Handsworth FC: Club want new £700,000 pitch to help them end Worksop exile and get back to Sheffield

"Look at the state of that," says Steve Holmes as he surveys the quagmire of a grass pitch in front of the Handsworth FC clubhouse at Olivers Mount.

Steve Holmes, Club Vice-Chairman, pictured. Picture: NSST-06-11-19-NSST-06-11-19-HandsworthFC-4.
Steve Holmes, Club Vice-Chairman, pictured. Picture: NSST-06-11-19-NSST-06-11-19-HandsworthFC-4.

The club's resident groundsman, also unhappy at what he is viewing, agrees and suggests that the junior team responsible should be moved to another pitch next week for causing the mess.

Steve concurs before moving on to more pressing matters: "Want a cuppa?" he asks me.

Most vice-chairmen wouldn't involve themselves with trivial matters such as worrying about pitches or making drinks for reporters, but this is non-league football and as such he chips in.

This new seating area has been added to the ground. Picture: NSST-06-11-19-NSST-06-11-19-HandsworthFC-3.

I'm here to view the brand new facilities on offer at Handsworth FC.

A £700,000 investment from the Football Foundation, Sheffield City Council and funds raised by the club itself helped to install the 3G pitch and a browse around the facilities show it was money well spent.

For those unaware, the club has had a rollercoaster few years with the first team forced to play home games 15 miles away at Worksop's Sandy Lane.

The reason for that re-location was a demotion from the Northern Counties East League - rather harshly after they had won the NCEL Division One - as Olivers Mount did not pass certain ground tests.

The new 3G Astro Pitch at the ground. Picture: NSST-06-11-19-NSST-06-11-19-HandsworthFC-6

Rather than dwell on the brutal blow, Handsworth merged with Worksop Parramore and continued to improve but remain in the NCEL Premier Division.

Despite the brand new facilities in place, they are still unable to play first team fixtures at Olivers Mount due to changing rooms not being close enough to the new pitch and various other alterations that are needed to comply with NCEL requirements.

So, while the pitch is undoubtedly the best in the league they are in the unfortunate position of not being able to actually play on it.

"Sadly, because our changing rooms were a little bit too far from the pitch it was deemed we would no longer be able to compete at Step 5," said Steve.

League champions Handsworth FC. Worksop Parramore ( light blue) v Handsworth FC (black/gold) in the Baris Northern Counties East League, Division 1- Windsor Foodservice Stadium, Sandy Lane, Worksop . Result 0-2

"So we were relegated in spite of winning the league.

"That knocked our duck off somewhat.

"It was all about trying to get a training facility that we could use all-year round, with a view to getting the first team back from Worksop.

"For the last four or five years we've been playing out there so we want to bring the team home."

Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin came through the ranks at Handsworth. Adam Davy/PA Wire.

In terms of the pitch, which is a stone's throw from the Parkway, it has been modelled on the set-up at the highly-impressive Etihad Campus run by Manchester City.

The all-weather pitch allows the club to offer football to over 500 kids each week and the 3G surface means the facility is now a seven-day operation.

Steve said: "We looked at how Man City set up for their junior, academy and scholar sides and basically we copied that!

"I wanted to make sure that the teams training on our pitch are getting the right set-up to help kids develop.

"It's fantastic to see it full every night of the week with different age groups playing out there."

Holmes figuratively bangs the drum for local non-league football and Handsworth in particular, but he literally bangs the drum in another sense.

For those who do not know, he is a drummer in the Sheffield Wednesday band who also follow the England national side home and away.

And he isn't one to miss a chance at spreading the message that the Steel City is the birthplace of football.

"Wherever we are, we go to local clubs with the FA and we talk about Sheffield," Steve reflected.

"People who are genuinely interested in football, have a clue about it.

"But it's almost as if people abroad know more about the football heritage than people in the city.

"We've got the oldest club in the world and the oldest ground in the world, at Hallam, but I think the city probably needs to do a little bit more.

"I hate to say it, but I think if football was born in Manchester then the whole world would know about it."

The conversation quickly returns to Handsworth and Steve is quick to talk up the success of the club's junior set-up.

The most obvious success story to come out of the club is Everton forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who played for various youth sides at Handsworth before being snapped up by Sheffield United.

Plenty of others have gained deals with professional clubs and Steve believes it is testament to the coaching that is offered at Handsworth.

"As an established junior club, with pathways through to the first team, I don't think there's another club like us," he said.

"We've had some great successes, the big notable one being Dominic.

"He's a regular with the England under-21s and is playing in the Premier League.

"There should be a few more in the next few years and it's no coincidence there'll be more to replace them coming through."

That belief is backed up by looking at the average age of the current first team, managed by Russ Eagle, which is around 19 to 20 according to Steve.

On the pitch, back in Worksop, the young side has made a decent start to the season with a number of postponements belying their lowly league position.

As for how much longer they will be playing in Nottinghamshire, the club does have some breathing space slightly.

They have another three years to run on their lease.

Despite admitting that another £300,000 of fundraising seems a daunting prospect, Holmes says the club is relishing the challenge.

And he says he dreams of the day that the club's first team gets to finally run out onto the new pitch.

"Trying to get people to actually go and watch in Worksop is difficult, I won't lie" he added.

"You come to an under-21 game here on an evening and you'll find maybe 150 to 200 people will be watching.

"So there's an appetite to watch games at Olivers Mount and we want to get back here.

"I'd love nothing more than to hear that turnstile clicking 400 or 500 times for every game.

"We're right on the gateway to the city.I look at the size of the site and the number of people come through, it's like running a small middle-school to be honest - but without the funding.

"We're absolutely worn out but we've got a new challenge to go.

"We want to make sure this ground hosts the first team again."

Perhaps by the time they do return, that grass pitch will be in a playable state once more.