Walton and Hersham FC: The youngest owners in football

On September 20th, Walton & Hersham faced off against Chatham Town and goals from Eddie Simon, Jordan Adeyemi and Ollie Twum propelled them into the third qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time in 13 years.

The Swans are now a world away from the 2018/19 season when they finished bottom of the Combined Counties League Premier Division.

The club were already struggling financially and relegation to the tenth tier could very well have spelled the end for the club.

However, in August 2019, a consortium of seven friends who had all been to school together took over, launching a remarkable new era for the club, dubbing themselves: “The youngest owners in world football.”

The Swans celebrating promotion. Credit: Thomas Bradbury

Since taking over at Walton the club have been promoted twice, however even more remarkable than the wins on the pitch is their following off of it.

With 840,000 followers on TikTok, they are gaining more attention than 6 Premier League clubs on the platform (Brighton, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest). 

One might assume that a group of 19-year-olds taking over a football club and then racking up a huge online following would be the realisation of a plan.

Thomas Bradbury, one of the seven co-owners and head of club development at Walton & Hersham, explained it couldn’t be further from the truth. 

He added that it wasn’t planned at all, saying: “We filmed a mini-documentary in our first season that documents what was happening at the club. I decided to post one of the clips [on TikTok] and it got 250,000 views.”

The next step was to make an official Walton & Hersham FC TikTok page and begin posting the documentary in short clips. “A few of them went viral”, said Bradbury.

He added:“We started thinking about original content and Tej (Sartej Tucker, co-owner and director of operations & media) came up with the idea of matchday blogs, that was the first time we had a proper content plan.”

The online success continued as more football fans found themselves drawn to the small London based side and the comedic and light hearted tone of the videos were a huge success.

On the pitch the team was also getting the results the ambitious owners wanted and the team found themselves mounting a promotion push.

However, in spite of the success both on and off the pitch, there was soon to be the first major setback for the new owners. During the 2019/20 season, Walton & Hersham were in third place and pushing for an automatic promotion spot when the COVID-19 outbreak caused the season to be cancelled.

Sartej Tucker penned a letter alongside Hashtag United owner, Spencer Owen, expressing how dissatisfied they were with the decision – one that was seen by many as short-sighted and done without thought of the consequences to clubs lower down the pyramid.

The cost-of-living crisis has also put many clubs around The Swans at risk, with as many as 2600 football clubs in the UK alone being forced to cease operations this year, according to the Price to Play Report.

Bradbury spoke about how the issue is affecting his club: “The cost-of-living crisis has been bubbling under the surface for a while now, since the winter the situation has gotten a lot worse.”

Fortunately for Walton & Hersham, the two affected seasons of 2019/20 and 2020/21 were merged together and they were awarded promotion for their combined performances over the two seasons.

Another promotion in 2021/22 showed just how effective the new consortium has been and The Swans find themselves flying high in Isthmian South Central Division.

The aim for this season is the same as it has been every year since taking over the club: getting promoted. Bradbury said “We take it year-to-year, we’d love to be in the promotion spots. It’s good to have these ambitions, if not, what’s the point?

“The dream is making it to the conference or even the football league.”

The first step to making that dream come true will be to beat Taunton Town in their upcoming FA Cup game on Saturday, October 1, and make it to the first round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1994.

Featured image credit: Thomas Bradbury

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