Less than two years ago, Hackney Wick FC didn’t exist. One man, ex semi-professional footballer Bobby Kasanga, formed the idea to create a football club while campaigning to get more recognition for non-league football, where he came across many disgruntled players on Hackney Marshes who complained about the long distances they had to travel in order to play football at a competitive level. Borne from his time in prison and shaped by the rehabilitation he received, he decided his club would be heavily involved in the community. He wanted to bring together the residents of Hackney, especially those marginalised by society and the disaffected youth with nothing to look up to other than the gangsters. Hackney, in times past was known as being a rough place, rife with gang warfare and high crime rates, though somewhat seen now as an up-and-coming trendy area. Of his prison experience he says: “It definitely helped. Before that, it was all about making money and my ego but I became more of a listener and, as I started helping other prisoners, I thought I could continue that on the outside.”
One tweet started it all, and from there it snowballed. In the days and weeks that followed, trials were set up, players recruited, local businesses came on board with sponsorship – which is how ex-ROI international player Declan Perkins, landlord of The Lauriston public house in Victoria Park became Vice-President of the club as well as becoming the club’s main sponsor – and a league was joined; the Cherry Red Books Middlesex Football League Division One (Central & East). Mabley Green, a stone’s throw from Hackney Marshes and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, is where The Wickers (as they are affectionately known) call home. The club’s first match was against Stonewall FC, the UK’s first openly gay football club.
The club’s niche is that all the players go out to volunteer in the community every month and there is also a women’s team who all receive free football coaching which started when the club offered free training to Hackney Women’s Institute.
Bobby added: “There are not enough women involved in football; even if it’s not playing, I want them to feel as if they can take part in the game on an operational or board level.”
Both the club’s chairperson and Honorary president – Rana Brightman and Diane Abbot MP respectively – are female.
Bobby sees clubs like this as the future of football, saying that in the wake of growing disillusionment in professional football, with community benefits schemes, members can own a share of the club and have a say in its management.
He said: “Our only issue is that once we get promoted, we don’t want to have to leave the borough – that goes against our whole ethos.
“All the other boroughs have big clubs who have huge followings but we have been told there is nowhere to build a stadium. That is our next challenge.”
And that challenge is one of many I’ll undertake as the club’s new (virtual) manager…