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Gotherington Juniors looking forward to celebrating their 25th anniversary

All Areas > Sport > Football

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Monday, 1st January 2024, 09:00

Richard Allenby’s Gotherington Juniors side at the reopening of the new Wembley Richard Allenby’s Gotherington Juniors side at the reopening of the new Wembley

Gotherington Juniors Football Club are looking forward to a landmark year as they celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2024.

The club are one of the big sporting success stories in and around Gloucestershire, and these days have more than 250 youngsters – boys and girls – on their books.

That’s an awful lot of football being played – those signed on can range in age from six to 18 – so it’s no surprise when Rob Sharp, who has been chairman from the start, says: “For a small village club it’s been unbelievable.”

From small beginnings, the club have grown and grown to become one of the established names in the Cheltenham Youth League and the Gloucester County Girls League.

Girls' football is a relatively new phenomenon, of course, but they have certainly made a huge impact since their first game at Gotherington some five years ago, so much so that they now outnumber the boys at the club.

Sharp has been one of the big driving forces behind the club’s growth and development – all four of his sons played for Gotherington – but he is keen to stress that it has been a real team effort with many, many people playing their part over the years.

He can, of course, remember the club’s first competitive game.

“It was at the start of the 1999/2000 season, it was an under-8s game,” he said. “It was down at Sandford Lido against YMCA, we won 5-1 and my oldest son Harry scored the first goal.

“It was seven-a-side and we had something like eight or 10 players in our squad.”

The birth of Gotherington Juniors – adult and junior football had been played in the village in previous years but nothing compared to the numbers now - coincided with the introduction of mini football across the country, when younger age-group matches started to be played with smaller numbers on smaller pitches and with smaller goals.

Prior to that it had been 11 v 11 on big pitches with big goals and Sharp said: “Youth football has benefitted from small-sided games and coaching standards are much higher.

“Technically, players are better. Astro pitches have been a big influence, especially for training, the game has evolved.”

And Gotherington Juniors, for whom top Flat jockey Tom Marquand played back in the day, have certainly evolved even though their basic principles have remained the same for a quarter of a century.

“The emphasis is on involvement and development rather than winning at all costs,” explained Sharp.

“We’ve had some high points when we’ve won things, but teams don’t always win. You can finish bottom but still play just because you love football.

“We all play for fun, participation and to be with your mates.”

That’s very important, of course, but sport is always that little bit more fun if you’re winning and Gotherington Juniors have certainly had their fair share of success over the years.

“Our first trophy was in 2003,” said Sharp. “We won the Robins Sevens at Whaddon Road, it was fantastic the boys would have been under-11s.”

Two years later the club won their first league title through their under-11s, a team who were managed by Martin Redwood.

And once the club started to enjoy success, more soon followed.

“Geoff Munro’s under-16s won the County Cup at Almondsbury,” continued Sharp. “The best teams from Bristol and Gloucestershire were playing, you don’t get too many local teams winning that.”

But while the players make it happen on the pitch, it is those who work so hard off it who make everything possible.

“We achieved Charter Standard in 2006 and have maintained that level,” said Sharp. “It requires you to continually demonstrate that it is a well-run club that meets the standards you would expect in youth football.

“Nothing happens without the committee, coaches and parents or carers.

“So many people have played their part over the years. The child welfare officer is another key role alongside that of the treasurer and many more, we even had a Covid officer.

“Rich Leeson marks the pitches out with precision which can be a challenge in the winter.

“We’ve got a great relationship with Gotherington Primary School, who host some of our age groups and we work closely with the parish council whose field we use in the village.”

Because of the high numbers, the club also play home games at Swindon Village, Whaddon Rec, Winchcombe and Bredon, but wherever they play certain standards are expected to be met both on and off the pitch.

“One of the big challenges in the game – particularly post-Covid – is referees getting the respect they deserve,” Sharp said.

“That’s something we are very keen on as a club.”

Gotherington have signed up to the FA’s Respect Code of Conduct and Sharp continued: “The person who embodied the spirit of football more than anyone was Richard Allenby, who died in 2022 at just 57. We’ve created an award in his name. 

“I think his team won the Cheltenham Youth League’s sportsmanship award four or five times and he was invited to take his team up to Wembley to play on the pitch as a reward when it was reopened in 2007.”

Every team across all the years will have their own special memories, of course, and now the girls, guided  by Stewart Peters, are starting to make memories of their own.

“To go from zero five years ago to the numbers we’ve got now is incredible,” said Sharp.

“The success of the girls’ section is a reflection of what happened in the wider football world – the Lionesses and the Euros.

“But you’ve still got to make it happen, Stewart Peters and his ever growing team of coaches have done an amazing job. We now have our first two qualified female coaches as well.

“A lot of clubs don’t have a girls’ section, we’ve become a bit of a beacon for that.”

The girls will obviously remain a big part of the club going forward and while the future looks very healthy, Sharp is certainly not complacent.

“We’ve got to keep the youngsters coming in and we need to keep the volunteers involved,” he said. “It’s not just a case of plug and play, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it.”

Part of their 25th birthday celebrations, which the club hope will involve as many past players, coaches and volunteers as possible, as well as current club members, will centre around their annual fun day which takes place in early summer.

Past players include Eddie Lewis, a defender who is currently playing for Cheltenham Town’s under-18s, while ex-coach Rich Alder is playing for England’s over-50s these days.

There are also plans to produce a booklet on the history of the club.

“It will ideally be a crowd-funded booklet,” explained Sharp, who has also been the club’s secretary for the past few years and will obviously be heavily involved in writing the club’s history.

“Hopefully it will raise funds for the club and also for the community.”

It should be well worth a read.

Other Images

Gotherington Juniors’ first ever trophy winners were their under-11 team who won the Robins Sevens in the early 2000s
Geoff Munro’s Gotherington Juniors under-16 team won the County Cup back in 2012

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