Beginning the journey to make a football team from scratch is no easy job. You need money, a player base, kits and a lot of time and ambition to make it happen. Our journey at developing Hype Train FC from the ground has been eye-opening to the point that we would like to share our experiences and motivations behind the project. General Secretary, Robert Austin, has taken some time to share his own insights at starting a grassroots football team that can go the distance. All aboard.
Why even start a football team in the first place?
From the beginning of our time planning and developing The Hype Train back in late 2014, myself (General Secretary), Sam (Club Chairman) and Phil (Club Treasurer), the trio that founded our site, had a clear mindset of what we wanted to do. We wanted to create a football website that provided substance and in-depth articles, mixed with carefully designed info-graphics, to create Fantasy Football content that was creatively fresh in a time when social media accounts didn't know what Adobe was.
The Hype Train's analytical reporting of the Fantasy Premier League and MLS Fantasy has seen our modestly-viewed website nominated twice at the Football Blog Awards, including the FBA's most recent event at The Etihad in Manchester in May, with THT nominated in the Best Fantasy Football Creator category. Attending this event exposed me to the attitudes and wider personalities of the football blogging community and it made me realise that we can create something, much like our website now, something different and unique.
Whilst we evolved and refined our graphics and articles, in early 2017 once we were happy with our editorial process, we dreamed about starting our own team based on The Hype Train, though the process has taken an excess of two years to achieve. Creating a football team from the ground up takes forever to organise.
At the time, we didn't have the player base, the proper know how to create a team, or the proper motivation. It wasn't until early 2017 that myself and Sam began playing football regularly for a Saturday team again that we believed the dream could be possible.
A football team was our ultimate aim our our 5-year plan and even though a pipe-dream for a spell of time, the pieces have rapidly come together.
Does previous experience play a factor in shaping a grassroots team?
None of us here have created a football team before, though mine and Sam's personal experiences at our last football team, Woodley United, have greatly shaped how we'd approach running and organising our team on and off the pitch.
For a little bit of context, our team is based in the Berkshire area (Reading, England). We live a few minutes away from Reading FC's old home, Elm Park. Woodley are also based in Reading and they play their matches at the Bulmershe Pavilion, with the club having a contract with the University of Reading to exclusively use their pitches. Woodley's facilities are the nicest I've ever come across as grassroots level, it was the best perk of playing for the club when we look back at my time with the club.
Along with great facilities, the players I played with at my level at 'A' and 'B' team level (the bog standard Saturday park league level) on the most part have become my friends with many transitioning to HTFC this year. Our Sporting Director, Rod Stevens, was the reason me and Sam joined the club in the first place - though Sam walked away at the beginning of our second season at the club after they picked an unregistered player ahead of the first game of the season.
Aside from the fondness of the facilities and some like-minded players that just wanted to play football, my kind words of the club end there (and no, this isn't to create a false sense of rivalry).
The club's structure at an adult level is a mess of club politics and incoherence that starts at the very top and cascaded to our 'A' team at the bottom of the club pyramid of teams. Management at every level of the club are nice enough on the surface, and must have their heart in the right place, they are football people after all, but as a player looking to develop in my own right, they were too often silent when you asked them even basic questions, and when posed with anything tough to handle, they'd hide behind the company line that upper management would put into our WhatsApp groups, mostly telling us to be quiet and they know what they are doing.
Players from teams above our level, that would only lose on a weekly basis in their own teams, were dropped down to our team (without any success, every time), to my own personal detriment at times, with large multi-level clubs caring more about the overall wellness of the club as a whole, than one particular individual or team, which in turn derailed any development for those coming in at the bottom of the club structure.
Despite having qualified coaches at hand, our training sessions tried to blend fresh-faced 16-year-old players with experienced 20-30 something players, but the mismatch of quality and the threat of a player from a higher team taking your place at the weekend without justification, created flat and demotivating training sessions, with few in attendance more often than not, that mostly had our team standing still in the freezing cold for 40 minutes of an hour-long session as our assistant coach was more concerned with his own set-piece delivery technique, than the task at hand at the weekend.
This all fostered an innate desire, first to leave the club and turn Hype Train FC in to a reality, and second to not repeat the mistakes that were so glaringly obvious to everyone that were there in the moment. Communication, honesty and positive reinforecement. That's what we're aiming for ahead of our first season.
What do you need to start your own football team?
The first thing you need is a contact with footballing connections. A grassroots scout if you will. Rod Stevens is that for us, and he has been been pro-active in assembling a healthy pool of players for our debut season. If you don't have this, then you'll likely struggle for numbers. Having just left a team, and with a few connections, I have been very fortunate to have the right person on board at the right time.
Next up, a bank account is an essential element of grassroots football. You won't get in to a league without one. We would advise going with Barclay's as it is relatively easy to fill out one form and have an appointment to dot the I's and cross the T's. You'll need to register as a Community account when going through the application process.
A website is the next avenue for a team if you'd like to taken half-seriously. A website is the hub for your team as it can detail your squad, upcoming fixtures, club rules, and positively promote your colours/brand. It is also vitally important that social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and if you'e going down the route we are, YouTube) is set up and runs alongside your website. These channels are potentially good avenues to creating contacts in the area - whether players, sponsors, interested league's or other business ventures.
The best part of starting a new team is the design process. Designing the club crest and choosing club colours. For us personally, being a website which has been built on the back of countless hours on Adobe Photoshop, creating our logo's was second nature. For first-timers, I would suggest creating a simple crest with a shield or circle (as this can easily be printed or embroided on to kits). I'd suggest trialling Adobe packages for a month or downloading some free software that supports multi-layered files so you can layer text and images over a shield or circular badge. Be aware, some leagues don't allow black or dark blue kits in as it clashes with referee apparel.
Teams then need to have a trio of club officials that are responsible for running the club and its activities (though, you can have more). The Secretary is the busiest of the roles as this person is responsible for organising the day-to-day of the club alongside the Club Chairman, whilst the Treasurer needs to get to grips with creating spreadsheets to track income and outgoings, with funds reported annually at league AGM's.
Three Major Club Officials:
1) Club Secretary
2) Club Chairman
3) Club Treasurer
Due to facilities in most areas, obtaining training and playing venues is absolutely essential. It is only in early June of 2019 that we were able to secure a weekly booking to call our own - it took us a long time to find a 3G/4G booking on Wednesday evenings in the Reading area.
The home pitch is what will make you sweat the most (at least it has been in our case). You have to email everyone in your local area and get on Pitch Finder to find out what the availability is like in your area. We are finding ourselves on the hook of the local councils for a home pitch, and this process is especially nervous after a few bookings fall through. Applications for council pitches can typically only be made in May or June at the absolute earliest.
Once all of the above has been organised, you'll need to find a league to compete in. Whether you want to play on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings, there should be local grassroots leagues in your area - though you have to be prepared as you'll be interviewed and asked about every detail of your team - if you're not prepared your chances of gaining omission might be slim to none.
That said, Hype Train FC initially applied for the Thames Valley Premier League (TVPL), housed within the Berks & Bucks FA, with many opposing teams based in our immediate area. The league made sense to our players due to experience in its league structure and to our local geography, though that may not even be enough to get in. Even when you have ticked every requirement, and you are ready to rock and roll as a team, some leagues might not want to bank on a team that is just starting out, and that is a reality you will will face (as we did) with established leagues that don't want to take on start-up teams that might have a high chance of folding in its debut year.
Lastly, to make this all happens, sponsors are all important to help cover the rising costs of grassroots football. League fees, referee and pitch costs, kit and equipment, it all adds up. Our advise is to create a Sponsorship Proposal form to hand out to potential sponsors, with the document detailing your team and what you can do to work together with a sponsor. We also find that picking up the phone is more effective than sending emails (most emails will go to spam).
As a final note, it is worth mentioning that a lot of online self-help blog articles make it out like starting a football team is relatively easy, so please read any words with a pinch of salt as there are a lot of milestones to overcome, and that is just the very beginning of your journey.
A list of objectives to achieve if you're looking to start a team of your own:
- A talent pool of players
- Club bank account
- Club store
- Appointing club officials (Club Chairman, General Secretary & Club Treasurer)
- Club website
- Setting up social media accounts
- Training pitch for winter (3G/4G)
- Training equipment and match balls
- Official FA medical kit
- Paying annual league and cup fees
- Finding a home pitch
- Partnering with sponsors
- Getting into a league on Saturday's or Sunday's
What are the challenges ahead of our debut season?
As a start-up, the first biggest challenge is getting the team together and cultivating a club culture - turning a team in to a club. Aims and objectives, playing style and having a clear big picture direction are at the heartbeat of what HTFC are setting out to achieve.
For us, our dream scenario is to produce memorable content on our site, and on YouTube that will stay with players for the rest of their lives. Personally, I can't wait to see people gleaming about scoring a brilliant goal and having it caught on camera, but to get there you have to be organised. Organising your game with the opposition team, picking a match-day squad, collecting money and player fees, and reporting your scores to the league, are just a few of the responsibilities that require regular commitment to the cause.
Once in a league, another challenge is acclimatising and understanding how local club politics works. Having recently attended my first AGM (Annual General Meeting), it was eye-opening about how a league organises itself, and how they expect every club to perform within its structure.
In particular, there was a lot of debate about the top division, the state of referee assistant fees, and a lot of debate about what teams end up in each division. You have to be an understanding and passionate person to exist in this environment, especially when learning about how other teams operate. You're proposed rule changes and asked how best to retain teams to keep the league strong for years to come.
For me personally, the biggest hurdle to overcome is organising training and finalising a home pitch. It took us over a year to find a Wednesday evening booking for summer and winter training, whilst pitch availability is a minefield of potential problems.
Challenges booking a home pitch as a new team:
- Leagues require changing rooms for players and match officials. A lot of home pitches we have enquired about have dilapidated facilities, aka changing rooms haven't been maintained and aren't now fit for use. This is the case all over the Reading area and severely limits pitch availability.
- Schools in our area have moved away from bookings on weekends as they organise their own leagues and events.
- The general cost of pitches can really sting and depending on who you book with, you might have to pay all the pitch costs upfront.
- Depending on the league and opposing, they don't allow you to play on 3G or 4G surfaces.
- Websites that can help you find pitches in your area might not have up to date information, so you have to essentially map out your own pitches and availability.
Want to know more about The Hype Train?
The Hype Train is an entertainment website founded in 2015, specialising in Fantasy sports reporting, starting with Fantasy Premier League (FPL), before expanding to MLS Fantasy coverage in 2018.
We pride ourselves in providing beautiful graphics, statistics, in-depth analytical reporting and free weekly insight for hopeful players attempting to climb rankings tables. We are also occasional media reviewers, with a keen interest to review games, live sport, and professional wrestling.
In 2019, Hype Train Football Club was formed, becoming the first Fantasy Football website to take to the field. HTFC is a socially active team across social and web channels, providing regular match highlights, match reports, comprehensive player statistics and unique player profiles.
The Hype Train were nominated and shortlisted for the 'Best Football Blog' in 2016 by the Football Bloggers Association at their annual Football Blogging Awards (The FBA's), and were again shortlisted as a finalist in 2019 in the 'Best Fantasy Football Blog' category.