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What does the future hold for Harlow Town Football Club?

Football / Wed 7th Dec 2022 pm31 08:33pm

ON WEDNESDAY afternoon, Harlow Town Football Club announced that all their teams would not be playing any more games this season.

The reason given was on-going problems with the artificial pitch. A pitch that was only re-laid in the summer.

Problems started to come to the surface last month. Fans from visiting teams (Welwyn Garden City FC being one) complained about the pitch. Then tenants Cannons Wood FC had a game abandoned due to surface water.

A week later, a game was postponed following a pitch inspection.

Following their announcement, the club said they hope to fix the pitch (see their statement). But what are their options if they do?

If Harlow Town do ask to be let back into a league, then it is highly doubtful they will slip back into the Step 4, Southern League Central Division.

YH understands that they could go down another two or three divisions. Possibly to Thurlow First Division South. That is along with Cannons Wood and Sporting Bengal etc. It is a mighty long way back up the leagues.

Many will, as they have done for many years, look at the other “new towns” around the country: Crawley Town, Stevenage, Livingston. All playing league football. Harlow Town. A town of 93,000 playing one step above park football?

Others will say it is a new dawn. Look at AFC Wimbledon, Glasgow Rangers, Aldershot. Teams do come back. Don’t mention Third Lanark……

But of course, they have been here before: From Wikipedia

“The club’s plans to leave the Sportcentre for a new stadium on Roydon Road collapsed during the 1991–92 season, and the Isthmian League closed the Sportcentre after it no longer met league requirements. The club dropped out of football for the 1992–93 season”

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More Than Just a Football Team

However, we have always felt this was more than just about football.

In April 2019, we wrote an opinion piece titled “Where do Harlow Town go from here?

We wrote it as we were unsure of Harlow Town FC’s place in Harlow. We did ask the question whether the place off Elizabeth Way had become a wedding venue with a few football teams attached?

Football teams play at Passmores Academy most nights but football is not its central function. It is education.

The club also seemed to have lost its connection with the town. However past and present members will have said “we tried and we tried” From tickets for school pupils to mini buses from the Garden Tiger. It just didn’t seem to work.

And of course, being stuck out on an industrial estate cannot of helped. But it hasn’t harmed many other clubs. From Oxford United to Salisbury. From Inverness Caley to Stirling Albion.

The club must have looked at Harlow Rugby Club’s move from Ram Gorse to Howard Way and then looked at the field opposite and wondered whether they could do that?

All that land is owned by the council. Why don’t we speak to the council?

The Conservative-run council seem to be very progressive towards making things happen in the town centre.

That is obviously pure speculation but, whether they recommence playing at Elizabeth Way or find a new ground, they surely must try and reconnect with the community.

They have to find a way forward with the Sunday football community, the organisers of charity football matches, the schools football.

They have to reconnect with its rich history. Not a finger was lifted to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979-80 FA Cup run.

But there also has to be a glimmer of ambition. This reporter was startled at the reaction to last season. There seemed to be a collective “Well after Covid, we are just happy to be here” For nearly every other club, that went after a few games. For Harlow Town it was another layer of excuses for mediocrity.

There will be questions for the Harlow and District Sports Trust Are they happy with this situation? What is the exact relationship between HDST and the football stadium?

And of course, we must give a special mention to the sole director of Harlow Town Football Cub Limited. Tommy Cunningham.

Where does he go from here?

Perhaps the answer is to follow the money. As it stands Harlow Town is under the control of Harlow Town Football Club Limited and is just one company in Mr Cunningham’s portfolio.

In the same way that the gym up at the club is under the control of The Fitness Arena Limited, sole director, Tommy Cunningham.

We could go on. The man has a business to run however, somewhere along the line it has all gone out of shape.

But basically, the iron law of economics dictates: You want to run a better football club, then compete. Why don’t you start up AFC Harlow and take it from there?

At the same time, register a name on Companies House all you like. You own Harlow Town as much as you own the blue sky over The Pinnacles.

One of our other on-line newspapers is YourThurrock.Com and we were there when Grays Athletic played their last game at Bridge Road. They played their first game as nomads at East Thurrock’s ground in August 2010 against Harlow Town. They have been homeless ever since.

We hope Harlow Town survive this. We would personally support a move to somewhere such as opposite the Rugby Club but before that they need to re-wire their connections to the community.

We also want to say, that, yes their communication skills leave something to be desired, but we have only been treated with courtesy at the club.

Our hearts go out to people like Tim Sewell and Donna Harvey, who are Harlow people through and through.

That goes for the fans as well. Yes, they have ended up a bit cult-like and fans who are critical friends are sometimes treated as “unbelievers” but everyone’s heart is in the right place.

This is now the time for all people we have mentioned: Robert Halfon MP, Harlow Council, Harlow and District Sports Trust, Harlow Town Football Club Limited aka Tommy Cunningham, the fans and the people of Harlow to work together to ensure that the eleven men who stepped out against Saffron Walden on October 18th, 1879 were and are still part of something good and something positive.

Good luck.

Michael Casey

Dec 7th, 2022

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5 Comments for What does the future hold for Harlow Town Football Club?:

Lostinthemiddle
2022-12-07 21:18:36

Great article but I’d argue that their location is actually quite good…as is the stadium. It’s walking distance from the station and has great facilities. Ok it could do with a bigger car park but moving near the rugby club only makes it accessible by car and in all fairness rugby would never attract the crowds football does, especially if it’s to be sustainable long term, who knows where they could end up if investment is put in and is right. As I understand the treat of being kicked out of the league had been looming a while due to the pitch. It’s a shame it was done late and not to a good standard. No idea why it turned out this way but it does make you worry when two weeks before the start of a season the pitch hadn’t actually been relayed. Hopefully it’s sorted, they can come back and there is something of a fan base to worm with as well as good infrastructure, it has all the makings of doing well. But it will face the problem that faces Stevenage etc…most people here would rather support spurs or arsenal and never go to the games. The spurs shop should be chased out of town by the chairman, just sucking up any potential future fans!

LowerLeague
2022-12-08 12:48:03

@lostinthemiddle The idea that the Spurs shop stops people from going to Harlow games is bizarre. More needs to be done to attract fans to the games, and the location isn't great. It is 'walking distance' from the station if you're prepared for a fairly long walk, but there's next to nothing else around the ground, it would be far better if it was located more centrally. I'm guilty of not going enough as have a season ticket for another team, but had recently thought I should make more effort. Was going to go to FA Cup Qualifying game but turned around and went home when couldn't park. Then planned on going to Hadley game before it got postponed due to the pitch and went to Biggleswade on Tuesday to watch them. Hopefully the club will return and maybe this scare will entice a few more people into attending. The sad reality is their attendances are about average for the level they're at and the best way of attracting bigger crowds is success.

James
2022-12-08 13:31:42

Lower League is largely right. Success is a key factor combined with a strong commercial and community engagement strategy. One only needs to look at Harlow Rugby Club, not only the highly successful 1st XV, but how it has strength at all levels. Sundays, the club is packed with mini teams from age 6-12. It is fantastic to see 100’s of kids - boys and girls playing with parents present. The club has plenty of social and community events too. Harlow Football could definitely learn from the Rugby club. A town of this size should have both sports represented at a decent level.

Clark Renney
2022-12-08 22:28:57

I have long wondered how a town like Stevenage, which is similar in many ways to Harlow, played Football in the national leagues, while our town's team have a history of struggle both on and off the field? I understand the argument about our proximity to top-flight sides in London who draw support from the wider area. As our Son was growing up we had season tickets at Tottenham Hotspur, and he still has one in the new stadium. But that argument also applies to Stevenage and many other local sides. I cannot comment on the current trials in any depth as I don't know the story and only recently heard the sad news. But I can tell you this, I have been to games at Harlow and always felt myself to be in the company of genuine fans who loved the game, loved their club, and made you feel very welcome. It is to them above all, that my heart goes out at this time. And I hope it will not be long before Ray is putting the flags up again... "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that." Bill Shankly

New Town Baby
2022-12-10 03:35:40

This is not just a football problem, it's a Harlow council problem. They sold everything and allowed lego houses to be put up. Harlow sportcentre replaced with a big gym that's always empty. I remember a great swimming club evicted. A great gymnastic and trampoline club that boasted world and national champions, evicted. A great running cub evicted. Does anyone remember the ski slope? The indoor cycling track? The difference between Harlow and other new towns is their councils supported sport over the years, all Harlow council did was dismantle everything to do with sport.. If many good people did not fight they would have also taken the town park as well. When Harlow New Town was created we were given absolutely everything, new shopping centres, sports facilities, hospital and health facilities, cycle tracks, large factories for employment, new bus and rail facilities. Look at them all now either gone or in total neglect. Greedy crooked councillors ruined the lot.

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