Glendale FC Club Manager and Treasurer, Rob Parker, has revealed his secrets of keeping a grassroots team going in the first of our ‘Club in Focus’ series.
Ending the truncated 2019/20 season in mid table in Division Two of the Essex Alliance League, Glendale FC may not be a familiar name to many, but there’s far more to them than meets the eye. Formed in 1964, the club based in Fairlop Oak has long passed its half-century in existence and has no plans on going anywhere just yet, either.
Playing a major role in Glendale’s continuity is Rob, who is the latest in a generation of his family to be involved in the club. He explains some of the secrets to its longevity: “I think the crucial element for keeping a club going for so long is the dedication of the people running it and a degree of stubbornness - not willing to give in very easily.”
“We’ve been lucky to have had a consistent core of people involved with the club throughout that time, aided by a loyal group of players, which is far more difficult to achieve in this day and age with so many other distractions that just weren’t as prevalent 20 or 30 years ago. You also have to be prepared for, and work through, the lows of those barren seasons which are over by Christmas!”
“You do it all in the hope next season is better! Those seasons often bring with them a large turnover in playing personnel, but it’s all part of the journey. Eventually, the time and effort pays off and, every once in a while, you get a golden period where trophies and success start to roll in. Then it starts again when that group of players all retire together and you end up back at square one!”
“I’ve always said that football goes around in five-year cycles and I have much respect for club officials who work along these lines and do their best to keep a club’s name going rather than chucking in the towel at the first hurdle they face.”
So, what of the background of Glendale? The club was formed back in 1964 by a group of Loughton schoolboys. Although all very keen footballers, they were not deemed quite up to the standard required by the team representing the school at the time, which was extraordinarily high.
The name Glendale came from, Rob believes, the school’s caretaker who had been aware of another ‘Glendale’ playing in the Loughton area previously. It is, therefore, entirely possible that the club was established before 1964, but this rumour remains unconfirmed.
From the original foundations as a youth team, Glendale eventually transitioned to become an adult club and enjoyed long associations with the South-West Essex League, the Ilford & District League and, most recently, they were founding members of the Essex Alliance League where they still reside today. Rob is the third generation of the Parker family to be involved in Glendale.
His grandfather, Ted, played a key role in the club’s formation, and Rob continued: “Our name has been associated with the club from the very beginning, with the late Ted Parker being one of the founding members. The second generation saw Ted’s son and my dad, Howard, already a player in the early days, take a step into the management side of things from a young age.”
“He took the reins from around the 70s and has remained as Club Secretary ever since. He’d probably still fancy himself out on the pitch again if you gave him the chance - ask him about his cup final goal at the Old Dagenham Park Arena! The third generation brought my involvement from the 90s, starting with becoming the Treasurer and then Manager in more recent seasons.”
“There’s not much silverware to show for my efforts, yet! But it just becomes engrained in you and part of normal routine,” explains Rob when asked what encourages him as a long-term club volunteer. “When you’ve spent more than 90% of your life heading out to football on a Saturday afternoon, doing anything other than that would just feel strange.”
“Even on days when our team doesn’t have a game, you’d still find us out and about watching a game somewhere! I guess there is also the thrill of the chase and you can’t beat that drive home in the evening when you’ve scored a late winner to take home all three points, even if the game itself kept your heart beating away at a very unhealthy rate.”
What entices players to Glendale? “First and foremost, to be an established name in the area and to demonstrate that the club has been around for the best part of 60 years,” explains Rob, proud of his club’s footing in the community. “That is probably one of the first draws that a player sees.”
“We also recently secured FA Charter Standard status as another way of trying to stand out amongst the crowd as a well-run club… so we’ll get the chance to test that theory this summer! Ultimately, players want to enjoy their football and experience success. The lads we have at the club now can hopefully see that we are on that upward spiral towards some silverware.”
“Joining a club where there is a culture for enjoyable football, to have a laugh with your teammates and, hopefully, take home three points. Those are really crucial to keep players engaged. As well as a facility which players enjoy playing at. We’re very grateful for the work that London Playing Fields Foundation put in to keep Fairlop Oak, our home ground, looking as excellent as it does.”
Rob’s Glendale side also boasts players from a range of backgrounds, which is something that certainly satisfies the boss, who still registers as a player himself. “This is one area in which the club has evolved drastically through the years,” expanded Rob.
“We’ve always had a good core of players through each era but, as players grew older or they had other responsibilities, we’ve had to recruit and we now have a much younger squad than we’ve ever really had. We’ve had a fairly consistent squad for the last two or three years which is making good progress now.”
“The players we have now are from a broad range of backgrounds, with lads from the UK, Ireland, Norway, Senegal and Ghana, to name but a few, who travel from every corner of London to our games. They all gel well together and, of course, football is a universal language they all speak.”
“A younger squad has brought with it many who are still at college or university along with those out of work completely, so the financial element is a tricky one. It’s been crucial to have a generous sponsor who has equipped us well so that costs can be kept as low as possible and, ultimately, the Management Team have had to dig deep, too.”
“We’ve had a stop-gap measure to not charge weekly fees and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the approach but it does mean we can provide football to a group who would otherwise be unable to afford it. Perhaps there are some funding organisations out there who might be reading this and like the sound of what we do?” said Rob, inquisitively.
Will Glendale be around in another 50 years? “That’s certainly the plan,” replies Rob without hesitation, before asking: “If a club has managed to make it this far, why stop? It’ll undoubtedly be necessary to recruit more volunteers to help run the club in the future and to keep a good flow of players joining. The grassroots football arena can be an unnerving one at times.”
“I’m sure many managers at this level will not be too sure of who is returning from one season to the next until that first game is played, and we’re no different there. But we firmly believe that, so long as you persist through those dark, tough seasons, there will always be success somewhere down the line for you, and that breeds further success.”
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