Banstead aim for the stars
Friday, April 23, 2010, 08:00Comment on this story
BANSTEAD Athletic have joined forces with Epsom Eagles, one of the biggest youth football clubs in the south east of England.
The move could put the Combined Counties League club on the footballing map, via its youth team set-up and a community facility.
The project involves installing a series of Astroturf pitches, a base for elite as well as ordinary soccer coaching, and extending the clubhouse.
It would give the 450-player strong Eagles a much-needed base and the Combined Counties League club a huge structure to help improve its first-team fortunes.
However, it means Epsom & Ewell FC, Banstead's fellow Premier Division club who have been long-term tenants at Merland Rise, will have to find another place to play reserve and youth team games next season.
Epsom's first team have one more year left on a tenancy agreement to groundshare.
Banstead chairman Terry Molloy is in talks with Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, with a view to applying for planning permission, for the project he hopes to have running by the end of the year.
Molloy was already talking to the council, which he said had a desire stated within council minutes for an Astroturf, when he received a "cold call" from Darren Chapman.
A Fulham scout who has been involved coaching four of the Eagles' most junior sides for four years training their youngstest age-groups, Chapman claims to produce "more academy players than the academies" through his Proactiv Soccer Schools.
He has joined the club's board, alongside Aiden Earley, whose son plays in one of the Eagles' teams.
When Molloy received the call from Chapman, he was due to hold one of a series of existing meetings with the council and admitted he thought it was a "wind-up".
"I've been negotiating for that for 15 years," said Molloy, who now hopes to put the project together with "private investors", as opposed to the council doing so.
He said: "There's a distinct need for an Astroturf in the area.
"We want to improve the facilities for coaching up here. I have loads of kids teams who have asked if they can train here, but I have to say no because there are too many asking and because if you said yes there would be no grass left by December. We know there is an interest."
Third generation small soccer pitches would be put behind the club's main pitch and also between it and the adjacent training pitch.
Chapman has come up with the idea of a "football party bus", which would help transport children.
Schools have shown an interest in using the venue, he said, and fliers promoting the soccer schools he runs have proven a big hit.
Molloy said Banstead had a youth team up until the 1980s, "but we certainly never had a set-up from U6s to U13s, which is effectively what Darren is bringing with him".
The Eagles have teams going up to U18s, whose players will now be available to Banstead as well.
Without a proper base, many players have left for established clubs such as Sutton United and Carshalton Athletic.
The alliance is described by Earley as the youth football club "grafting on" to Banstead. He encouraged Chapman to seek a venue, telling him his plan for elite soccer schools would not work without a proper home.
While Chapman says his U10s – headhunted from across the south east – have proven unbeatable by the nation's best professional academies, he stressed there would be "two brandings" of soccer schools, one elite and one for all abilities.
Sixteen of his U10s squad are now at professional academies and the best players would be "pushed towards the professional game", he said.
But the first team would also improve as a result. "We've now got the team with the right people on board to take the first team forward," he said.
Molloy, whose club has a Ryman League grading, emphasised the community element of the project as well as how it could help Banstead progress up non-league football.
He said: "It will generate money for the whole business and the money will be spent in areas we feel it needs to be. It will put us in a better position to move the first team forward, but not just the first team, the grassroots coaching facilities."
He said that his coaching was unique in England in several ways, such as giving boys training twice a week and watching them in games in his own time, and questioned how some soccer schools, whose coaches never saw their charges play in games, knew what they needed to do to improve players' abilities.