisive game against the Jersey Bulls, who had not lost a point at home in almost 25 games.
The game seemed to end with a comfortable 4-1 win for the home side – but three goals after the 85th minute secured a draw and a point for the Swans.
A huge last minute comeback, it was a time when 22-year-old co-owners Jack Newton and Sartej Tucker felt that all the effort and hard work they put into the Surrey club had gone impression that it had paid off.
The couple are part of a consortium of seven that bought Walton & Hersham FC for “nominal fees” in August 2019, when they were just 19 years old.
Steeped in history, the semi-professional club was formed in 1945 and has since played an important role in community and non-league football.
The Swans were a fixture in the lower levels of the football pyramid, with Ballon d’Or winner Sir Stanley Matthews serving as club president in the 1970s. In 1973, they won the FA Amateur Cup in Wembley and were directed by Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler in 2005.
However, in recent years the club have been in “final decline” – undergoing relegation to the Combined Counties First Division and their stadium in Stompond Land being sold to the Elmbridge board in 2016. Longtime owner Alan Smith, was looking for a way. outside.
In 2017 the club moved into the Elmbridge Sports Hub, a £ 20million development, and now share facilities with the Walton Casuals – but by this point in their history they had lost touch with the local community.
Enter the region’s seven ‘football mad’ friends, determined to usher in a new era of success.
Dubbed the “Class of 18,” the consortium – Thomas Bradbury, Ben Madelin, Calogero Scannella and Stephan Karidi, as well as Newton and Tucker and Reme Edetanlen, who has since left the group – all studied together at Hampton School, and now all of them work full time or are in university.
“It’s intimidating to take over a football club, but it’s one of those things where if you have the opportunity to do it, you don’t think twice,” said Tucker, the manager. of operations, to Sky News.
Learn on the job
Newton admitted they were a little naive when they first took possession of the Swans, but “faced some issues as they came.”
“In the first month, we quickly realized that there were a lot more directors than we expected,” he said. “The day before the first game of our first season as owners we had no kits and had to scramble to sort something out.
“We assumed that between the six or seven of us we would be able to handle it all, but we realized in the first three months that there was a lot more to do here.”
When the consortium took over, the team was struggling in the field and door-to-door sales were weak.
Off the field, the owners renamed the logo and used social media to connect with more fans. And in April 2020, they replaced manager George Busumbru with Scott Harris, former player and assistant coach of Walton Casuals.
“Scott came to see us in February 2020 and presented us with a long term vision, which we did not have with the previous manager. We changed the entire management team in April 2020,” said Tucker.
The change brought with it a new style of football.
“If you play well, play good football and win, people are going to keep coming back,” Newton said.
The coaching staff is “obsessed with [Manchester City manager] Pep Guardiola, the Spanish culture and just perfect football, “Tucker said.” Even at division nine level, that’s what they aspire to do. It’s not about getting results or winning games for them. It’s about playing good football – and winning is a by-product of that. “
“But we’re winning a lot,” Newton said.
Earlier in 2021, the Swans were promoted to Premier Division South, the ninth teardrop in English football and the fifth non-league.
They are currently in first place after a good start to the season, especially playing in front of a large crowd in the FA Cup.
Coping with COVID-19
However, just as owners were starting to own football clubs, the coronavirus pandemic halted their progress.
The Football Association decided to end the league two weeks after the first lockdown in 2020, just as the club was pushing for a promotion.
“The Premier League, the English League and the top of the National League ended their seasons on a points-per-game basis or played the remainder of the season,” Newton said.
“We felt pretty hard at that point. The fact that we played 75% of the season was pretty overwhelming at the start.”
Tucker added that while it was frustrating at first, it gave them the opportunity to “take stock” and move forward.
“We changed managers and after that five or six month period without football there was so much room for ideas and club development,” he said.
“Once you take a step back from the day-to-day operations and chaos that occurs each week, you can focus on the long-term vision for the club.”
The owners are now looking to expand the club’s youth system and aim to build a women’s team over the next two years.
The goal is promotion this season – but the owners won’t settle there, saying they hope to continue their upward trajectory through the football pyramid.
Walton & Hersham’s style of play means it “gives players a chance to express themselves” and they say this has attracted scouts from the clubs in the above leagues.
With 20 goals this season, 19-year-old Palace Francis is the club’s top scorer; he was debauched by National League club Bromley FC in December, a side pushing for promotion to Ligue 2 this season.
Although it was disappointing to see him go, Tucker said it was a testament to “the kind of talent that exists at the club.”
When asked if Palace is the next Jamie Vardy – who moved from conference league club Fleetwood Town to Leicester City, helping the club to their 5,000-1 Premier League win in 2016 – Newton joked saying he was “better”.
“Michel Antonio was playing for Tooting & Mitcham when he was 20, which is a level above us,” he said. “So there is no reason that Palace if he continues to develop he can reach a similar level. You never know.”