TALKING TO MARK WILSON AND TOM PEREZ OF WANDERERS FC – PART TWO

Continuing from Part 1, Rahul Warrier spoke to Mark Wilson, Wanderers FC’s General Secretary and Founder, and Tom Perez, their Head of Media on the club’s revival and their goals moving forward.

How’s the revival gone so far, and how has it been received?

Mark Wilson: Interesting responses to be honest – but almost entirely positive. Football historians and journalists love the romance and the players, I think, enjoy the thought that they can claim to have played for an FA Cup winning team. Administrators have been a bit funny. When we started out, we thought that Wanderers might have been founding members of the London FA so I checked with their Chief Executive if we owed any money as I was a bit worried about compound interest, which he found amusing. However, the FA sent us a cease and desist letter from someone in their legal department claiming we weren’t allowed to use the name or suggest the club had won the FA Cup – I argued that clubs like Chesterfield, Middlesbrough, Darlington, Accrington Stanley, and AFC Wimbledon, had all folded and reformed or, in the latter’s case, gone to court to claim the history of the former club and won. They continued to threaten us nonetheless but three years later, I was shaking hands with the Chairman of the FA when we restaged the first FA Cup Final in front of 3,000 people at The Oval, so I think we can claim the victory.

It’s not easy to start a football club from scratch (or take on one and build from scratch). Are there any lessons and/or anecdotes you’d like to share with us?

MW: I don’t necessarily agree but, having seen so many clubs come and go, even in my relatively short time around football, my advice is don’t do it. There are roughly 40,000 teams already in England and there, sadly, aren’t enough facilities to adequately accommodate that number, or at least in London and the south-east. My personal opinion is that there are more than enough current clubs for everyone to find one that works for them and making new clubs is often either because a bunch of players are disgruntled with their current club, so the complaints procedure or the attitude of the personnel needs fixing, or someone’s got an ego and wants to be a football chairman themselves; if you think you’re bigger than a club, it’s your attitude that needs changing – you have to either contribute or quit.

It’s cheaper and simpler for clubs to add teams rather than brand new clubs to form – and larger clubs attract better discounts on equipment and kit and can build a name for themselves, attracting more members. The only stumbling block we had was when we expanded too quickly and fielded three men’s teams. The firsts and seconds games got called off so we fielded seven or eight first-teamers in our thirds game. We didn’t realise that wasn’t allowed so the league told us ‘Look, we could have fined you £50 per ineligible player but it’s your first time so we’ll let you off’. Two or so weeks later, the firsts had a game but the seconds got called off and we didn’t have enough for the thirds so we just dropped the whole team down, not realising the original issue wasn’t because it was firsts playing for thirds but that any player who’s played six games for a team is considered to be a member of that team and only three can drop down a tier. The league officers were furious, but we just had no clue; we didn’t get away with that one!

Tom Perez: Just a short one from me. My biggest tip is on player recruitment and building camaraderie. I’ve learnt that building a strong team and a club philosophy takes time, you must be patient and not try to rush things. In my three or four seasons playing for Wanderers, I have seen many players come and go, but I think this season we’ve finally nailed it.

We’ve created a fun training and match environment that players want to keep coming back to, and also our coaching set up is really good, so players can see that they are improving and that makes them hungry to keep training too. Our Head Coach, Joe Poxon, is one of the most talented young coaches around, he’s in his early 20s but already has his FA Level 2 and is working towards his UEFA B Licence. He is obsessed with football and coaching and I have no doubt that he will make it right to the top. Players love working with him and he’s brought in some brilliant young assistants too who are committed and regular attendees.

You’re also involved at Football Beyond Borders (as a co-founder) as well as COPA90. Could you bring us through FBB?

TP: Football Beyond Borders is a London-based charity that uses the power of football as an educational tool to inspire young people to achieve their goals and make their voices heard. I helped co-found the charity back in 2014 with colleagues from SOAS university who had played football together and travelled the world every summer between 2009 & 2013 to conduct youth exchanges and workshops with local communities. After the London riots in 2011, we took the learnings from our global travels and tried to apply them locally, to give young people in London the same educational opportunities and experiences that we’d been so lucky to enjoy.

With youth clubs, community centres, extra-curricular activities at school and sporting facilities being shut down due to government funding cuts, we realised we had an important role to play to provide young people with these opportunities and with positive role models. Football was the vehicle we used because we knew it would appeal to young people, both boys and girls, and would create a level playing field on which we could communicate and help them to grow. FBB now works with over 500 disadvantaged young people in 30 schools across London!

Whilst at FBB, I helped set up the partnership with Mark and the Wanderers and eventually became part of the team, along with other FBB coaches. It has been a brilliant partnership that has helped raise funds for FBB but also is now providing playing and coaching opportunities for FBB youngsters. This summer, some of the young people we first started working with at FBB have turned 16 and already two of those are involved with the club, one as an assistant coach and one as a goalkeeper. We hope to have many more FBB youngsters playing with us in future as we know that regular weekly football provides structure and discipline for young people as well as plenty of positive role models to learn from.

I left FBB in September last year as I had been suffering with burnout and depression after four years where we had all made huge sacrifices and worked 20-hour days at times to get the charity off the ground. I felt I could make more of an impact for the charity from the outside world by pursuing a career in media, and so I have been freelancing, helping to re-launch the Wanderers on social media by setting up a podcast and planning weekly highlights packages for YouTube. We’re also planning a season-long documentary in the style of Manchester City’s All or Nothing, but ours will be better obviously – and give a real insight into the life of a non-league football team. I have also been working freelance at COPA90, which is a fantastic new media company that tells football stories from the perspective of fans. I’m hoping to get more Wanderers content out on COPA90 channels in future so keep your eyes peeled!

Any goals and aspirations for the coming season?

MW: On the pitch, the men’s first team were relegated last season after a big year of squad transition, but we have made several experienced reinforcements over the summer and the coaching team are expecting a title challenge. The women’s first team are in the lowest league in the women’s pyramid but they’re up against clubs who can call on full-time staff and are part of a semi-pro organisation, so they’re on a hiding to nothing; however, scoring more goals is the key objective for them and bringing in some new faces. The men’s second team stayed up by the skin of their teeth but, again, have added some real talent to the squad so are hoping for a major improvement.

Off the pitch, it’s where I’m really excited – we have just partnered with a team in Ghana so we want to provide them with kit and equipment, we have found what we hope will be a long-term home for the club so are fundraising to develop that, we have attracted three new commercial partners – Gorgeous.com, Fullers brewery, and Teach Pitch – and their investment in us will help us to meet that fundraising goal. We’re also partnering with Jean Te Le FC to launch an under-21s development team. We are a club with big ambitions – specifically to get back into the FA Cup – but big hearts too and we want to achieve success by playing beautiful football, helping young people in our community through partnerships and fundraising, and giving our club members an unforgettable experience as part of this incredible club.

TP: From my perspective, it’s about getting the clubs name back into the public consciousness so that we can start to grow as a community. We are hoping to attract more fans this season, especially once we sort out a home pitch that is easily accessible. We’re also hoping to attract fans globally though our social media by posting weekly updates and highlights across various platforms and trying to engage fans both online and offline.

We recently made links with a Chinese first division team called TEDA Tianjin. One of their biggest fans and a well-respected blogger in China came to our last pre-season game against Clapton and he instantly became a Wanderers fan for life and promised to set up a Wanderers fan group in China and to help us develop a relationship with TEDA. He has over 180,000 followers over there so we’re expecting big things! We know that if we can have a strong presence on social media, we will end up attracting fans to watch our games live, so it’s an important area for us.

We look up to clubs like Dulwich Hamlet who have been extremely successful in growing their fanbase over the last 10 years using engaging and innovative social media techniques – it’s a great model and one that we know we can build on. Make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube – we’ll keep you entertained all season!

Part 1 can be found here.

BY RAHUL WARRIER