Posted: 09.09.20 at 09:11 by Derek Davis
The passion, positivity and pure love of Brantham Athletic and all that the club stands for, pours from Darren Smith who epitomises the spirit of a small village club punching way above its weight.
Appointed by chairman Peter Crowhurst three years ago, Darren, whose house overlooks the ground, encapsulates the philosophy ingrained from the very top, which oozes throughout the club - that everyone is in it together.
Every team from the under eights to the senior side, boys, girls, men, women, play in the same kit design, it is the club's brand and underlines the importance of everyone being in the club together.
"We are a village club, there is no getting away from that, and we are playing above our status," said Darren. "The philosophy which runs through the club, with Michael Brothers as manager of the senior side promoting, is every player has the same opportunity to play in the first team.
"The relationship between the juniors and seniors is really strong, from supplying ball boys, to playing for the club.
"It all stems from the chairman Peter Crowhurst. He has installed in all of us that we are one big family.
"That must never change. If that ever were to change then the horse on the badge will have bolted and won't come back."
For a village of some 1,200 people, and growing, the football club boasts 170 children, 70 adults, a ladies and two girls team, and it continues to look at being even more inclusive with walking football reintroducing a veterans team.
"When you come here on a weekend you have it all from the under eights at the lower part of the field, through to he under-16s, all kitted out the same. It is quite a sight.
"The average age of the senior team is 22 and lot have come through the system. Jack Sibbons for example has been with the club off and on for 13 years and some others have started in our under eights."
The former Halstead Town vice chairman was working on construction project in Kent and was travelling back with Peter one day when he told him of his availability and by the end of the car journey became CEO, unpaid and in charge of club and leisure centre.
"I wouldn't have it any other way and I will stay as long as I'm wanted," said Darren. "We have an amazing group of people here, it is a real team effort across the board. Without all these people we would not survive, never mind the money, it is the people.
"We are a growing village but we continue to punch above our weight.
Louise Madley has picked up new sponsors and it is ever evolving but Darren admitted while the club is still struggling financially, there is no immediate danger and it is managing to carry on with wider support from parish and district councils and the Suffolk FA..
Darren added: "Brantham Parish council landlord have been great in terms of the rent
"That is what it is all about. The village working together, helping each other.
"Alastair (McCraw) has been very supportive, as has Verity Abrahams who is our liaison and it has been been great being able to talk to them."
Like everyone and everything the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown had a hugely detrimental effect on the club, with concerns for its personnel a top priority, with two players showing Covid symptoms, both youngsters, one who'd been on holiday and came back with it.
Darren said: "It was an interesting five months with nothing going on, no football, no one coming into the club.
"While the financial impact was massive, the moral impact was vital because we realised we were not alone. We had support, we knew there were people out there doing all they can to support grassroots football."
He picked out Suffolk FA duo Richard Nealand Phil Lawler, who is also a club vice president, as being very helpful in advising the club on a range of matters, including the introduction of a beer garden to help generate income when the lockdown eased.
Darren said: "There have been huge financial restraints and we are extremely grateful to the FA, the Suffolk FA and Babergh district council, because they were great at sending information about what we could apply for in terns of grants and funding.
"It was a case of keeping the morale of our people as high as we could by staying in touch with everyone, all the managers from the under eights, right through to the senior side.
"We worked hard at getting as much cash in as possible but it still didn't cover everything. But it did allow us to keep the doors open now, it allowed us to keep the pitches maintained.
"That would not have been possible without a huge number of volunteers who have helped out with working parties. We have ladies out there painting, first teamers helping out with pitches and managers also doing things.
"We got the beer garden up and running, which is part of the Leisure Centre, so when we had pre-season games and people were not allowed in the ground, people could come into he beer garden.
"So while the football club had no income, the leisure centre did."
Like many smaller clubs, a good cup run is vital for finances and Darren is less than impressed with the FA for cutting the amount of prize money paid in the earlier rounds, while still paying top whack in the later stages of the competition.
He said: "You do wonder if they could have reduced that £1.9m prize money, and not cut the earlier rounds money. Even before Covid I felt the prize money was disproportionate in favour of the bigger clubs.
"For the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal etc, £1.9m is one player's wages for a few weeks, it is not going to make or break those clubs, whereas for the likes of us it is fundamental."
Darren feels it is time for a change at the top with the Blazer Brigade making way for younger blood.
"The FA board have historically lost touch with grassroots," said Darren. "We are fortunate at county level with people like Richard and Phil, they know what Suffolk football is all about. There needs to be a major change at theta because they have lost touch.
"The FA Cup is losing its shine at Premier League but for grassroots football is imperative. For a 16-17 year old to be able to say I played in the FA Cup is special and long may that continue."
The Imps enjoyed a good start to its FA Cup campaign this year with a dramatic penalty shoot out victory over Benfleet and there are high hopes and expectations for Michale Brothers' side this season.
"We believe we are a top three side," said Darren. "We have retained 90% of our squad and added more to it. We are confident in Michael and the management tea, we have youngsters coming through and they have
"We were 11 uneaten at the end of last season and on a roll.
"We believe we can do well at Step Four, so promotion, a good FA Cup and FA Vase run, is the target."
And why not for the small village cub with the heart of a rampant stallion?