Tunbridge Wells striving towards Conference South football - EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS

Thursday 06th April 2006

Kentish Observer League club Tunbridge Wells may be desperate to end their 18-year trophy drought when they take on VCD Athletic in the Kent Senior Trophy Final at Welling United’s Park View Road on Sunday (3pm), but the club are also hoping for a happy marriage with local youth outfit Tunbridge Wells Foresters, writes Stephen McCartney.

Intrigued fans met at Culverden Stadium tonight (Thursday) to hear the positive plans put to them by Foresters, who want to team up with their more senior neighbours to benefit football in the town and it’s main club.

Former England, Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur star Gary Stevens, whose lived in Tunbridge Wells for three and a half years, can see the potential of football in his home town.

The Foresters’ director of football is working towards bringing talented home grown youngsters through the youth system into the first team squad - to mirror former Kent League rivals Ramsgate.

And Phil Dowick, the chairman of Foresters, insists Tunbridge Wells Football Club should be striving towards playing in the Nationwide Conference South.

“The town the size of Tunbridge Wells should have a Conference South team in it really,” he said. “That’s the sort of level we should be aiming at.

“Obviously it’s going to take a few years but we’re hoping we can put in place the groundwork and do the hard work now so when time goes on, with the new director of football, we can move forward and improve the playing standards.”

Dowick and Stevens though, suggested the club needed to be run in a more professional manner, utilising their current facilities to maximise their revenue streams and give all club officials the opportunity to make decisions - instead of going through the chairman.

“A club like this, and I don’t think Tunbridge Wells is unique, too many decisions are made by the same person,” said Dowick.

“And however good the same person, usually the chairman, shouldn’t be involved in every decision. There’s too much confusion.

“So we’re trying to put together an area where the decision making process is shared. More people are allowed to make decisions, more budgets are allocated - the club grows better.”

This season the club runs just two teams - first and a reserve side. But within a two year period Tunbridge Wells will be giving local talent the chance to progress from the under 13’s right through to it’s first team.

Foresters though start from under 5s upwards, and five of it’s teams are currently top of their leagues, and their officials want this success to spread through to Tunbridge Wells - a club that is underachieving.

Dowick admitted: “Our ultimate objective I guess is that Tunbridge Wells is going to have a starting eleven of Foresters players.

“Players that were born, live, stay in Tunbridge Wells and I think once you start generating players who see it as their home town club, I believe if you have home grown talent then naturally your home grown support grows with it.

“What I’m saying, traditionally the better players from Tunbridge Wells move out of the town, moving to Tonbridge, Gravesend or whatever.

“We need to make sure we can retain Tunbridge Wells players. But the ideal goal is we can generate a team of eleven players through our youth side into the first team.”

Dowick and Stevens hope they can enjoy the same success as Ramsgate who started their youth system and a majority of their current first team squad, top of the Ryman League first division, live in Thanet.

But Dowick warned it won’t happen overnight.

“We’re running an under 18 side together next season and then we’ll have a team coming through every year thereafter,” he said.

“I would expect two or three years time there might be four or five home bred players and it doesn’t have to be Foresters. I make that quite clear. It can be any player that was born and bred in Tunbridge Wells that can actually come and play for their own home town team.”

But before players consider moving house, Dowick hasn’t ruled out a chance for players from other areas playing for the club at all levels.

“In an ideal world it will become one big club,” he said. “Foresters start playing at five-years-old and it will be fantastic if we can start at five years because once they join at five they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“They can see they want to play for Tunbridge Wells and not just Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham.

“Initially its two clubs but we’ve signed a memorandum of understanding here we’ll share teams for next year at under 15-16.

“They will be playing for Tunbridge Wells but they will be managed and operated by Foresters but the league tables, shirts, players will be known as Tunbridge Wells Football Club.

“We set out with the ambition of being a happy partnership and hopefully that happy partnership can develop into one big happy family.”

It has taken nearly a year to get to this stage, and everyone concerned hope fans and members will rubberstamp these positive proposals.

Dowick and Stevens though are meeting current club sponsors at a lunch ahead of their Kent Senior Trophy Final to iron out another investment.

Dowick revealed: “We’re meeting McGinlay, the club sponsors for lunch. We’re going to the final and it will be a wonderful thing if we can come home with the trophy.

“They actually signed up for a three-year deal but it is renewable each year so we’re gong to see them.

“The indications are they will have no reason not to renew it, but we’re trying to make sure they’re happy and to review what they are getting from their sponsorship deal.

“I think we can do a little bit more at Tunbridge Wells to develop benefits to the sponsor and that’s one of the things that we’re talking to them about.”

He added: “Foresters are top of five different leagues from ages ten to sixteen so we’ve taken the bold step of commissioning a trophy cabinet so hopefully we can put the Tunbridge Wells trophy in with the Foresters trophy to show the success throughout the ages.”

Stevens admitted he wants to improve the profile of the club - and insists the club needs to be playing at a higher level of football to attract players from professional clubs.

He said their Ryman League Division One neighbours Tonbridge Angels have utilised their deal with Brighton & Hove Albion, which has seen Lee Carey and Steve May play for Tony Doby’s side, whilst on loan from the Championship outfit.

“Foresters Football Club is a very growing and developing youth football team in Tunbridge Wells and the Tunbridge Wells senior club I think have a lot of the ingredients, which would enable it to move on fro where it is at the moment.

“Tunbridge Wells need to be playing in a higher league than it is at the moment in order to get some young professionals from Brighton or Gillingham along to play on a short term loan basis.

“I don’t necessary think playing in the league they’re playing in at the moment Gillingham or Brighton or the likes of those sort of clubs will let young professionals out.

“Tonbridge Angels have an arrangement with Brighton and Tonbridge Angels at the moment play one league up from Tunbridge Wells so that backs up my argument, doesn’t it? Tunbridge Wells needs to be playing in a higher league.”

Culverden Stadium is one of the better grounds in the Kent League and it won’t take too much to get it up to Ryman League standard.

“I think it’s a case of improving facilities, which will attract players, generate some revenue by making the facilities that are here at the moment work more,” said the World Cup star.

“The clubhouse needs more people in it on a more regular basis to generate revenue. It needs more sponsorship and advertising around the place.

“I have a number of ideas for revenue streams so it produces more money. You produce a better facility, you attract better players.

“You possibly have to pay a little bit more but again I think you can develop and this is where Foresters Football Club comes in. If you start to develop a good youth structure then young lads come through from the town and break into the reserve and first team and then there’s a little bit of heart and soul I the club as well.”

Stevens said: “I think Tunbridge Wells, this is no disrespect to anybody here, needs to be more professional and more organised then it is.”

Stevens revealed Foresters are already having their committee meetings at Culverden Stadium and they’ve started to utilise the spacious clubhouse for functions, thus generating funds for the main club.

“Foresters is a separate club to Tunbridge Wells,” said Stevens. “That brings people into the clubhouse which wouldn’t normally come into the clubhouse, they spend money and they say it isn’t a bad venue to have a party.

“You’ve got to bring people through in order to tell them what’s here and hopefully for them to utilise it further.”

Stevens is a well known man and Tunbridge Wells Football Club should utilise him and his contacts. Let’s face it the town this size should have a football club playing higher than the Kent League.

“I think Tunbridge Wells and Tunbridge Wells as a town and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council would benefit by getting somewhere close to Conference South,” he said.

“If you’re in the Conference South your name scrolls up on SKY Sports. So it can’t be a bad thing.

“The greatest publicity Brighton as an area ever got was when Brighton got to the FA Cup Final in 1983 against Manchester United and I was part of that Brighton team.

“And yes, Brighton was on the map but actually Brighton was on the worldwide map because that cup final was shown globally.

Stevens explained many people in the town don’t know they have a football team, where it plays and which level it plays at.

“Foresters are going to stage their annual Funday in the summer here at Tunbridge Wells. Last year we had in the region of 1,000 people so I would suggest if we have that many in the summer there will be a large proportion of those have never been to Tunbridge Wells Football Club before.

“I’ve lived in Tunbridge Wells for three and a half years now. It was only about a year ago that I walked in and had a look at the ground for the first time.

“If you ask anybody in the town does Tunbridge Wells have a football club, some know, some won’t. If you ask what league they play in and where the ground is, they can’t tell you.

But first team manager Martin Farnie warned fans that success won’t happen over night.

He said: “As you’ve seen today people are outlining their plans for the club and hopefully the club’s moving in the right direction.

“Over the last 3-4 months I’ve been involved with Gary, Phil and our chairman (Norman Sales) talking about what’s going on and how we’re going to move the club forward.

“People talk about promotion, as I’ve said tonight, we ain’t ready to get promoted out of this level of football.

“Maidstone spent five years spending a lot of money to get out of this league. It looks like they’re going to do it this year but we’ve got to be a top three side for three or four years and get into cup finals on a regular basis.”