One of the few remaining works clubs playing senior football in England, VTFC, severed their ties with the company that gave birth to them last month, and set off for pastures new under the name of Sholing FC. Neil Cotton takes a moment to mark the separation of a local employer from the football club that it gave birth to, but will this be a new chapter for this particular club?
In the depths of the pyramid the disappearance of another name from the league tables is an occurrence so regular it generates less attention than the noise from a tree collapsing in the middle of a forest. Only a few would surely lament the announcement that the Zameretto Division 1 South and West play-off semi final defeat to Bridgwater Town had been the last time VTFC would appear in the results section of the local paper much less attach any importance to it. This though would be an oversight of drastic proportions for VTFC were one of the last of an endangered species clinging on to survival like the red squirrel; the works team.
The club although officially formed in 1960 as Vosper Thornycroft FC can trace its lineage as far back as a works team from 1884; claiming along the way successive post-war sides associated with the Thornycroft shipyard famous for its warship production on the banks of the Itchen a short hop downriver from the works which produced the Spitfire. One of these sides Thornycrofts (Woolston) even found their own fame holding first division Burnley to a goalless draw in the first round proper of the FA Cup during the 1919-20 season.
History and tradition are however, no match for less sentimental forces. The yard which had employed generations from the adjoining streets closing its gates in 2003. VTFC though continued as a works team, changing their name the same year to reflect the rebranding of the parent company to the VT Group which had maintained a head office elsewhere in the city. Continued success on the pitch, resulting in promotion to the Southern League in 2009, could however, not repair the ties with the area further diluted by a the VT Groups recent merger with Babcock International and it comes as no surprise that the VTFC and VT PLC have gone their separate ways.
This story is one which has been repeated many times. As the factories and works which once dominated areas physically, economically and socially are expunged from the landscape works teams, part of the industrial eco-system, have also vanished. There is a certain irony to the fact that as commercialism becomes ever more salient at higher levels of the game with corporate branded stadiums and even branded teams the grassroots-level works team heads towards extinction. Some clubs who choose to continue, left to fend for themselves by corporations which no longer have a stake in the community, can also face the additional blow of losing their grounds and facilities sold-off from beneath them.
The story of works teams in British football is, however, a chequered one. In 1974, the Scottish Football League allowed the works team Ferranti Thistle to join their closed ranks on condition that they changed their name – the club chose Meadowbank Thistle instead. A better known example of a successful works team would be the one be that of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway at Newton Heath, which changed its name to Manchester United in 1902. Works teams tend to be better established abroad, and famous names that started out in this way include PSV Eindhoven and Bayer Leverkusen. This may be a little beyond this club under its new name, but it’s an indication of one of football’s fundamental truths: the sky can, in spite of everything we know, be the limit – just.
VT FC themselves will continue in their present location; Taking their first tentative post-works team steps as Sholing FC, the name of the area in which their ground is located. The club hope that this re-instating of ties between club and community will help attract more support and investment from the local area cementing the future of the club. Meanwhile a few miles away, beside the river, a large expanse of land lies empty. Gone are the gigantic sheds and towering cranes. Silence replacing the sound of the hordes of workers pouring in from their nearby homes. A blank canvas for visions and dreams, Sholing FC and the district for which it is named awaits a new future with trepidation.