Hanworth Villa FC: A Hidden Gem in the London Borough of Hounslow

At Hanworth Villa, history intertwines with a nascent spirit and a compelling narrative emerges – one not typically associated with your average non-league football club.

The roots of tradition run deep at this Isthmian Football League club, and the passion for nurturing both talent and character creates a safe place for those seeking more than just wins on the pitch.

James Connor, the club’s newfound chair at 49, harbours a vision to rekindle the familial ethos created by his father when he founded the club in 1976. 

Upon entering Hanworth’s home stadium at Rectory Meadow

He said: “I think the success in a football club is the strength of your culture and a sense of togetherness.

“My job is to very gently influence the development of our club culture and our values in the right direction. 

“I don’t see it as my club, it’s everyone’s club.”

When James signed a five-year contract with Mick McCarthy’s Millwall in 1994 he said it was everything he’d ever wanted to do.

But fast forward three years and seven knee operations from his contract signing, James was forced to retire from professional football indefinitely due to injury.

Now, he reflects on the 25 years it took to reshape his relationship with the game. following the “mental torture” he experienced as a pro.

He said: “I couldn’t go anywhere near a football ground,”

“I was just completely living on nervous energy and adrenaline, needing to bury myself into something else to forget about football.”

James’ attitude towards adversity is striking but the birth of this attitude becomes obvious as you speak with him.

He said: “You can’t wallow in your own self-pity, because unfortunately, as sad as you may feel, the world moves on.”

“[After the injury] I got my head down and worked as hard as possible.

“Unfulfilled potential is quite hard to take – especially when it’s out of your control – but it left me with a burning desire to prove myself in something else.

“I was absolutely determined for my injury not to define my life.”

The Family At Hanworth Villa FC

Simon Haughney, 42, is the manager of Hanworth Villa and he also experienced adversity from a young age.

At 16, Simon was released from Crystal Palace and reiterated those heart-breaking words.

“’Simon, unfortunately we don’t think you’re at the standard required to sign the pro contract, you’ve been fantastic for years but we’re going to release you today.’”

“I was completely devastated, your initial reaction is you’ve got to work harder and turn a negative into a positive,” he said.

Figures obtained from Premier League data by in 2022 revealed that 97% of players who come through academies, never play a minute of top-flight football.

The analysis said 70% are not even handed a professional contract at a Premier League or English Football League club.

Michael Calvin, author of ‘No Hunger in Paradise: The Players, The Journey, The Dream’, found that of the 1.5 million boys who play organised youth football in England, only 18 will be signed by a Premier League club which is a success rate of 0.012%.

Plan B

Simon said he was very fortunate to have a Plan B following his release from Palace.

He said that before anything else when signing any new player, he looks at the type of person they are and how they will fit in at the club.

Referring to the uniqueness of the club, Simon said he aims to continue the values set in 1976 to keep them on a good stead.

He said: “Because you only see the 0.01% success stories, there’s so much mental health issues, and from my generation, so many people have fallen.

“The actual success of the club is the kids coming through, their families, and feeling a real sort of buzz around the club and wanting to come back.”

Hanworth Villa line up before their league game against Hartley Wintney 17/10/23

Ben Merson, 30, a player at Hanworth Villa recalled watching brother Sam at Wolves when he was younger. 

He said: “I remember saying to my dad, do you reckon any of them will make it, and five minutes later he replied, ‘maybe one’.

“I’ve seen so many kids drop out of academies playing for Tottenham, for example, the highest level in the country, and they’re not even good enough to play for Simon’s Hanworth Villa on a Saturday.”

Ben’s dad scored 78 goals in 327 appearances for Arsenal between 1985 and 1997, so it’s fair to say you can trust his judgement.

The point is, these academies are taking in an abundance of young individuals who believe they are going to make it as footballers but that is hardly ever the case.

When players originally signed up to Hanworth Villa in 76’, they had to agree to a set of 28 rules and James credits his dad for creating a “tight knit family” at the club.

This idea of a family club with a strong culture is so unique to find at a club like Hanworth Villa and mental health is clearly a big focus following both Simon and James’ experiences.

Fan’s Perspective

Stephen Leggett, 71, has covered Hanworth Villa for over 10 years at Riverside Radio.

Stephen said he “pulled the short straw” when he was originally asked to report on Hanworth Villa because he didn’t even know where they played.

But, he soon realised there was much more to the Hanworth family than seen at face value.

He said: “They’re the perfect club for you to support, you just don’t know it yet.

“Everyone involved with a non-league club will tell you that they are special.

“There was something about it, my first and true love is Brenftord but my guilty pleasure is Hanworth Villa.”

Stephen described James as straight-forward and the perfect man for the club.

He said: “He is Hanworth Villa, It’s like He’s got it tattooed on his forehead.

“Everyone involved with a non-league club will tell you that they are special.”

James’ once unfaceable truth about football has now landed him back in a world where he could never have imagined ending up.

The passion for the game and relentless energy to bring a new lease of life to the Hanworth club is admirable.

“One club, not one team,” is the message James and the rest of the club family look to spread with a particular focus on the younger generation. 

The sky’s the limit at Hanworth VIlla FC.

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