Earlier this week I spoke to Wroxham FC Chairman Lee Robson to get his views on the current situation involving non-league clubs before Thursday’s announcement of a complete abandonment of football from Step 3-6 (Wroxham reside at Step 5):
TK: A superb season for Wroxham up until the stoppage, how proud has it made you building this club back up?
LR: It’s been a really, really good season on a number of fronts, not just for the first team. I’ve been very proud to have played a leading role in helping the club after some difficult years.
It was important the club had a sound basis from which to work from with some great volunteers, a great history and a great story to tell. Also its great to be able to sell it to new people who wanted to help bring the good times back to Wroxham.
TK: And on the back of that how good was it to see so many supporters watching that fantastic FA Vase run?
LR: It was fantastic! To get 1000 turn out to see us twice was beyond what I thought was possible at this stage. Gates have been rising consistently over the past three seasons and of course we have also attracted some noise in the form of the Blue Wave, but the Stowmarket game really caught the imagination. To win that one and get to do it all over again was better than anything I’ve experienced in football.
TK: You can sense there is now a more community feel to the club, how important is it for clubs of Wroxham’s size to be that heartbeat in their local area?
LR: I think it’s really important, football clubs thrive best when they represent something about the area, the workplace, the town, the village, the city. A recent development is that they represent a set of values. I think we can do all of those things, people know we’re a club with standards and values. It’s a little bit of tradition with a quirky twist, it’s honest. When the football’s not great we can still be sustainable it’s a great day out because it just matters.
TK: What impact do the likes of Grant Holt, Simon Lappin and Adam Drury have on the club?
LR: Simon and Adam arrived when we appointed Jordan (Southgate) and the three of them made an immediate impression at first team level creating the professional environment that young players needed to thrive. It also ensured a bit of stability after a couple of years (and more) of almost all the players leaving at the end of the season and a whole new squad arriving.
Holty brings the stardust to add to the real humility but the foundations have been equally laid by young players becoming more mature like Harley Black and Shaun Taylor – club stalwarts after only three seasons. I wouldn’t underestimate the impact that Ollie Sutton (son of ex Norwich striker Chris) has made either – but the three ex-Canaries have certainly added to the lure of a Saturday afternoon at Trafford Park.
TK: Given the current situation we find ourselves in as people and a country, football is very much on the back burner as it should be. Stepping aside from that how do you feel the authorities should proceed to complete the season or abandon it as of now? (written before the news today of complete abandonment at Steps 3-6)
LR: There is simply no chance of any football between now and at least August, even then it will be a slow recovery. People will be very safety conscious of my guess is they’ll be wary of crowds whatever size. Many will have lost family, friends and colleagues, I don’t want to sound bleak but that’s the harsh reality. It’s delusional to think we can finish this season even if we get a downward curve. I’d go so far as to say that 2020/21 could also be under threat too.
TK: Once we get beyond what we’re experiencing now, would you hope the game is in a more sensible and sound financial shape?
LR: Define sustainable! The football business model at pretty much every level is based on guesswork and hope rather than expectation. At the very top money is no object but the new world that will emerge after this I think it’s going to be a very different picture all the way down the pyramid
I am an eternal optimist, but I think we’ll be starting from a very low base, clubs will need to run outwards now to their communities. It’s simply not right that a facility like a football ground stands idle for most weekdays in the middle of a community.
We’ve started that process, in 2017 we had four teams and 70 players, now we have 17 teams and 365 players and that’s done in just two years. That goes some way to making sure the club washes its own face now and in the future. We can always do more, and we must, it may be no less a task of reinventing the purpose of your local football club.
TK: When you decide the time is right to pass the reins of the club onto someone else, what do you hope to have left behind?
LR: Well I get elected every year so it may not be my decision! There is a great All Black motto which says, ‘You should always leave the (all Black) shirt in a better place’. I’d like to think we will be challenging for the things we used to like the Senior Cup, be operating at Step 4 at least, to get to a Vase Final (next year) and have better facilities which after spending close on £100,000 on our floodlights, well we can tick that box.
Also to have a steady stream of local youngsters like 16 year old Travis Dodsworth breaking through into the first team, but possibly most of all that we are well run, progressive and people who see us and experience everything we do have a lot of fun. Believe it or not, this is supposed to be enjoyable! #ahoy
My thanks to Lee for spending some time sending these back and forth across Twitter, fingers crossed I will a second blog up tonight after the FA announcement on Thursday afternoon.