Kentish Town keep costs down but still win junior title
- Credit: Archant
A widely-held perception of modern football is that, if you want success, you have to put your hand in your pocket – over and over again.
That’s not the way it works at Kentish Town FC, where the junior section prides itself on being the most affordable club for young players in the area – and it is quickly becoming one of the more successful ones as well.
Town, who were previously known as Torriano United until 2013, have just picked up the Camden & Regent’s Park League Under-11 title with an unbeaten record for the second year running.
Their Under-11 team also contest the London Cup final on Saturday against Edmonton Eagles, while the Under-12s have been runners-up for the last three seasons.
Continuity is key for Town – their Under-15 side is entirely made up of players who joined the youngest age group when the club was established and that gives a great deal of satisfaction to TJ O’Leary, who oversees the entire junior section.
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“One of the things I’m most proud about is that, in seven years, I can only remember one player who decided to leave the club because he wasn’t happy,” said O’Leary.
“When I first started coaching at Torriano Junior School, I realised there were a lot of talented footballers and I was trying to give them routes into local clubs.
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“But parents would often come back to me saying they couldn’t afford it at £500 or £600 a year – that kind of figure. I thought something had to be done about that.
“I was working for Camden Council as a coach so I decided to set up our own team with the council’s backing. We got a load of boys over from Torriano, it was completely free of charge and we got a sponsor for a kit.
“We had a good bunch of talented players and the club kept expanding – when you’re undercutting other clubs and winning trophies, you get a lot of people from other clubs wanting to join.
“It’s about trying to give players from low-income families a platform to shine and to be seen by professional clubs. That’s still the ethos running through our club.
“We are the cheapest grassroots club around this area and we are trying to keep costs as low as possible. The aim is to keep the cost below £100 for the whole season – that’s the magic figure.”
O’Leary, who is now also head coach of the development squad at Chelsea Ladies, played for Kentish Town’s senior side as a teenager and kept in touch with the club’s founder and chairman, Frank Zanre.
Financial difficulties and their lack of a home ground forced Town’s first team to drop out of the Spartan League in 2014, but they are currently playing in the Islington Midweek League with the intention of returning to semi-professional level in the near future.
That, according to O’Leary, will enable Town to hold onto many of the young prospects now helping to put the club’s name back on the map at junior level.
“When we kind of outgrew the school and decided to go with Kentish Town, the idea was that when our players got to 16, they could make the transition to the semi-professional team,” he explained.
“Most grassroots clubs don’t have adult teams, so it’s a case of ‘see you later’ and a lot of them are businesses as well so, once they stop making money off players, it’s not necessarily in their interests to keep them.
“We’ve had some players signed up with pro clubs and loads more on trial but, realistically, not all of them will make it at the top level – so if we can retain them when they’re 24 or 25, I’ll be happy with that.”
O’Leary is one of just five coaches for the entire junior section, which comprises around 100 players and holds training sessions four nights a week across various age groups.
And, despite the tangible success achieved on the field – particularly by Town’s Under-11s, who have not lost for two and a half years – he regards their style and approach to the game as more significant.
“We don’t put pressure on the players to get results – it’s always been about doing things the right way in our eyes and we encourage them to play as they train,” added O’Leary.
“All our teams play out from the goalkeeper, there’s no hitting it long down the pitch and bundling it into the net. In my opinion we play the best football in the league and some of the goals we score are fantastic.
“I think results look after themselves as long as we play the right way. The most important thing is the training environment that they’re getting – we run a really tight structure and we try to be like a professional club.
“Especially for the Under-11s, winning is almost second nature to them now – although Saturday will probably be their hardest game in those two and a half years, so we’ll have to see if the unbeaten record remains!”
Kentish Town train at Cantelowes Astroturf pitch, Camden Road, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and at Talacre Community Sports Centre, Dalby Street, on Tuesdays.
For more information about training sessions, or to discuss sponsorship opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org