We all love to talk about the weather. Today is no exception, and as they say in Yorkshire, it’s perhaps best described as nowt ‘n’ summat. It really can’t decide what to do. Looking out from the club house and on to the Haworth Park pitch chairman Darren Sunley smiles. “It’s not looking too bad,” he says “we’ve had a lot of rain recently but it’s holding up well”. Haworth Park is in transition. Previously a rugby ground it has become the new home for Hall Road Rangers having moved from their long time ground at Dene Park, less than 2 miles away. The latter years at Dene Park proved eventful and for many are seen as a difficult period for the club. “It’s never easy to leave somewhere you’ve been for a long time,” he says “ but it was the right thing to do for the club. It’s brought us stability and a chance to develop”.
Darren has pulled up two chairs. Shuffling a little, he straightens his jacket. He smiles again, this time perhaps a little more apprehensively. “Right,” he says “ ask away”. We start with the ground. “A lot has happened here,” I say “is there more to come?” “The ground needed a lot of work,” he says “ and we still have more planned”. Work has been carried out on changing rooms, new dugouts, fencing, floodlights, pitch side,turnstile and the club house “During the close season we are doing some more work on the club house and we’re also improving the pitch. We wouldn’t want any criticism” he says wryly, a comment I take as a reference to an exchange of views with neighbours Hull United about the condition of the pitch after the 2-1 Boxing Day win. As well as the first team the main pitch hosts the Reserves and the Under 19’s. Since moving to the ground the club has also brought together all of its age teams, now playing on the outside pitches, bringing with it a greater sense of identity and brand.
Would recent events though affect long term plans? The prospect of the land being used for housing development had recently hit the press, was it a surprise? “ The issue of possible land development has been around for a long time” says Darren, “It’s nothing new and it’s certainly not popular with local residents as you will have seen by their reaction and recent visit to the ground. However I am very confident that Hall Road has secured its long term home and I don’t see anything changing that. Moving here is the best thing that could have happened”.
So what about attendances? “ They’re up following our move,” says Darren “ but these things take time. The lads want to play to an audience. But we are seeing signs of more regulars attending, both local residents and new people who have previously supported other teams. And the club house is also proving to be a popular place at half time!” The club are expecting to open up a second bar and are soon to launch their own new home brewed lager.
So, what is the vision for the club I ask. Darren takes a pause before answering. “ We need to develop the club ‘ground upwards’. I want the first team to be the best but it also needs to be a club of more than one team. We’ve been through some hard times and had to look closely at how the team operates. Achieving a balance of progressions from our youth teams and being able to attract other players to the club is important. We have financial stability for the club now and as chairman I want to see the club grow and develop”. The club are attracting new sponsors and April will see the announcement of a new first team sponsor and the launch of a new website is close.
And success, what does that look like? “As a club we need to have our own environment and a vision to push forward. For the first team it would be a top 6 place next year. With careful management we can put the club on a footing that means over the next few years we can start to think about moving up the leagues, realistically though we’re looking at 5 years for that” he says. “ We have come a long way in a short time and are continuing to build good relationships with the league and the East Riding FA. It’s about making sure that we make the right structural decisions and we are currently looking at how the different teams within the club best operate. But rest assured you won’t find me in the changing rooms delivering half time talks! We have a great manager in Martin Thacker and a great team around him. He manages the playing side”.
So how did it all start? A time served football background I wonder? “ Actually, not at all. I’ve always followed football but not at this level before. It started in 2013 when I was doing some telecoms work with my press officer, Lee Myers and we got talking. It was about sponsorship then and it grew from there”. So, I ask, “you’re in for the long haul?” “There’s no going back now” he says, “I really enjoy being involved in grass roots football, both watching it and as chairman. I have been approached about being chairman at another club but that’s not going to happen, I’m Hall Road through and through”
And when not at the club I was curious how he filled his time. “ Time? that’s one thing I don’t seem to have, I find myself juggling frantically between the club and my work at Primary Tech. I don’t really have time to relax. Bit of listening to music maybe and the occasional drink” he says laughing. And reading my articles in the programme I ask? “ Honestly?” he says, with another smile, “ I’m still catching up on those, I’m more of a social media person”. I’m not offended, but I am interested as he reaches for his phone. “ Did you see those comments on social media recently about the club?” he enquires. He presses several buttons with some speed. “ Comments made about the club, they were more than just banter”. There’s a moment of quiet as he puts his phone down. “ You know, I don’t know why I’m looking. People can say what they like. It won’t change what we’ve done here or what we’ve achieved” And amidst all the questions perhaps that’s the comment that really counts.