The Chipping Norton football scene has been transformed in recent years, with an injection of passion, energy and hard work rejuvenating a junior club in decline.
Now it’s full steam ahead for Chipping Norton Swifts FC, with local children of every age donning the historic black and white strip and kicking off.
Complete with home ground and clubhouse, the Swift kids enjoy a packed annual season of football fixtures and off-field fun.
With members set to exceed 100 by 2017, the club is always keen to welcome new coaches, players and adult helpers to steer the Swifts through their next phase of growth and achievement.
Treasurer Martyn Walsh talked to ECN about opportunity, team-building, friendship and the beautiful game.
I am immensely proud to play a small part in the development of this club. There are so many heroes who deserve huge credit for this latest incarnation of Chippy Swifts. Dedicated coaches, committee members, supporters and players make it a great place to be around. There is a buzz about the place and we know we are on the right track to success.” – Martyn Walsh
When was Chipping Norton Swifts Football Club founded?
Chippy Swifts FC have been around in various guises for several decades, but football in the town had suffered a decline during the 2000s. In 2010 Shaun Green and Martin Driscoll got together to form a long-term plan to rejuvenate the sport from the bottom up.
The vision was to have a team playing at every age group and give local children footballing opportunities again. Chippy Football was reborn with two teams competing in the famous black and white stripes in that first season.
What age groups do you cater for?
The club runs a soccer school for six-year-olds during the summer holidays, this forms the basis of the new season’s U7 side.
From there we have teams in U8, U9, U10, U12, U13 and U16. As each year passes, we are filling the gaps in between.
Where is the home ground and clubhouse?
Our very own stadium of dreams!!! We play our home games at Greystones, making use of three separate pitches specifically marked for each age group.
The younger children begin their careers playing 5v5 and by the time they are U13 they are playing 11v11 on much larger pitches.
What kind of atmosphere and culture do you try and create?
Fun, fun, fun. It is so important for children to enjoy playing football and it is the coach’s job to get that message across.
We all like to win, of course, but it’s not the end of the world when we don’t. Some of the children are blissfully unaware of the final score as they leave the pitch but, as long as they are smiling, then the result is not important.
Lots of schools from the area are represented so the kids form new friendships and become real pals in a very short space of time.
Are you looking for new members?
We are always looking for new players but we also have to adhere to league rules that force us to cap each squad at a certain number.
This rule is in place to ensure each child is given a good amount of playing time, which does make sense.
It is a fine balance sometimes. But occasionally we have so many players, we are able to create two separate sides giving even more kids the chance to play, as we have done this year at U8 level.
Just as importantly, we are on the lookout for coaches and adults prepared to give up a small amount of their time to help the players develop and tackle odd jobs around the clubhouse and playing areas.
Can total beginners join?
Absolutely, players are always welcome regardless of ability. Same goes for adult helpers and coaches.
What are some of the challenges of running a football club in Chipping Norton?
With the club expanding at such a rate we are experiencing some growing pains, but we have a solid committee who are full of energy and enjoy what we do.
Our challenges today will be different from those we expect in the coming years. At the moment, we have a need for winter training areas. Greystones has pitiful lighting which makes winter training particularly difficult.
We are only given a very short lease by the Town Council which makes any major expenditure by the club almost impossible to justify. If we had the luxury of a longer-term tenancy, we could fundraise to make the necessary improvements and make a better, safer environment for everyone.
In the coming years, we are going to have to seek additional pitches to accommodate the expanding number of teams.
And we need coaches. The U10s are desperate for someone to take them over. Duties are currently divided between other coaches but this group of lads deserve someone long term who can dedicate the time required to lead them to glory.
Chipping Norton is growing as a town, and we need to be sure we can provide enough recreational space not just for football but for all sports clubs and societies.
With football having been in disarray for so long, it’s taking time to garner trust from the Town Council and prove to them that we finally have the foundations in place to sustain what we have set out to do.
Slowly we are proving ourselves, and we’ve recently been rewarded with Town Council funded shipping containers for storage – for which we are extremely grateful. But we will need more support in the coming years. Forging close relationships with the Town Council and other clubs within Chipping Norton will be paramount.
Has the game changed much over time, and do kids still love playing football?
Football at the very top level may have changed since I was a kid, but kids are still in love with the beautiful game. Chipping Norton is blessed with so many sporting clubs for our children to join and I am overjoyed that football is finally back in town and stronger than ever.
Some of our kids would play 24 hours a day if they could, their enthusiasm for the game is incredible.
What is your most memorable moment at the Chippy club?
Seeing all of the children across all age groups enjoying our annual awards day at Greystones in the summer just gone.
To see so many black and white shirts and so many smiling faces makes all of the effort worthwhile.
What is your official role in the club?
I am treasurer, U9 coach and chief beer drinker at club meetings.