In the latest in our popular Spotlight series, we take a good look behind the scenes at burgeoning Cheltenham League club Leckhampton Rovers. Their dedicated secretary, treasurer and welfare officer, not to mention founder member in 1996, David Pitts, happily fielded the questions from our man-on-the-spot Simon Parkinson . . .
Club: Leckhampton Rovers FC
Grounds; Seniors: All Saints Academy, Blaisdon Way, Cheltenham GL51 OWH; Youth: Various
League status: Cheltenham League (seniors and youth)
Last season’s final placements; First XI: Second in Division 2 and promoted; Reserves: Bottom of Division 3 and relegated
Senior managers; First XI: Leigh Soule; Reserves: Enzo Scognamiglio
Chairman: Enzo Scognamiglio
Vice-chairman: John Anderson
Club secretary: David Pitts
Treasurer: David Pitts
David, give us a flavour of the set-up there at Leckhampton and the facilities you utilise
I’m happy to say that as a club we are blessed with so many senior, junior and youth teams combined, making for hundreds of players, committee members and parents, although we’re spread around a bit; we don’t have a home that we can truly call our own.
Our two senior teams, who play in Cheltenham League Divisions One and Four respectively, relocated to the all-weather facility at All Saints Academy in recent years, while all our youth teams play on Cheltenham Borough Council pitches such as those at Naunton Park and The Burrows.
The facilities at All Saints are fine and they get heavily used by the Cheltenham Football League, with at least three games played there on a regular Saturday.
As far as our history is concerned, I’m of the understanding there were two Leckhampton men’s teams and a youth team back in the 1960s based at White Cross, where the old changing rooms remain covered now in bracken.
The men’s team restarted in 1974 and was run by Kelvin “Jumbo” Tustain and Dave Prout. The majority of the players were from the Leckhampton area, including our current chairman Enzo Scognamiglio, Robbie Tyler, Brian Taylor and Brian Prout.
That team then folded again in the early 1990s due to managers retiring.
Thankfully it all started up again in earnest in 1996 with a number of dads, including myself, and our lads getting together for kick-abouts at Leckhampton Primary School, where we were given great support, not least in receiving kit, from the school and its headmaster who was very community-spirited.
We maybe had 15 or 16 boys, including my son Matt who was nine at the time, involved in those early days, all from a particular school year and all mates.
I don’t suppose you dared believe that fledgling section would grow to such an extent?
Absolutely right! Over the years that particular wing of the club has blossomed beyond all recognition to the 24 youth teams, from under-9s to 18s, we have today, which is quite an achievement by any standards. And they all play in the Cheltenham Youth League.
We also run an academy on Saturday mornings at the University of Gloucestershire’s The Park Campus, at which we have 60 to 65 girls and boys aged from four to eight enthusiastically taking part.
They, and the rest of the club, are overseen by 46 qualified coaches, mainly with FA Level 1 certificates but some with Level 2 too, not to mention around 24 parent helpers.
Most of our youth sides have more than one team. The under-11s, for example, have six teams while our under-10s, 12s and 13s each put out three teams.
Three years ago we formed a sporting hub with the university which, over the years, has involved student coaches coming to us as part of their development, helping deliver coaching sessions, assisting teams on matchdays and supporting the club with administration and development projects.
We’re also in the throes, with the help of the GFA and uni, of seeking to develop the female side of our club and local football in general, to encourage girls from primary and secondary schools into the game.
So the youth section is very important to us; it’s the starting point for the development of our own footballers.
Why do you think the youth branch of Leckhampton Rovers is proving so popular?
First and foremost it’s a section of the club we’ve always tried to run properly. We’re big on discipline; everyone is expected to conform and behave and we’re well organised too: the coaches all put a lot of hours in.
Of course there’s a big emphasis on having fun too. We’ll have quizzes, hog roasts and barbecues, and end-of-season trophies are presented at the primary school. We’ve been fortunate that Sir Geoff Hurst, whose grandson plays or played with us, has been present on two occasions at our annual awards.
It was nice to be given a glowing endorsement by Cheltenham Town FC recently. A parent, who brought her son to us, said she had done so on a recommendation from their chairman Paul Baker, which was great.
Our success has been recognised by awards we have received over the past few years. In 2013 we were the Gloucester Citizen and Cheltenham Echo’s Community Club of the Year and also the GFA Charter Standard Club of the Year, as well as runners-up last time.
Although we’re very well supported by local businesses, we’re also big on giving where we can. We’ve supplied school benches for the local primary school and, as part of the Great Football Giveaway (http://www.thegreatfootballgiveaway.org.uk/), one of our coaches, Duncan Thomas, went out to Malawi in Africa to take footballs out there after we’d donated £200 for the purchase of them.
A few years ago we provided kit for a Cirencester GP, Dr Rohit Sethi, to take out to Sierra Leone, and we’ve given money to the Sue Ryder Hospice in Cheltenham, so we like to give as well as receive!
One of our coaches even brings a water slide to the academy so that after football sessions the kids can all get wet, even in the winter! And we’ve had Father Christmas visits and Easter egg handouts.
I think all these things are why, when we look at our electoral register, so many new people are joining us each week.
There seems to be good links between youth and senior sides. Is that important?
Yes, it certainly is. In the past we were losing some really good, promising footballers to other adult teams, so in 2008 we decided to form our own men’s team comprising, in the main, players who moved up from our then under-16 team.
Today some of our men’s team parade lads who came up through our youth teams, such as James Horrell, who plays for ours firsts, while Raff Scognamiglio – pronounce that name when you’ve had a few! – is the son of our chairman Enzo Scognamiglio, and he’s been turning out for our reserves.
Then there’s Fin Winstanley, a coach at our kids’ academy at the age of only 18 to his credit, who has progressed through to our reserves, the same as Alf Little and Luca Bosano, who is the son of our under-18s manager Marcus, have both done.
Enzo, who is also our reserve team manager, and I run the academy on Saturday mornings at The Park Campus between 11am and 12.30pm, where the parents tend to use it as a drop-and-go service!
I almost forgot to mention our veterans’ team too! We have 17 or 18 of them, consisting mainly of coaches and parents and managed by James Priddle, performing in the Gloucestershire FA Veterans League. Our chairman Enzo plays and they’re currently doing okay fourth in Northern Division Two.
They were able to start up because of a £750 grant from the GFA’s Charter Standard Growth Fund, which we were grateful for.
What of Leckhampton’s men’s teams, David; how are they getting on this season?
The first team, proudly parading a new team sponsor in Bence Building Merchants, are having a promising first season in the top division.
John Anderson has passed the management reins over to Leigh Soule who, at 39, has brought new energy and enthusiasm to the set-up which still includes John and Paul Rogers.
The team are playing entertaining and flowing football, aided by the 3G at All Saints Academy, and they’ll be disappointed if they are not to be challenging for honours at the end of the season.
Leigh has a strong football pedigree and will certainly help develop the senior teams. He is known for supporting not just in a big way – he used to come along to presentation days and stitch players’ initials and names on their football boots for a small fee!
The club has increased the number of playing staff with some great new additions. This has strengthened both senior teams and this season the reserves have had some fantastic results and are showing a significant overall improvement.
There is ample opportunity for the academy graduates to progress within the club and for other players looking for a fresh challenge. The senior section at the club is slowly but steadily increasing in size, quality and playing level.
When it comes to Leckhampon’s future, are there aims to move up the footy ladder?
I would love to think that in time we could go beyond our current Cheltenham League status and establish ourselves in the Northern Senior League.
We’ve already enjoyed plenty of success – firsts and reserves – since our first team joined Cheltenham Division Six in 2008-09 and finished seventh before going on to enjoy a succession of promotions.
They include last year’s promotion under John Anderson, now our vice-chairman, who took us into Division One, as runners-up, for the first time in our history where we’re currently holding our own in a mid-table position with Leigh at the helm.
Our reserves came along in 2012-13 and also finished up seventh in Division Six, and they too have had promotion successes which has taken them into Division Four under Enzo’s stewardship along with other management support from Jamie Thompson and Joe Ineson. They won the Gloucestershire FA Primary Cup in the 2013-14 season, while both teams have had the honour of being crowned cup winners in recent times.
We’d like to see our reserves spring back quickly from a difficult last season in which they often had difficulty fielding a side and ended up getting relegation from bottom spot in Division Three.
One of our key objectives is to have our own facilities and clubhouse. This would provide a focal point for all of the teams and academy but also allow the club to build on the fantastic support and fundraising activities we already have.
Unfortunately land is at a premium and is snapped up quickly by builders, leaving little if any opportunity for clubs to secure new pitches. But we will keep trying! We’re always on the lookout for a potential ground in Cheltenham.
None of what we’ve achieved would have been possible without the co-operation of all concerned, from the children, parents, volunteers, coaches, managers, secretaries and chairmen over the past 20-plus ears. Long may it continue!