Exclusive: Wakefield AFC to capitalise on thirst for football in the biggest city without a pro team

·5-min read

With a population of nearly 350,000, Wakefield is the biggest city in England without a professional football team.

To put that into perspective, a club like Yeovil, who not that long ago competed in the Championship, represent a town with a population of around 45,000. Another good example is Kilmarnock, who boast a Scottish Premiership side despite the town's lowly population of 46,000.

A more extreme example would be Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim, who are situated in a village of 3,191 people, yet still shared the stage with Manchester City, Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League just three years ago.

European ambitions are certainly not on the agenda for new Wakefield AFC chairman Guilherme Decca. In fact, even the talk of National League participation is nonsensical. Instead, the priorities are elsewhere, and the ambition is simple - build the club first, and focus on the football results later.

When asked what attracted him to Wakefield, Decca told Planet Sport: "The appeal of the city, the fact it's a big city, we think there is a demand for football. There's no professional team, even though there are several great local teams.

"We want to change that, but we're also realistic about how difficult it is to move up through the pyramid - it's not an easy task and it's a long-term project. We believe that we can make it happen. "We'll do our best to get there as quick as possible, but for us it's not a question of how quick we're going to get there. It's a question of doing it in a sustainable way and creating a club that becomes an asset for the community. "There's no point in burning money to sign players and get promoted and then get relegated once you run out of money. You need to create a real club that is self-sustainable."

Why Wakefield?

Pre-season friendly at Wakefield FC
Pre-season friendly at Wakefield FC

Decca could've picked hundreds of other clubs to invest in, many of them already sitting higher in the English football pyramid.

Nevertheless, it was the potential of the project which attracted the VO2 Capital CEO to the West Yorkshire club, who play at The Millennium Stadium, in nearby Featherstone.

He said: "[Wakefield] were lower in the pyramid than we would've wanted to be quite honest. But we thought the potential was there and was worth going through the whole journey.

"Initially we were thinking about National League, National League South/North. But look, we're going to make mistakes throughout the journey so it's actually good that we're lower down the pyramid.

"We're really passionate about building a club. It's not just about getting promotions. We really want something that becomes an asset. That it doesn't depend on me or VO2 Capital to sustain.

"Of course today [the club] is completely dependent on us, but hopefully in five years, it's self-sustainable and in 50 years from now the club is still there. That's the idea, that this becomes an asset for the community and something that can be a part of the football culture in Yorkshire.

"We know that the demand is there. It's a rugby league town, but we believe that the space is there and the people want to embrace it."

Booming attendances a sign of things to come?

Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Ground
Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Ground

While rugby league is the dominant game in Wakefield and the surrounding areas, a thirst for football has been made evident by the club's growing attendances.

In a league which is most often watched by the proverbial man and his dog, Wakefield attracted crowds of around 600 towards the end of last season. Decca added: "I was in for the last game of the season, even though we counted 600 - because some people came after the game started - I think we had almost 800. You don't see that at this level. Absolutely not. "We did a study. If you take our average crowds last season and you compare to the teams in the NCEL and step six and five, we're already higher than most.

"We're really excited about this year, we'll keep getting good crowds and I think our job right now is to build the club. On the pitch is just one part of the job. The other part is how do we get into schools, we are going to start offering free football, and do more partnerships with local business.

"The numbers have been really promising but the journey is just starting. The club can go nowhere without fans. What's going to determine our success? For me, more than the results on the pitch, it's fans in the stand. If we keep growing, eventually we're going to win on the pitch because it means the club is viable. "We see a lot of clubs in non-league with 50 people in the stands. How do you sustain a club with those numbers long term? It's almost impossible. So we need to keep building the club to get the fans and get the community. That is the goal number one and the aim is the performance on the field. They go hand in hand. We can't just be focused on the team and the sporting performance." Wakefield kicked off their 2022/23 campaign in the NCEL Division One last weekend with a 3-1 victory over Glasshoughton Welfare.

The article Exclusive: Wakefield AFC to capitalise on thirst for football in the biggest city without a pro team appeared first on Planetsport.com.

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