Worthing Football Club owner George Dowell admits he has thoroughly enjoyed his first year at the club, with the Rebels flying high in the Ryman League South Division this season.
It was announced this time last year that Dowell was taking over at Worthing and it has been far from a dull 12 months at Woodside Road.
On the pitch, Rebels are third in the table and have also reached the final of the Sussex Senior Cup. Dowell still has a five-year plan for the team to be in Conference South but admits this season has gone better than he maybe expected.
Reflecting on the past year, Dowell said: “It’s been busy. Before this, I had no experience of running a club or how much time it would take. I obviously got into it for that reason, for it to take up my time and it’s a full-time job.
“I think that I, along with the rest of the team I brought in, under-estimated how much time things at the club actually take to run, as well as the Football Centre.
“But it’s been good. We’ve learned a lot in a year and are starting to find our feet now and everything’s a lot more organised.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and would do it all over again if I was in the same position.”
Within weeks of taking over, Dowell was looking for a new manager after Adam Hinshelwood resigned to take a coaching role with Brighton & Hove Albion’s under-18 team.
He said: “It was a great move for him and it will probably benefit the club in the long run when people see the progression route, but that wasn’t the ideal start.
“We’d have hoped for a settled pre-season but then got Jon Meeney and Gary Elphick in as the new managers. We suddenly had a new chairman, new board and new managers, so it was all a bit worrying – but it seems to have come together really well.
“We’ve had a really good season and have been playing above expectations and getting to the Senior Cup final has been amazing, the real cherry on the top.”
Prior to Hinshelwood leaving, work had already began on installing a new 3G surface at Woodside Road and Dowell admits that is key for the club – and also other non-league teams.
He said: “I don’t think we’d be able to function without the 3G pitch. We’d only be open once or twice a week and you just lose that attachment with people, so now we’re in the public eye a bit more.”
On 3G being the future for non-league football, Dowell said: “I think it is the only way. Unless a club has a multi-millionaire who wants to chuck money at a club, it’s the only way to sustain a club.
“The ideal is to have a pitch like the Emirates every week but at this level you’re just not going to achieve it, so the next best thing is a 3G pitch. Every team we’ve played against has loved it and that’s the feedback we get from their directors.
“Every team, I think, is keen to get it done but it’s just about finding the money and funding to do it.”
Plans are in place for a revamp of the main stand this summer – after the crowdfunding appeal hit its target last year.
Dowell said: “We’ve still got the money put aside and are still trying to get a sponsor on board to match that funding. Hopefully it will all come off.
“We also want to get tarmacked floor all around the ground as it’s a bit uneven in places and a reception out the front – there’s plenty of things we want to do.
“When we came in, we had an idea of what might need doing but there was a lot of hidden stuff, things like boilers and electrics, the unseen stuff that people maybe don’t appreciate has been done. And that’s maybe the reason why other stuff hasn’t been done elsewhere yet.”
On the five-year aim for Conference South, Dowell said: “That’s still the plan. To be honest, this year we were just hoping for fifth to get in the play-offs.
“If we don’t go up this year, we’d really make a push for it next year but if we get up this year, we’d be ahead of schedule.
“When we get to Conference South, then we’ll make another plan to go up again. We won’t get there, stop and think we’re done and we want to consolidate here.
“But, at the same time, we’re not going to stretch the club to keep going up the leagues.”
Rebels have had a number of crowds over 500 since the turn of the year and Dowell said: “Even now, we’re getting people who haven’t been here for a few years and they come in and they see the pitch and then they come in to the bar and are surprised with how it’s all looking.
“We want it to be a bit more welcoming and for people to come here and enjoy their time and feel comfortable. If they do that, then they’re going to come back.”
Dowell signed a number of the club’s promising young players on contract when he took over and admits the plan is to do the same for next season: “The season before last, all of the players were playing for nothing. Everyone was here for one reason and that was to play football. I think that brought everyone together and made the team stronger and hopefully we’ll be stronger again next year.
“There’s a really young bunch of players here, with only a few players over the age of 25. We’ll look to get them all on deals for next season as well.
“A lot of the young players are doing really well and we had a lot of scouts watching when we played Middlesbrough in the FA Youth Cup.
“We’re trying to get the young players here early and with high-quality training, so when they hit 16, they can join the under-18s and potentially then be first team players.
“That also helps us attract better players if they know they’ll be seen by scouts if they come to Worthing.”
The Worthing Football Centre is running out of Woodside Road, with many bookings throughout the week on the 3G pitch.
Dowell said: “It’s going well, we’ve got a lot of plans for it and to improve it – things like disability football and walking football. We just haven’t had the time to set everything up yet.”
Since his takeover, Dowell has appeared on The Undateables on Channel 4 and has also answered a number of other press calls. He said: “Straight away from taking the football club on, it’s been pretty hectic. Everything just seemed to blow up and I’m still getting invites for lots of different things.
“It’s good to get the club’s name out there and that’s the only reason I do it – to help the club stay in the limelight.”
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