A Non-League Visit: Peterborough Sports FC

Peterborough has never really been much of a ‘football city’. Despite having the twenty-something highest population in the country, the town’s only professional club still struggles to get regular crowds of over six thousand. Even in their Championship days, the average crowd at London Road was lower even than Yeovil Town’s.

But for those that do regularly attend London Road, they’re at least supplied with entertaining football, living up to their (admittedly self-dubbed) nickname of ‘The Entertainers’. But they’re not the only team in the city that that could claim that (self-dubbed) nickname; Peterborough Sports Football Club, located just ten minutes away from The Posh, are currently smashing the UCL Division One. Having (at time of writing) played 21, won 21 and scored a whopping 98 goals.

Team LF paid a visit to their Parkway home to witness the league leaders host third-bottom Buckingham Town. Despite Baltic conditions that would even make a Geordie think about putting on a coat – the fixture had attracted a decent turnout. Attendances in general have been boosted for Sports this term, due to the club’s £20 season ticket promotion – £6 cheaper than the cost of a single game at Peterborough United.

Club chairman Stephen “Tommy” Cooper considered the promotion a big success; “We sold 30 season tickets, and also 32 player sponsorships for £100, which also came with a season ticket”. Cooper then went on to explain the reasons behind the promotion; “The thought process was simple, as the people that bought them were primarily friends and family of the players and we wanted to encourage as many of them as possible to come and watch the games”.

But whilst the scheme definitely had the desired effect, the Chairman was realistic on the club’s hopes of increasing attendances even further, “Sure, I would quickly like to get to 100, and then 150, 200 and so on. But it is hard and you have to be innovative and get people to spend their leisure pound with you, rather than the multiple other options in the City”. Even for non-season ticket holders, admittance is still only £4 a game, but not everybody is satisfied with the dirt-cheap admittance fees. Tommy said before the game that they have recently had problems with punters trying to con their way into the ground with phony excuses. Hang your heads in shame!

With the gulf in league positions between the two sides going head-to-head today, and with Sports’ record this season of turning their opposition over, we were fully expecting a goal-fest. But it was Buckingham who took the early control, and should have taken the lead early on when Sports conceded a clumsy penalty. But it was just a warning, as the resulting spot kick made Southgate’s at Euro ’96 look like a belter, and former Peterborough and Cambridge United ‘keeper Luke McShane duly kept it out.

From then on, it was the home side who took control, going three nil up before half time. By the second half, the temperature had dropped even further, resulting in a few extra sherberts, just to keep the blood warm. The neighbours were burning leaves in one of the gardens behind the ground, which resulted in the odd plume of smoke to travel with the breeze into the stand – no pyro, no party! The cold weather didn’t affect the players though, as they went on to score another four goals, finishing up as 7-0 winners – the goal-fest we were anticipating.

It almost seemed far too easy for The Turbines (a very apt nickname considering the typhoon that had picked up) though, and they’ll likely already be looking forward to a sterner challenge next term as, barring a monumental collapse in form, promotion to the UCL Premier Division is certain. But it hasn’t always been a smooth ride for Sports. It took the arrival of Chairman Tommy Cooper to guide the club into an upturn in fortunes.

“When I joined in 2011, the club had one side playing in Division One of the Peterborough League, were struggling for players and struggling financially. The Ground and pitch were in something for disrepair” Cooper said. “But with the support of the leaseholders and effectively our landlords Parkway Sports & Social, we undertook a major redevelopment of the ground that saw us spend £300,000 over the course of four years to bring it to its current standard – which involved new changing rooms, a 150 seated grandstand, floodlights as well as new fencing, dugouts and turnstiles”

But the chairman conceded that his tenure hasn’t all been fun and games, “The downside has been parting company with two managers – both good men and friends”. Even at this level, you sometimes have to make difficult decisions “Chris Bartlett was here when I arrived. He has an excellent football-brain, and I’m delighted that he has done so well at March Town, but he just found it difficult to attract and retain good players given that he lived away from the city. Seamus Morgan was an easier decision, as the side struggled to cope with the uplift to a new level, and it is a shame Seamus was not able to replicate his reserve side success”

Overall, PBS are a tidy little club who have enjoyed their recent success; “We’ve had two promotions so far and are hoping for a third this year. We also have a reserve side playing in the Peterborough League Premier Division – higher than the first team when I arrived” and club chairman is extremely ambitious about Sports’ future “I am delighted with the current management team. Jimmy Dean has taken to management like a duck to water, utilising his contacts to good effect, and Chris Plummer is around if he needs support”. “We believe that the current side is good enough to be competitive at the next level, but naturally we will look to strengthen in the summer and go again”.

Cooper laid down his plans of preparation of the clubs long-term aims; “Southern League Premier division is the aim. But then it is for lots of clubs. We may never get there on the pitch, but you have to have a dream, and I certainly want to make sure we have that level of facility in any case. We are also exploring the possibility of introducing an academy, and developing our own players will be vital to our long-term stability, and so a vibrant youth section is very much on the agenda”

Whatever the future holds, Peterborough Sports Football Club are currently on a journey. Whilst promotion is pretty much guaranteed, can they go on to have an invincible 2015/16? [Edit: Sports lost 3-0 to Long Buckby on 13th February. The club are still 11 points clear, with 3 games in hand]

[ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN LIQUID FOOTBALL MAGAZINE ISSUE TWO – FEBRUARY 2016]