The Chairman of Shaftesbury Football Club says he’ll relinquish his role if a new chairman, prepared to invest in the club, came forward. Steve Coffen has also outlined how SFC hopes to achieve future league success by following a new commercial strategy and by encouraging more volunteer involvement.
Recently, Shaftesbury Football Club has played at the highest level in the club’s 131-year history. And Chairman Steve Coffen is clearly proud of the club’s accomplishments over the last two seasons. “How many Shaftesbury boys could ever say that they’ve played Wessex Premier? You know, that’s the best we’ve ever been,” Steve beamed.
Steve wants the community to understand what the club has achieved. The bar and the sports club are an important part of the business but Steve wants SFC to be respected for what happens on the pitch, rather than as a place to sink pints.
“We’ve got the right coaches, the right managers and the right people on the team that want to improve Shaftesbury football for all of the people. We want to move the club forward in the right direction, rather than just being a pub that has a team. We have ambitions to keep pushing up through the leagues,” he said.
After an exciting few years, Steve accepts that the club’s ascent has stalled. “Unfortunately, this year hasn’t probably gone to plan for the first team. We are, I think, 13th after our win on Tuesday evening against Portland. It isn’t where we wanted to be. However, things happen through player commitment, player injuries, bans and the things that go on in football. I do really believe in the team and the management that is in place,” said Steve.
“The reserves are at the highest they’ve ever been, in the Dorset Premier League, which is where the first team started. They are basically middle table. They will be safe for this season, so ability wise, if the first team are in need of a player, then obviously they get promoted up and get a chance to perform at the higher level of the Wessex Premier.”
SFC’s third team is the Colts. “That’s based on youngsters – under 23’s – bringing them into football and sometimes bringing them back to football,” said Steve. “They do progress. The better that they get, the more confident they are.”
The Colts are in Dorset Division One and Shaftesbury’s first team plays in the Wessex Premier League. “The Wessex is a two-tier league so it’s the Premiership and Division One. We managed to get promotion and that allows us to be in the FA Cup, which we were in this year. It was really good,” said Steve. “We beat two Western League teams so we progressed twice and then we got into a game versus Poole Town at home, which had over 400 people from Shaftesbury there supporting us. Unfortunately we lost to Poole Town one-nil. They are two leagues above us. It was a really close game. Potentially if we had the team we have now, it could have been a different story.”
All of the first team fixtures are within a relatively short drive from Shaftesbury. “The furthest away is the Isle of Wight,” said Steve. “And we go to Alresford, which is near Winchester, and then we’re at Horndean, which is Portsmouth, on Saturday.”
Players can rise through the three-tiered system at SFC. Steve says anyone who wants to join as a player should attend their weeknight training. “We train at St Mary’s, which is really good. We’d like to thank St Mary’s for co-operating, helping us out and helping the community because we have a number of teams that train on their Astroturf. If anyone’s ever looking to join a football team, we are there between 8pm and 9pm on a Tuesday. The Colts, the reserves and the first team train at the same time. There are UEFA level coaches there to bring any player along. They would start in the Colts and work their way up through the system we have in place.”
The first team players are given expenses as a consideration for their time and their travel. Some of that money comes from the club’s bar take and from sponsorship. “That gives us money to support the football, the coaches and the managers. It is really important to support them so that they can come and provide sessions to improve the team,” said Steve.
He added that some clubs do offer sizeable expenses to players. “There are teams that pay £1,500 in expenses each week. We have to compete against people like that. I’d like to put on record we are nowhere near that with our expenses! There is speculation that we pay fantastic money and if anyone’s out there that wants to help us pay that and make it true, then come forward,” said Steve.
Steve says players have home and work-life responsibilities, which compete for attention with the football and can affect the consistency of the team. He quotes Portland United’s manager’s observations. “Brendon King said Shaftesbury was a team to be wary of. He couldn’t believe that we were in the lower half of the league, fighting relegation in a sense. He said that we’re a very dangerous team because one week we will be at the top of the league and the next week we lose to the bottom of league. That is just down to player commitment, availability, injuries and cautions or bans.”
Steve has spent a lot of time mulling over what went wrong. “We could have gone into fifth place after beating Bournemouth at home. We were 2-nil up. We missed a chance to go 3-nil up and we actually lost the game 3-2. From that point onwards we dipped and our confidence has gone,” said Steve. “Nick Ward, the first team manager, couldn’t get 13 or 14 players consistently. He works harder than anyone I have known. I really feel for him this season, with the messages of ‘I can’t be there’. That’s something we need to really consider next year – who is going to be committed for the cause of SFC, not just coming to play football on a pitch. We need to push up the league. Our aspirations are to go into the Southern League and then go on.”
But Steve accepts that the league tables offer the stark truth. “The table doesn’t lie. It shows that we haven’t done what we set out to do this year, so we have to work hard over the ‘off months’, May and June, get some additions in and do what we set out to do last year and really put it right. But I am really proud of the lads and how we had some really good runs in the FA Vase and in the FA Cup especially. We have some good fun, so hopefully that continues next year and we go a little bit further.”
Steve is hopeful that a new recruit from down the hill will make a difference to the club.”There’s a lad called Elliott Eavis. He played for us on Tuesday night in our 2-1 win against Portland, which was a massive result. He’s joining us from Gillingham, who are in the Dorset Premier League, the same league as our reserves,” said Steve. “He really liked what he saw. He is a committed lad so it was a hard decision but I do believe that he’ll be in the squad against Horndene, away on Saturday. He’s now going to step two leagues up. At the start of the season he was a little bit worried whether he could get in. Playing times are really important to young lads nowadays, which I totally agree with. He will play every week, he is good enough and hopefully he’s going to be a bright star for the future.”
Steve seems to be frustrated that he hasn’t got the funds to take his pick of players, although he enjoys talent scouting. “We haven’t got the budget to go in and just buy someone from somewhere else. We try to find people in the lower leagues and then ‘nick’ a player. If they are bit of a star, they might go. We’ve never held anyone back but a lot of people like the club and like what they see when they’re involved.”
Steve has been involved with SFC since he was 21. He thinks some people may be surprised to hear that he would consider moving if a committed leader, with funds to develop the football, came forward. “If there was someone that wanted to come and I felt that they could take the club further, then I’d be happy to step down. To move the club on has always been my ambition. That’s all we have ever been in it for. We’ve taken it from Dorset Premier League now to Wessex Premier. It could be in the Premier League. That’s always your ambition.”
That’s a lofty goal but Steve has seen some clubs thrive following a wealthy benefactor’s involvement. “When you start going up the leagues, you get chairmen that sink a lot of money into a football club,” he said. “If there was someone that wanted to put a lot of cash into Shaftesbury Football Club, I’d be really happy. I wouldn’t step away. Potentially I could be vice chairman or just on the board.”
Steve would like to encourage new sponsors, too. A new role for someone to develop partnerships has been created. “If there’s someone out there that wants to sponsor the football club, we’re just about to take on a commercial manager. They can have a chat with him about how they can sponsor the football club. It would be a real support for us and it would make life easier. The bigger the sponsors you can get, the more you can get in.”
Steve repeated his offer to let someone with deep pockets take the SFC steering wheel. “I love the football club. I’m not going anywhere but what I’m saying is I’m not a person who would just sit there and hold the club back, because I believe I am the best thing since sliced bread. I give everything. I know that I could take the club up a couple more leagues at least. Other clubs have a chairman that can just drop endless amounts of money and it really helps.”
For an appropriate amount of support, the club would be prepared to change the name of the ground. “Christchurch have the MA Hart Stadium. We wouldn’t mind changing the name but it’s always going to be Shaftesbury Football Club. We have got our roots,” said Steve.
Steve is encouraging anyone with questions about the club to come forward and have a one-to-one meeting. “You can ask me any question you want. It might turn around someone that thinks negatively and then they get involved and it improves the football and everyone around. The further we can possibly take this club, then it will be better for the town. Anyone can be involved,” he said.
And with that, Steve is keen to encourage locals to volunteer their services. “Even if you can only give an hour each week.” He wants more people involved in day-to-day duties to help SFC up their game. “Everyone’s there to help each other out,” he said.
And the club is hoping to announce a major new project. “We have got a plan in place at the moment to improve the facilities.” Steve promises to share more about that next stage of the club’s development soon.