FA Cup: Non-league club with 750,000 TikTok followers

Walton and Hersham players celebrate promotion
Walton and Hesham start 2022-23 season in Isthmus League South Central Division after promotion from Union County League

They averaged 296 league attendances last season – but they have more TikTok followers than half a dozen Premier League clubs, and their owners are younger than most of the players they’ve signed.

Welcome to Walton & Hersham, “home of the world’s youngest football club owners”.

School friends Jack Newton, Calogero Scannella, Sartej Tucker, Thomas Bradbury, Ben Madelin, Stephan Karidi and Reme Edetanlen were 19 when they pieced together student loans to buy a Surrey non-league club in 2019.

After three years and two promotions, the Swans cashed in on their fast-growing social media presence, which led to shirt sales “to places you’ve never heard of.”

As Walton and Hersham prepare to kick off their 2022-23 season by hosting Kennington in Saturday’s FA Cup qualifier, the young co-owners told BBC Sport they plan to change the non-league scene.

“At first, we all thought buying the club was an absolutely crazy idea,” said Tucker, Walton and Hersham’s director of operations and media. “How could anyone think this would work?”

Swans chairman Newton added: “It’s a lot easier to run a club with your mates because you know you can ultimately speak your mind, which you can’t do in a professional capacity.”

Walton and Hulham players celebrate
Walton and Hersham play in the eighth tier of English football

“We included GCSE grades in our takeover proposal”

After scoring 91 points from 38 games last season, Walton and Hersham, who won promotion to the eighth tier of English football, cannot be blamed for being a pub team.

In 2019, however, the Mill Bar in Kingston upon Thames became a regular meeting place for seven who discussed buying the 77-year-old club.

Walton and Hersham beat Brian Clough’s Brighton side in the 1973-74 FA Cup, with Ballon d’Or winner Sir Stanley Matthews as chairman, while Striker Nathan Ellington played for them before making a league appearance for West Brom in the Premier League.

In 1973, they beat Slough Town 1-0 in front of 41,000 fans in their penultimate amateur FA Cup final at Wembley.

The Swans are on the verge of relegation to the 10th tier in 2019, and longtime owner Alan Smith is looking to sell.

“The whole idea came from Carlo Gros,” Newton said. “He’s been watching games and talking to owners. He knows they’re trying to move on.”

The seven put together a document to present to Smith outlining their plans for the club.

“We even took down each of our GCSE grades,” Newton added.

“We had hardly any money going into it. We were 19-year-old students who cobbled together student loans to fund the whole thing. That’s why we had seven of us. It was about a few thousand pounds each.”

A team of 750,000 TikTok followers

Since the “Class of 2018” — the year they both left school — swept the doors of the Elmbridge Sports Centre, where club games are played, the Swans have not only been successful on the field.

The young bosses have used their social media skills to build an impressive network that many Premier League clubs would be proud of.

Walton & Hersham has 753,700 followers on video hosting service TikTok – more than Nottingham Forest (210,200), Fulham (272,100), Brighton (344,500), Southampton (440,700), Crystal Palace (459,100) and Berber Enmouth (585,700)).

A 32 second clip Posted at the end of last seasonexternal link It has been viewed 3.5 million times.

“We released short gameday vlogs last season — one-minute highlights from each game,” Tucker said.

“This has enabled people from all over the world to embrace our story.”

Last season, the Swans teamed up with Manchester-based Classic Football Shirts to distribute their kits worldwide.

The partnership has resulted in the Swans selling replica kits to more than 30 countries on six continents, including the Atlantic Islands Saint Pierre and Miquelononly 6,000 people live.

“It’s crazy for a non-league club to be able to sell kits to every continent around the world,” Tucker added.

“People are really interested in our story and what we’re trying to do. At the current pace, we should hit 1 million TikTok followers by the end of October.”

Jean-Baptiste Borotra wearing a Walton & Hersham shirt in his hometown of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
Jean-Baptiste Borotra wearing a Walton & Hersham shirt in his hometown of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

Showing up in a conference room wearing a fake shirt

The past three years have not been smooth sailing, but the young partners are learning as they go.

“As soon as we took over, we made changes to the club badge without really consulting the fans,” Tucker said. “They are proud of the club’s heritage.

“In the early days, we needed to communicate with them, and we’ve taken that experience and leveraged it since then.”

The arrival of the young co-owners has been a talking point on the board of the Union County League, where Walton and Hersham have enjoyed back-to-back promotions. They are in the South Central Division of the Isthmus League starting in the 2022-23 season.

“We were in a neutral position for the Carabao Cup final in May and the dress code was a suit and tie, but it had to be 25C,” Newton said.

“We showed up in knockoff shirts and shorts. We didn’t get any free drinks. On the opposition board or whenever a team came to us, they were amazed at how young we were.

“But there are a lot of young people running the club and we do talk to them because you can learn a lot from these people.”

Swans owner Scott Harris, 41, is almost double the co-owner.

“When I took the job, I had enough confidence that we would work well together,” said former Walton & Hersham player Harris.

“It’s all very professional and all the co-owners are screwed. They bring energy and ideas to the club.”

Walton and Hesham to play at Elmbridge Sports Centre in Walton upon Thames
Walton and Hesham to play at Elmbridge Sports Centre in Walton upon Thames

Walton & Hersham’s season tickets for adults cost £129 – free for children under 12, who aim to make it to the Nations League South within the next five years.

“We’re not going to throw money around like some of the guys in the non-league. We’re trying to make it as sustainable and aggressive as possible,” Newton said.

“In terms of getting bored, in a few years we might want to move on to other things.

“But if that time comes, the club will be in a very strong position. Our plan is to leave something positive for the community.”

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