A local community football team has announced plans for a merger, turning semi-professional and playing in the ninth tier of English football from next season.
Just two years after Hackney Wick FC was founded it looks set to play in the Essex Senior League (ESL) in the 2017/18 season, subject to a rubber stamp by the league.
The Citizen can reveal that The Wickers will merge with London Bari FC, who already play in the ESL.
Bobby Kasanga, the club’s founder, said that although the new club will play under the Hackney Wick name, the merger would be a “mix of the two entities”. Bari’s first team manager, as well as some players and members of the committee, will stay with the new club.
Kasanga told the Citizen that the new club will move out of Hackney, at least temporarily, because there is no semi-professional standard football ground in the borough. Instead, the team will play at London Bari’s current stadium in Newham.
“The council were not willing to build the facilities and there’s no place for us to play. We want to progress, and I had to make a decision,” he said. “Hopefully this will put pressure on the council.”
The Wickers, who have played their home games at Mabley Green, Lee Conservancy Road, finished seventh in the Middlesex County League Division One this season. They also progressed to the quarter final of the Presidents Cup, but lost to Tottenham Hale Rangers.
Kasanga started the club in April 2015 in a bid to “put Hackney on the map and get everyone supporting a local Hackney team”. In addition to the senior men’s team, The Wickers have a women’s side and eight youth teams, as well as running regular football workshops.
“The success is unprecedented, I’m very proud of how it’s progressed,” Kasanga added. He also praised his players for pledging to volunteer at least two hours a month for local good causes, including Sunday’s Hackney Half Marathon. He said: “It’s what sets us apart from other clubs”.
The merger will see Hackney Wick play in the preliminary rounds of the FA Cup and FA Vase next year, in addition to playing in the ESL.
As well as being the club’s founder and playing in the first team, Kasanga also coaches the outfit, while former Republic of Ireland under-21 international and owner of the Lauriston Pub Declan Perkins is vice chairman.
Kim Wright, group director of neighbourhoods and housing, said: “Whilst the council acknowledges and applauds the track record and enthusiasm of Hackney Wick FC, even if there was a suitable site available it is beyond the scope and current resources of the council to commit the land, or contribute to funding for a stadium.
“The council continues to support a wide range of different sports initiatives and invests heavily in projects, programmes and facilities that benefit all sections of the community.
“Most recently, £17 million has been invested by the council and its partners to redevelop Hackney Marshes, and it is now one of the best facilities in the country for mass participation in grassroots football, rugby and cricket, not to mention the Hackney Half Marathon last weekend that saw some 11,000 people visiting the Marshes for the annual event.”
“We are extremely lucky to have facilities such as these in Hackney, and our focus will be on maintaining these while providing space for mass participation in sport, rather than trying to develop a new ground.”
Update: This article was amended at 10.25am on Wednesday 3 May 2017 to add a response from the council.