Overlooking a hoard of fans, surveying his surroundings, Seb Rowe gazes out onto the artificial pitch at Lambeth Grove. He may not have constructed their home, but in Stockport Town Football Club he has built a dynasty.
From leaving football in his 20s due to a lack of passion to changing the face of youth football in Stockport, via a short stint playing in America, Rowe has a storied background in football, and it is this that drives him.
Rowe, chairman of Stockport’s newest club, began his professional career at Notts County before moving on, attaining a scholarship at Bury. He would leave the Shakers following their plunge into administration and move across the pond to America, where he would ply his trade in Carson City Nevada. Having found football had dropped down his list of priorities, Rowe quit the game at the age of 23.
He would eventually return to the game in 2009 when he took on the role of Football Development Officer, working with the Cheshire FA. Having seen the organisation’s funding run out three years later, Rowe would again take an unorthodox step: becoming involved with Futsal.
It was here that he would work his way back into football, having taken on the role of secretary at Stockport Futsal Club, he and his colleagues would start to dream of starting their own football club, and the idea of Stockport Town Football Club was born.
“I had the knowledge of local sport, having been in the football development officer role.
“What we saw was that between Stockport County and Stockport Sports, there weren’t many local lads playing. Cheadle town had a few local lads, but when you consider that Stockport has a population of just under 300,000 people you have to question where all these local lads are playing and why aren’t they being given the opportunity to play at that level?
“The other reason was that we looked at how other clubs were being run and felt that it wasn’t how a club should be run. We felt we could do it better.”
Following the plans for the club being put in place, Seb and his team were met with opposition from local MPs and supporters of rival clubs, something that eventually jeopardised the very existence of the club.
“We went to the FA hearing and they said no, they said we had a brilliant business plan but you have no experience running a cub, which is a fair enough argument.
“Other reasons that weren’t brought to light at the time were that we later found out that one or two local clubs had been opposed to us and I think that influenced the FA to a certain extent.”
The opposition of politicians and rival fans brought a lot of negative press to the club even before they were fully formed, with allegations of council money going towards the club. Rowe feels that the club have done a lot to change people’s perceptions of the club and dispel negative rumours.
“I think people just forget.
“One of the people first involved with the club was the chief executive of Life Leisure; he was interviewed for a newspaper article where he was quoted as saying he’d like to move up the leagues quickly.
“It was brought up at a local council meeting simply because Life Leisure are a charitable trust and in a nutshell they get money from the council which went into running the organisation. There were a few local MPs, councillors and other people saying that they were concerned that the money would go towards the football club, that brought a lot of negative attention to the club and it was never going to be the case anyway.
“Stockport Sports fans were worried about the club coming forward and Stockport County fans were worried that we were some kind of phoenix club but I think as the club has gone on people have seen that we aren’t a threat to anyone, we are only trying to help the local game.”
Rowe does admit that all the negative attention did make him feel like the club may never become a reality.
“I think had we been rejected (by the FA hearing) the second time we would have had to knock it on the head because how many times can you try something and get knocked back?”
The 2015-16 season marked Stockport Town’s first in the club’s history. They mounted a tremendous play off challenge, something that will have surprised the critics of their early existence. Rowe has built something is looking towards a bright future, one that rivals the sun that sets beyond the artificial pitch at Lambeth Grove.