Departing Ashby Ivanhoe FC chairman Bonser looks back on 10 years of change and progress

By Graham Hill

18th Feb 2022 | Local Sport

The Chairman of Ashby Ivanhoe FC, Stuart Bonser, was recently asked to resign by the directors Jon Emmerson and Neil Johnson, having served over 10 years and seeing the club go from a local park team with two teams on Hood Park to one that has 19 teams from Under sevens to the Senior First Team and now playing on its own freehold ground on Lower Packington Road.

We caught up with Stuart and asked him to share his thoughts from the last 10 years and provide us with "what being a Chairman" of a non-league football club really means and to provide an oversight into the progress the club has made during his time as Chairman.

When did you join Ashby Ivanhoe and why?

"I joined initially as Vice Chairman in 2010 following a conversation with the then Chairman, David Morris and became Chairman 18 months later. The motivation for joining the club was to help it progress both on and off the field and for it to realise its potential as a significant sports club in the ever increasing town of Ashby.

"The club had enjoyed many successful periods in the North Leicester leagues and had not long gained promotion to the Senior League. I felt that my experience gained at previous clubs could drive it to bigger and better things and I delivered the plan accordingly. My ultimate goal was to establish a Step Four football club, (currently Step 6) as I felt that Ashby had all of the ingredients to make it a success and more importantly, sustainable.

"The three aspects that I recognised were, 1: Chimney pots - Ashby was growing and the population was increasing, and I knew that if the first team was doing well then the supporters would come through the turnstile; 2: Commercially, Ashby has a lot of great businesses and contacts that would support the club in its quest to progress; 3: Player catchment would enable the club to attract players from local areas and wider, but with a strong focus on developing home-grown Ashby players.

"My vision was to also introduce Junior and Youth teams to the club that would, over time, enable the players to progress from a junior team into a senior team, all at "One Club", something which is still the ethos of the club today."

How did the club make progress?

"During the times at Hood Park, I formed a management team that were tasked with a variety of roles to enable the club to move forward both on and off the field. I put a business plan together to initially develop Hood Park and maintain its home since 1948, but this was met with resistance due to the nature of the development needed and alternatives were assessed before settling on a move to Lower Packington Road.

"As Chairman and whilst still playing at Hood Park, I established the club's first midweek under18 floodlit team and recruited Alex Roome as the first manager, who proved to be a great success during his time in the position. In order to establish the team, we required floodlights and again, for the first time in the club's history, I managed to gain funding to secure the erection of the lights and many happy times and memories ensued on Wednesday nights, watching young players represent the club at the pinnacle of youth team football in Leicestershire.

"The sole purpose of the Midweek team was to start the journey of progressing young, local talent into our senior squads and this decision started the conveyor running and can still be seen today with players that have featured in our floodlit team representing the first team.

"It was whilst in Hood Park, that I recruited one of my most successful managers in Kevin Allsop. I had known Kevin since he was 11 and his playing career took him to Norway and great times at Gresley Rovers, and I knew he would move the club forward on the pitch, and he did bringing home the reserve team title and then the Senior League Cup and the Coalville Charity Cup with the first team in the same season, another first for the club."

How do you view the last decade

"I am very proud to have been the Chairman of Ashby Ivanhoe for over 10 years and whilst, at times, it's been a thankless task, I have throughly enjoyed the time served and know that the Club is in a significantly better place today than when I joined. Along the way I have met some fantastic people and gained many new friends. I have worked alongside some amazing volunteers that have helped me and the club to achieve mountains and make many memories and established lifelong relationships with local businesses and supporters of the club.

"It's not been plain sailing and I've made mistakes and lost some friends along the way. But when I joined the club we had two teams playing on the local park and drinking in the local pub and now the Club has 19 teams from Under sevens to the senior first team, with a player pathway at one club and its own freehold ground, own bar and catering facilities and playing football across three sites in Ashby."

What do you feel were your biggest achievements as chairman?

  • Establishing the club's first Midweek Under 18 Floodlit Team
  • Gaining funding and erecting the floodlights to support the Midweek Team and the Senior Squads to play under floodlights for the first time in the club's history
  • Driving the move to Lower Packington Road a significant milestone in the future direction of the club
  • Attracting the NFU to name the ground for which is now widely recognised
  • Renovating a derelict building into a fully functional licensed bar and clubroom
  • Creation of a senior main floodlit senior pitch with seating and standing accommodation for over 200 supporters and standing for up to 1,000
  • Formation of a floodlit training ground for all teams representing the club to use and make it their home
  • Establishment of junior pitches to provide players with a home and away playing experience
  • Achieving a step 6 status Senior Club with player representation from the club's many youth team players over the years
  • Qualifying for the FA Vase for the first time in the club's history and continued to be represented each year thereafter
  • The first Team playing in the FA Cup and the club having the honour of having the actual FA Cup brought to Ashby for the first time in its history and featuring live on Central TV
  • Establishing a successful Soccer School that started young players on their first journey to football and into teams at the Club
  • Strong Commercial links with a variety of local and national businesses
  • Becoming the first sports club to have the honour of laying a wreath at the Town's Remembrance Service
  • Put together a robust business plan to enable the club to purchase the freehold of the ground and secure its future for generations to come and protect for the Community."

Stuart added: "The drive and vision I had for the club is clear to see today but it was helped tremendously by working alongside some very committed volunteers like Mark Pepper, David and Mick Buckley and Neil Johnson, who stood by my side when we moved to Lower Packington Road and gave hour after hour to get the clubhouse ready for our first end of season presentation.

"Their commitment along with other key people like Darren Wearmouth and many more, simply" built" what everyone at the club benefits from today, from fences to concrete paths to dugouts to pitch drains to installing an away changing room.

"Football managers come and go, but I would like to thank all of the managers that I appointed and especially the following; Kevin Allsop (the most successful Manager during my time and remains unbeaten to this ay), Jonny Warriner (my first appointment who changed the culture of the club), Tony Hemmings (achieved Step 6 status for the very first time in the club's history), Miles Warriner, and Jose Acensau.

"Not forgetting Andy Gray who led the club to play in the FA Cup for the first time in the club's history and attracted the its largest crowd on record at over 800 when we played Ilkeston Town. Andy has taken on board the whole club ethos, he gets it, he believes it, he's not afraid of playing the youngsters and has completely transformed the playing side of the club since he came back to the club three years ago as my last appointment.

"Plus, Alex Roome, my first appointment for the midweek under-18 team and he was instrumental in introducing players into the senior section, with some still playing today)."

How do you see the club now?[.L]

"The team is in its best position as I leave and has a great opportunity to gain promotion into Step Five and that is testament to Andy and his backroom staff of Pete Dunn, Chris Wood, Shaun Hession, Rob Lawrence and Elise Watts and I will remain their most loyal supporter to the end.

"One man I have worked with and who has worn many hats at the club is Ian Irving, he is currently the club's groundsman and works tirelessly to maintain the pitches and training areas but he has been a coach and also played a part in implementing good financial procedures along with his wife Jane.

"The new wave of volunteers brought Derrick and Lee Barrett who have vast experience in junior football and add significant value around the ground and Lee can be seen on first team games as the matchday co-ordinator and also runs two of the club's under-14 teams.

"A new General Secretary, Stuart Mann, joined the club and he is someone I had tried to get involved for a number of years and was delighted I finally manage to convince him as he does a fantastic job alongside the club's junior secretary, Steph Rawden. This season saw the club establish three girls teams and this became a club first as the girls had never represented Ashby Ivanhoe before. This is all down to the hard work of Neil Crowder who grew the demand of the girls' training sessions from five to over 80 in some sessions.

"It is great to see that the club now boasts junior and youth teams and that we recruited willing volunteers to coach the many teams along with parent co-ordinators.

"Their time, effort and commitment often goes unrecognised, but without them, the children would simply not be able to play. It has been a pleasure to help establish these teams and add new teams each year and grow the club as ONE.

"During my time I helped establish links with the local schools through our In The Community programme and the Soccer School dovetailed nicely into this and I ran this every week with my son, Kieran.

"One of my proudest moments was when I managed to convince the FA to bring the actual FA Cup to Ashby, the day before our home game against Ilkeston. The FA Cup arrived and we proudly paraded it around the Town with it visiting our many sponsors along the way - and for all of the junior players, parents and supporters to have their photograph taken with the famous trophy.

"Through my contacts in the media, I also managed to get Central News tospend the day with us, filming us and I then did a very nervous interview live on the 6 o'clock news that evening - an occasion that will live in many people's memories and one which I hope the club can replicate again.

"It is safe to say that being a volunteer chairman of a non-league football club is no easy ride but I have, on the whole, enjoyed all of the varied roles that I turned my hat to and its safe to say I think I did all of them at the club, from holding meetings to cleaning the beer lines to fixing leaks to painting walls to serving food to coaching the kids to refereeing games to collecting matchday programmes to attracting sponsors to laying slabs to being the gateman to being the car park steward to hiring and firing.

"But maybe what I will be most proud of is the numerous hours spent mowing the pitches and making them then best they could be for our players and for visiting teams who very often commented on our pitch and facilities with words like: "I wish we had all of this".

"The club has a great future ahead of it and I am extremely proud to have played a part in its history and more importantly being able to create something that many many people now benefit from and whom will create their own memories along the way. I would often be heard saying "that when people walk down our drive we want to give them the best experience possible in order that they keep coming back."

"So, as I part with the club it is safe to say that I have done my bit and the club is in a significantly better place as I leave than when I started and my legacy will be "I came and did what I said I would do".

"Thank you for the opportunity to have been your Chairman."


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