From Wandsworth Common to the FA Cup: meet Westside FC

After their first dip into the FA Cup, non-league football manager Steve Walters and his Westside FC club have kicked back into gear and are on the hunt for promotion.

The club, formed in 1996 out of a Wandsworth church, have six league wins from eight and currently sit third in the Combined Counties Division One with a game in hand.

Westside FC qualified for the FA Cup for the first time in its history this season, and Walters was thrilled at securing that experience for his team currently in the sixth step of non-league football.

He said: “It’s a massive thing for us to have come from where we have.

“Five years ago, we were playing on Wandsworth Common. To end up playing in the FA Cup ­– it was absolutely incredible.

“We had national papers covering our first ever FA Cup game. We beat Billingshurst 2-0 and it was their first time in the Cup as well. It was quite an occasion.

“Unfortunately, we drew a very good Chatham Town side in the next round who beat us 2-0 but still it was an amazing experience.”

Walters attributes much of the success of his side to the club’s youth setup, which he has played an active role in for the past decade and is now overseen by his wife Jane Walters.

He commented: “That’s a massive part of what we’re about.

“In our current first team playing in Combined Counties, two thirds of them have come through our youth section.

“Originally I was a player with the first team and then I really got involved with youth football and started coaching when my boy was 12.

“I coached his team all the way up through the age groups up to under-18.

“Once they got to under-18 I had a pretty successful team that won the Surrey Youth League Premier Elite. And then as that team moved into adult football, I took over the first team.

“When I took over we were in the Surrey South-Eastern Intermediate Division Two. After three promotions in five years we’ve managed to get ourselves into Combined Counties.

“We’ve got my son and four others who were in that very first under-12 squad, and they’ve all played together for 14 years. That is one of the reasons I think we’ve had so much success over the last five years to get ourselves to where we are.

“We like to think we are really community based. A lot of clubs that run youth football give up on boys when they get to the under-14s and 15s because the parents stop offering support.

“We work quite hard to get grants and bits and pieces to help fund those teams.

“It’s a real community and within that comes a few boys that have got a fair bit of talent.”

As many non-league teams experience, even without the pressure of a global pandemic, rising up the league ladder brings financial concerns for managers and club administrators like Walters and Westside FC.

He added: “As soon as you get on the FA pyramid is kind of becomes who has the biggest wage budget.

“We’re kind of fighting against the odds to progress as a club. I’m not quite sure what the highest level any club has gone without paying their players.

“Our short-term aim is promotion this season and our long-term aim is to see how far we can get as a club that cannot pay.”

For now, the Combined Counties league season is back in full swing and Walters is as active as ever all the way through this south west London community club.

He said: “It’s pretty much kicked back into gear. We are full steam ahead coaching all of the teams in league and cup competitions.

“I was still coaching the under-18s over the summer and helping the under-7s right through to the under-17s.

“Still on Saturdays, even though it’s match day, I’m up at 8 o’clock building our seven-a-side goals on Wandsworth Common so those youth teams can play.”

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