Havant & Waterlooville WFC: Many shades of grey…
Havant & Waterlooville WFC: Cup runs, regular festivals, non-stop banter and even some European Silverware are all part of the legend of the club that personifies inclusiveness…
Our editor goes to meet the members of Havant and Waterlooville WFC to find out what’s going on behind the scenes at one of Hampshire’s hotbeds of the beautiful game – for the over 50s…
Havant and Waterlooville FC are best known for their improbable run to the FA Cup fourth round in 2008 when they scored two goals and led for 19 minutes in an epic tie with five-time European Champions Liverpool at Anfield.
Yet while most regular football fans’ knowledge of the club will probably start and end with that piece of now pub quiz trivia (for most outside of the club), the club’s successes go well beyond it. In fact, one of its greatest achievements is the continued progress of one of the best community football initiatives in the south of England – the Hawks in the Community Programme.
A significant development, courtesy of that initiative, is the Havant and Waterlooville Walking Football Club, a successful squad who have had more than their fair share of cup achievements – in fact they can count an FA People’s Cup semi-final in Bristol among their most notable successes.
Known as Many Shades of Grey – in reference to the colour of the side’s hair (or, indeed, what’s left of it!) – the club have played on the hallowed turf at Brighton & Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium, regularly compete in the Hampshire Legends Cup, and have even made an unlikely appearance on BBC TV.
All this despite the club being founded with an inclusive social ethos which ultimately dictates that everyone gets equal opportunities when it comes to playing in tournaments and festivals, regardless of ability.
Upon signing up, new players are encouraged to buy the club training kit, including tracksuit, shirt and shorts, to encourage the feeling of being very much part of the Havant & Waterlooville set up – underpinning the club’s ethos and commitment to inclusiveness in their ranks.
This inclusiveness is further illustrated by the current consideration of a crowdfunding scheme – as costs of kit et al will inevitably rise – the club wants to be able to subsidise such purchases for members, both old and new, whether a player arrives at sessions in a Bentley or comes on the bus – to ensure the WFC truly represents an opportunity for all.
“Our thinking here” says Stewart Russell – the club’s very welcoming Secretary – “is we just feel so fortunate to be playing again after so long and at our ages. So our ethos here celebrates this fact and our aim is to continue to provide regular enjoyable weekly sessions and other opportunities to play for all comers – irrespective of ability”.
“It’s a great opportunity for everyone. Just last year we played a tournament out in Brittany which was a great experience – it was the first European silverware that Havant and Waterlooville had ever won!” – he further contends with tongue firmly in his cheek.
In total the team, which was named Hampshire Walking Football club of the Year in 2015-16, has 53 players coming from all walks of life, but with one shared passion – football.
The club now has its own dedicated fanzine and even uses its work in the community to raise money for local charities – all of which contributes to the social element of the project. It was even named the Vanarama National League’s Best Project for Older People in 2016.
The club regularly organises its own festivals, while the players enjoy coffee and donuts (and why not?) – at the pub adjacent to the football club’s stadium, often after their regular sessions on a Monday and a Thursday.
At training the members often get the opportunity to be coached by ex-first team manager Shaun Gale, who is also one of the team’s biggest supporters. Found regularly coaching and encouraging at tournaments, he was the man who was responsible for taking a team, including a dustman and a school caretaker, into the FA Cup tie against Rafael Benitez’s men nine years ago. The Liverpool team they played that day included some of the big names of football past, as the Havant & Waterlooville part-timers made their name on the national stage, including the likes of Yossi Benayoun, John Arne Riise and Jermaine Pennant.
But far from living in that past, the club are now creating a brave new future – and central to that are the walking footballers who call it home.
For more information on Havant and Waterlooville’s walking football side, visit http://www.havantandwaterloovillefc.co.uk/community/over-50s-football.html