Why the Hellenic League isn’t quite the lure it was for step 7 clubs




We recently featured Reading YMCA, the Thames Valley Premier League champions three years in a row with a fantastic 58 game unbeaten run and it got us thinking, why don’t TVPL clubs come up with as much regularity to the Hellenic League anymore.

In the last decade or so, Ascot United and Highmoor Ibis are both clubs who have made strong impressions on the league and are both established Premier Division sides – the latter of course only just after a reprieve this season and back between 2006 and 2010 Marlow United made it to step 5 before returning to the TVPL.

AFC Aldermaston are the most recent side to make the jump and had a fantastic first season but found their second season (17/18) a little tougher. We caught up with YMCA Vice Chairman Glenn Goudie (pictured above) to see if we could get some answers.

What a remarkable run YMCA had? How’s this consistency achieved?

The players have a winning mindset and they do not take kindly to teammates not pulling their weight. The lads are committed from day 1 of pre-season and not many of them book holidays or race days or visits to Harry Potter World during the season.

They have a management team that love the game and the players respond by looking after themselves and representing the club every game to the highest level of performance they can. The team is a tight-knit group and any new player joining must first display the work ethic and desire to put in their all before they are accepted.

Every player who wears the YMCA kit has earned the right to represent the club. Thankfully many of the new boys who have joined in recent seasons have gelled quickly and this has given Karl the luxury of a strong squad.

Success creates interest as players want to discover what it is like to be involved. We have players from Caversham, Emmer Green and Maidenhead who travel to play for the club. Our Rapids have lads who travel from London to be involved. Once a player is involved at YMCA, rarely do they leave.

How do you rate the strength of the TVPL compared to say the Hellenic Div 1 and/or 2? There have obviously been a number of success stories in recent years from Ascot, Highmoor and AFC Aldermaston

If we look at the like of Ascot and Highmoor, you need a big squad and the right type of player to play close to 50 games in the season and you also need players who have the game intelligence to play consistently at that level.

Players who are committed to train and enjoy everything that comes with that level of football. You also need a management team who can take training, scout games and have their entire lives dictated for 10 months of the year by football.

AFC Aldermaston manager Kieran Jennings. Photo: Mark Pugh.
AFC Aldermaston manager Kieran Jennings. Photo: Mark Pugh.

AFC Aldermaston is another local club enjoying the higher level of football too, however, the demands of Hellenic One East are not quite the same of the Hellenic Premier but its good to see our neighbours pushing on in the right direction. It is off the pitch where these clubs have the resources to play at that level and a thriving junior section certainly helps matters as you develop your own conveyor belt of players and volunteers.

The Thames Valley Premier League have some very strong teams and it is a little like the Premier League where you have divisions within the division. YMCA, Woodcote/Stoke Row, Marlow United, Cookham Dean will always be competitive. Wright & Unity Sports plus Westwood United have had strong seasons and stepped into the mix. I would say the top 4 sides would be excellent additions to Hellenic One East, however, facilities would be the barrier to achieving that rather than playing ability.

I would say most of the TVPL teams enjoy testing themselves when they play against the Hellenic League opposition in some of the cup competitions and they are often close games.

What are YMCA’s plans? Are there ambitions to step up?

We have a small band of committed volunteers like most TVPL clubs and it is getting the balance between the level we enjoy playing at and pushing on. YMCA don’t train and this suits the players and management. We enjoy the competitive nature of the TVPL and players can look forward to participating in a well-run Step 7 league.

We rent our ground from the Padworth Parish Council and without the financial backing to install floodlights and to meet the other requirements for Step 6, we will continue to play in the TVPL.

Reading YMCA at Madejski Stadium. Photo: Andy Awbery.
Reading YMCA at Madejski Stadium. Photo: Andy Awbery.

Our junior section is growing each season and we have plans to run an Allied Counties side in the future but at present, we would need to form an arrangement with another local club who have the platform for us to play under lights and host games at that level.

We have a youngish committee and we are sensible enough to know where we currently are both on and off the pitch and to makes sure that we do not extend ourselves beyond our means.

Are there clubs in the TVPL that have the potential to go higher? A lot comes down to facilities ultimately

There are a host of TVPL clubs that have the players to go higher but for the majority of them, facilities are the number one stumbling block. However, it is not just the playing side that needs to be aligned.

The finances of clubs need to be strong as they progress as match fees increase, hospitality for opponents, spectators and officials have to improve so you need people to make that happen. You need volunteers to help with the pitch, manage kits as well as have the funds to help players with travel costs.

It is such a massive commitment just at Hellenic One East never mind any higher.

There are reports the Hellenic League are creating a step 7 league. Do you think this will affect the TVPL at all?

Difficult to tell the impact in the early stages. The development of the Hellenic League Step 7 league seems to be formed to help keep some of the member clubs, who do not have the required facilities, to stay involved (Editors note: this does not appear to have happened since the step 5 and 6 club allocations came out).

The TVPL is a well-run league and has a good reputation and we are seeing some new clubs come into the fold next season with Richings Park and Burghfield promoted which will keep the league fresh and present new challenges to the existing clubs.

The only reason I would see clubs moving to the new league would be for a fresh challenge of playing new teams and visiting new grounds, however, the pathway to promotion to Step 6 would still be obtained through the TVPL provided clubs have the required facilities and set up.

Finally, best player you’ve seen in the TVPL this season from any club.

That is a tough, tough question. Any player who makes themselves available every week and pays their subs on time supports the clubs social events, respects opponents and officials and gives acknowledgement to the people who work hard around their respective club, is a good player in my view.

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