Welcome to Chadwell Heath Spartans, a true family football club
- Credit: @ABridgeTooFar16
In football, it’s often heard that certain clubs have a family feel. For Chadwell Heath Spartans FC, it’s more than just a feeling – it's a reality.
The Hunwicks – dad Neil and sons Niru, Ray and Aaron - founded the Essex Alliance League Division 1 team, who have entered the footballing fray at the most unsettling time possible.
In the midst of a second successive paused season, chairman Neil took some time out to discuss the club’s origins and ambitions.
Far from a newcomer to the game, 56-year-old Neil had been working for six years with the Isthmian League North Division club Hullbridge Sports FC when he decided to take the plunge.
He explains how discussions began between himself and son Aaron, a then-footballer at the club: “During the last season [at Hullbridge] we both talked about doing something different, and the fact we were doing it for other people.”
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From there Neil says the quartet sat down one day with “four blank sheets of paper”, devising a strategy that would see their vision come to life.
With one full season under their belt, many aspects of that vision have been realised. By Neil’s own admission, they’re “ahead” in their five-year plan. But how has quick progress been made in such a disrupted time?
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The answer lies in results. A stellar first season saw the team, who play home games at Goodmayes' Mayfield Leisure Centre, promoted from the Essex Alliance League Division 3.
Despite a culled season, an unassailable lead at the top meant the Spartans secured promotion.
The unusual step was taken for the team to bypass the second division and go straight into the top division, where it was believed the team would face a tougher task.
So far, they are more than meeting the challenge. Sitting pretty in third with games in hand, Neil would be “gutted” if this season were to meet a similar fate, as his club would miss out.
The chairman’s preference would be to fight for promotion the 'old-fashioned' way: “What we would like to see is the FA make the decision to extend the season.”
Whatever the outcome, the Spartans' double promotion ensures that the Hunwicks are ahead of where they expected to be when they first sat down with those blank sheets of paper.
Something not anticipated in their vision was coronavirus. Entirely understandable, given that the virus was a complete unknown when plans were drawn up.
While the team achieved promotion last season, and are thriving this time out, Neil is frank about the ongoing challenges: “We rely heavily on sponsorship. The pandemic makes it hard to get sponsorship, especially when the seasons don’t finish.”
Sponsors want to see their businesses on kits, he says, something which has been difficult to achieve with the desired consistency.
While tricky, Neil is determined to ride out these obstacles because, although a passion project, ambitions are high.
He’s clear that he would never have left Hullbridge had it not been to start something with his sons and, with that in mind, they are working hard every day to enhance the club’s profile.
All three sons play, with youngest son Aaron also team manager. Ray is the club’s secretary and handles the media, while Niru is treasurer and a coach. Alongside his chairman duties, Neil acts as club photographer.
The accolades have already started to come in. Neil has won a media award from the Essex County FA, while the same body awarded the Hunwicks the Essex County FA Football Family Award in December.
On top of that, just last week, it certified the Spartans as a Charter Standard club, a recognition of how well-run it is.
These awards offer the club a level of “prestige” that, in Neil's view, is key to its continued growth.
And it is growing. There were 30 fans at the last pre-lockdown game. This may sound modest, but for the Hunwicks, it’s the foundation of something special.
Growing is one priority. Community work is another. Seven of the club's current crop - who range from age 16-39 - are former Mayfield School pupils.
Chadwell Heath Spartans FC is a club with a feel of family and a sense of community - precisely what the Hunwicks set out to achieve when they sat down with those blank sheets of paper.
For further information visit pitchero.com/clubs/chadwellheathspartansfc or visit @CH_SpartansFC on Twitter.