Hythe Town Chairman Gary Johnson reflects on the challenges he is facing at Reachfields Stadium ahead of their FA Trophy Last 32 home clash with Chorley

Thursday 11th January 2024

GARY JOHNSON speaks about the challenges that he faces as the chairman of eighth-tier Isthmian League South East Division side Hythe Town.

The Cannons welcome Vanarama National League North side Chorley in The FA Trophy Last 32 on Saturday and Mr Johnson reflects about his time at Reachfields Stadium leading up to the clubs biggest game of the season.

The Newington resident stepped down as the chairman of Whitstable Town on 1 February 2016 and was appointed the Cannons chairman on 30 May 2023.

“As a lifelong football supporter and former Referee and Administrator, resigning as Chairman of Whitstable Town, I’ve focused on my business activities at Brands Hatch and subsequently launched two new divisions: F1 Tours and a Chauffeur & Concierge Service which has grown beyond what I first thought was possible.

“Indeed my Chauffeur business now employs staff which in itself keeps me very busy. We move the rich, the famous, business entrepreneurs and folk who enjoy the finer things in life.

“Despite having many invitations to go along and watch both the Pro game and Non-League, I hardly ventured into any grounds as I’d simply fallen out of love with the game, the bureaucracy and a small number of two-faced individuals that I’d not missed. 

“I’ve had fun and found that there was life outside of football.”

When asked what made him join the hot-seat at Hythe Town, Mr Johnson replied: “Throughout my period out of the game, I continued to regularly look at Kentish Football and Football Webpages simply out of interest and flatteringly a number of club’s kept contact with me with many offers to return.

“But I was simply enjoying a more freer time doing whatever I chose, until one day in 2022, a member of the Hythe Board again contacted me with whom I met on several occasions.

“I decided against joining Hythe, simply as I was still building my business and on the verge of employing staff.  I needed to focus on that and in fairness, I still do.

“Contact continued into 2023 and sadly Hythe Town had a summer of turmoil with a takeover and promises of investment failing to materialise and manager Steve Watt standing down periodically.

“Hythe continued to contact me and it seemed like a challenge and against my wife’s better judgement, I did what I usually do, I just did it!”

When asked what challenges he faced when taking over the helm, Mr Johnson revealed: “Hythe Town FC for many years have had some great support by certain individuals, that continues today, but very much in the background.

“There was a small Board of Directors.  Lots of Challenges.  Possibly the biggest challenge early on was to steady the ship; the tail was wagging the dog!

“The majority of Non-League clubs face the same issues: Finance, volunteers, ground maintenance, increasing the support, community, dialogue and communication and the daily frustrations of running a club.

“The reinstatement of the talented manager, Steve Watt, was the biggest priority for the club, followed by the re-engagement of players.  Sadly, we lost two or three due to the clumsiness and lack of dialogue from the then ‘new’ Board to the manager.

“Fortunately, Steve Watt liked Hythe and the Hythe supporters liked Steve!

“A Supporters Club forum was held when I was unveiled as the new chairman, since when it's frankly taken six months to establish exactly what's going on, steady the ship and formula some plans to take the club forward.

“The existing Board made it clear they needed leadership and strategic planning.

“Almost immediately I added two members to the Board, a new Club Secretary (Phil Gurr) and a lawyer and lifelong Hythe fan Tristan Alder. It’s fair to say the existing three Directors of former Chairman Andy Short, former Secretary Martin Giles and Finance Director Tony Zapp are incredibly supportive as is the President Paul Markland and all wanting the same, simply to take the club forward.

“There continues to be a number of ongoing issues at the club, possibly the biggest currently is the state of the pitch. 

“We are undertaking a pitch maintenance plan with professional contractors supported by our volunteer ground staff but since appointing them in early December we've had nothing but rain.

“It’s fair to say that in the last three years there has been a lack of investment in the playing surface and despite the best endeavours of our volunteers, to whom it must be so demoralising (preparing the pitch, then torrential and ongoing rain, with the water table already very high) and subsequently games being called off.

“In fact today has been the first day the contractors could get heavier machinery on the pitch, and now it’s looking worse than it did yesterday with the water, what with the water table being so high it’s just waterlogged; work will continue in the morning and if required we have a midday inspection arranged, because Chorley travel at 2pm on Friday.”

Hythe Town banked £2,194 in prize money from The Football Association after playing two FA Cup ties.

FA Trophy wins over Burgess Hill Town (£1,500), Chertsey Town (£2,250), Concord Rangers (£2,450), Ramsgate (£3,000), Tonbridge Angels (£3,750) and Whitehawk (£4,500), has brought in £17,450.

A famous win over Chorley on Saturday will bring in a further £5,250, while defeat will bring in £1,500 – but Johnson revealed Chorley are staying over on Friday night and this will come out of Saturday’s gate receipts.

“The prize money makes a huge difference, so long as you win!”

“The Trophy run continues to generate much needed finance, but you really need to win for it to become worthwhile, given the share of the gate (profits or losses) and at this stage with the competition now being National and having drawn Chorley, they understandably wish to travel tomorrow, creating significant expense (travel and accommodation), which almost certainly means we will suffer a loss unless we see a big influx of floating supporters.

“Chorley are only expected to bring 40 fans at most.  It’s 290 miles give or take and at least five hours plus.

“To get to this round, we’ve had some great wins but none more so than National League South side Tonbridge Angels. The atmosphere that day was fantastic and on Saturday we simply need to replicate that.

“Four wins from Wembley – a real uphill task, but we can dream, can’t we?”

Johnson urges more local residents to attend Saturday’s game.  The club attracted their largest crowd of the season (385) when Tonbridge Angels visited in the Second Round on 18 November.

“Come on down to Reachfields. It will be a great encounter with the winning team making the last 16 and another step nearer to Wembley. We need the local support.

“Watty has assembled a great but small squad, you can make the difference and we need you more than ever.

“We continue to seek sponsors and have many commercial opportunities. I’m always happy to discuss these.

“Let’s hope you’ve got a real success story to write about come five o’clock on Saturday!”

Admission prices are £10 (adults), £7 (concessions) and £2 (under 18s)

Hythe Town, meanwhie, have confirmed that the Reachfields Stadium pitch has passed the 12 noon pitch inspection on Friday.

Visit Hythe Town’s website: www.hythetownfc.co.uk

Hythe Town  v  Chorley
The Isuzu FA Trophy Fourth Round
Saturday 13 January 2024
Kick Off 3:00pm
at Reachfields Stadium, Fort Road, Hythe, Kent CT21 6JS