Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeFOOTBALLSPOTLIGHT: Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC

SPOTLIGHT: Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC

As part of our spotlight series on clubs in West Kent, we talk to Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC Chairman, Stuart Newman.

Since it was established in 1982, Tunbridge Wells Foresters Football Club has grown to be the largest FA community affiliated club in Tunbridge Wells. The name ‘Foresters’ does actually have connections with Nottingham Forest Football Club, as the club’s first manager was a huge forest fan and after writing to them, the club kindly donated him some old green playing kit, along with some red shirts – which has always been a home colour. A story not too dissimilar to that of Arsenal and Nottingham Forest, some 96 years before.

Tunbridge Wells Foresters Football Club, circa 1982, in their Nottingham Forest kit, which was kindly donated by the club to get them started.

Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC is a fully accredited FA Charter Standard Club, and this season (2022/23) currently has 49 teams from U7 minis football, through to adult men and women sides, and in addition a development squad that offers football to both girls and boys in Reception (U5) and Year 1 (U6).

The club have teams playing in seven separate senior and junior leagues; the South East Counties Women’s Football League (SECWFL), the Sevenoaks & District Football League, the Kent Youth League, the Crowborough & District Junior Football League, the Sussex Sunday Youth League, the Kent Girls & Ladies Football League and the Mid-Sussex Youth Football League.

The club’s philosophy is to offer ‘football for all’ which encompasses teams playing in the lowest division of the local leagues up to their Ladies 1st XI playing in the Premier Division of the SECWFL.

We asked Stuart when he first got involved with Foresters
SN:
“My involvement with Foresters began back in 2008 as a humble parent standing on the side-lines watching my son start with our amazing development squad. I made the fatal mistake of passing the ball back to the coach at the time, with the immortal words: “Looks like you played before – bring your boots next week and give us a hand”.

“I didn’t know then that nine of those young boys also training that day, would stay with the club and be a part of our U18s that finished in 2021, which I had the pleasure of managing for 11 years. Great lads and amazing memories.

“When I got involved the club was a bit disjointed, and I offered to help the committee by becoming Vice-Chair in 2012. The then chair stood down, so I have been proud to be Club Chairman since then – making this my 10th year.”

As well as being Club Chairman, Stuart also manages the women’s second XI team, who play in Division 2 West of the SECWFL, currently sitting comfortably in second position.

“When our U18s naturally finished in 2021, I was offered a few other roles to coach or manage other club’s senior teams, which was tempting, there was also the opportunity to retire from coaching and managing teams.

“But in July 2021 after a conversation with our Ladies 1st XI manager, he asked if I would be interested in coaching woman and girls 16+ new to the game and interested in playing football.

“After managing and coaching both men’s senior and boys football, it was a brilliant opportunity, and I was so encouraged by the talent, eagerness and enthusiasm when 10 ladies turned up for our first ever session.

“By the end of August 2021 we had 20 players keen to play, so we managed to arrange a local friendly and got accepted into the SECWFL. Our first ever game was against Ide Hill with the ladies playing in kit that was hastily pulled together, that probably had a dozen sponsors names on it. We amazingly came away with a 2-1 win.”

How have you found women’s football and people’s perceptions of women’s football change recently?
SN:
“My personal perception that women’s football was developing and growing was incorrect – the talent was always there, but was never encouraged. It’s amazing to see my own team develop in just 18 months, with the club also looking to add a third women’s team for next season.”

Tunbridge Wells Foresters Football Club exists to ‘teach people of all ages and abilities how to play football, and play it well’. Credit: Charlotte Hambidge-Betts

One club for all!
The club’s ethos is that, first and foremost, Tunbridge Wells Foresters Football Club exists to ‘teach people of all ages and abilities how to play football, and play it well’. Football is a very competitive game that fosters within its participants the desire to not only be the best they can possibly be, but also to be winners.
Foresters embrace that winning philosophy, however, they also teach that football is also about having fun, learning new skills, being part of a team and making friends.

Tunbridge Wells Foresters now have over 770 registered players along with 70+ qualified FA coaches who are all DBS checked, with safeguarding and first aid qualifications,. All the coaches are volunteers and dedicate so much time developing local football talent. This season, the club is the only one in West Kent to have two male and two female adult teams, offering progression from junior to adult football, with a few 16- and 17-year-olds, both male and female having made their senior football debuts already.

SN: “We are extremely proud to be able to offer true progression from juniors to seniors at Foresters, for both boys and girls. Our U11 girls were able to lead out our Ladies First XI women in their FA Cup game against Dulwich Hamlet recently, which our youngsters found truly inspiring.”

Can you tell us how the club has developed and grown in recent years?
SN:
“Since 2012 the club has basically grown over 100%, adding girls and women’s teams, and personally we have become more of a club than a franchise. It’s important to acknowledge that without the support of the whole club, the coaches and volunteers and our dedicated committee members, Colin, Kylie, Mario, Jonathan and Adam, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

A brighter future
Moving forward and looking at the long term success of the club, their main aim is to secure a long-term lease from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) at their main home ground, which is located at the Bayham Sports Ground. Securing a long-term lease would mean the club would be able to invest in facilities at the ground that would hugely benefit the hundreds of local players, coaches, parents, and volunteers within the club, and help to inspire more of the local community to join, encouraging healthy life choices, which in turn will significantly benefit the whole community.

SN: “We are working with TWBC to find a long term solution for the club so that we can have a proper home and we really hope that after two years of conversations, 2023 finally sees progress. Bayham is the big project, TWBC know what is required. The Football Foundation like our plans, it just needs willingness to push to the next stage. With four senior teams it would be good to see the Men’s 1st XI playing at Kent County level and the Ladies 1st XI getting promoted into the London and South East Regional Women’s League.”

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