Back in the summer of 2018 Kitlocker Juniors FC was launched (click here to read more about the foundation of the club). The new club was formed with the vision of providing kids in Sheffield with the opportunity to have as much fun as possible playing the game, whilst also building confidence and developing their skills on the pitch. They also want to provide kids with a standard of coaching that wouldn’t be available at most grassroots football clubs.

We asked Club Chairman Rob Wilson to fill us in on how their first 6 months as a grassroots football club have gone, the hurdles that they have faced along the way and some of the innovative methods they’ve used to get over them…

Making KLJFC a reality

“Well, I won’t forget the summer of 2018 in a hurry. At a time when I should have been taking some time off work to spend with the family I seemed to be fielding more phone calls, answering more emails and drawing up more spreadsheets than I normally do in my day job (working at a  University if you’re interested). And that was just the start! You think that setting up a new team for your child to play in is a good idea at first. Friends tell you that you must be mad, colleagues wonder how you’ll find the time but ultimately our kids come first. Creating new and exciting opportunities for them is what we, as parents, well me at least, live for now. Setting up Kitlocker Juniors was a no brainer.

We wanted to foster a unique environment for grassroots football and establish a club that could be competitive but more importantly create the conditions for the squad to flourish and really enjoy a kick about with their mates that they could continue with when they got older. You think that these things will be easy, I mean, come on, there are grassroots teams playing over a weekend up and down the country. Finding a squad of 12 players should be easy enough and finding a place to play surely wouldn’t be difficult – there are loads of grass pitches, right? Kid turns up, pays some subs and off you go. Yeah, good thinking but not entirely accurate.

We finally got Kitlocker Juniors FC Under 11s off the ground at a vote in the Sheffield and District Junior Sunday Football League, or the SDJSFL for short, in June 2018. The league were really supportive of what we were doing, many under 10 double teams were going down to one side so player recruitment was relatively easy and a relationship some of the early players had with a private coaching company meant that we found 12 players quickly. The Kitlocker website had some really helpful information on it for understanding the true costs of setting up a grassroots club and it certainly proved a perfect resource for us to use (Click Here to read more). No one really prepares you for the true cost of doing this though and as a rough estimate the minimum season outlay is comfortably in the region of £3,000.

To secure our first wave of players we opted to keep subscriptions on the low side so that parents could see the value in our offer. At £20 per player per month that meant our annual income would be just short of £2,900 and therefore at least £100 short of where the minimum outlay would be. And don’t forget the initial set up costs, league registration, FA affiliation, insurance etc needed to be paid for upfront so before the lads had kicked a match ball we were in the hole for £300. Queue fundraising and sponsorship!”

Kitlocker Juniors Post Match

Doing things differently

“The days of writing letters to local companies begging for a few hundred quid seem to be over. Sure you might get away with a parent sponsoring you for a while or putting you in touch with someone that could afford to chuck £200-300 at a shirt sponsorship but the reality is everyone is doing that. The SDJFL for example has over 1,100 teams playing in it and the highstreet isn’t awash with enough local businesses these days. So we thought about it differently and, with the help of some pretty crazy and creative friends came up with our first fundraiser – Gnome and Away. It was a raffle ticket based idea but gone were the usual prizes of unwanted wine or toiletries and in came hand painted garden gnomes. 

We found @ourashley on Twitter who hand paints gnomes, among other things, sent him a picture of our home (gnome) and away kits and asked him to paint them up. At £28 each they were inexpensive and the novelty of owning a unique garden gnome went down a storm. We even tweaked our twitter hashtag from its usual #NoLimits to #GnomeLimits which for some reason engaged even more potential sales. Tickets were charged at £2 each or 3 for £5 and we sold just short of £500 of tickets. Take out the gnomes and the cost of the raffle tickets and we raised over £430. Job done.

A Christmas raffle followed with the usual goodies and raised another £200 or so, a 10 pin bowling night was the reward for the lads so we still finished the first half of the season with a positive balance in the bank. We’ve exchanged some cool video content on our twitter feed and some access to training to Kitlocker in return for some match kit and it all helps to bring the costs down. A traditional Sunday spot the ball or quick raffle covers our referee fees (always £25 because they have the hardest job of the weekend) so all that is left to pay for is pitch hire.

Which brings us nicely back to grass pitch availability, or should that be lack of! With so many teams around in the Sheffield region space is at a premium. We’ve done a deal with the Sheffield Hallam University Sport Park for a regular rate but an average Sunday still costs us around £100. The kids subs help cover that but in 2019 we already have plans for holding a race night and we’ll probably link up with one of the professional clubs to generate some money through a cash back initiative.

We’re off to Blackpool on tour in May and have two young coaches helping us out. We can’t expect them to pay to come with us meaning all the hard work fundraising (for us to project a surplus for the year to cover the initial fees for next season) will be used up and the cycle will start again. That crazy summer of 2019 is just being repeated month after month.

Lessons learned. It ain’t easy but it is seriously rewarding. I’m sure that most of the guys who have helped us out are sick of me asking for more but I’ll be back again, without a begging bowl but with a bunch of ideas to generate value for the sponsor as well as this great group of u11s. Collaboration, thinking differently and trying something a little crazy means you can make it work.” #NoLimits #KLJFC

kitlocker juniors training

Here’s to the next 6 months of Kitlocker Juniors FC! To keep up with the progress of the club and follow how their inaugural season unfolds check them out on Twitter.

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