Exclusive: Wakefield AFC to capitalize on the thirst for football in the biggest city without a pro team

With a population of almost 350,000, Wakefield is the largest city in England without a professional football team.

To put that in perspective, a club like Yeovil, who competed in the championship not too long ago, represents a town of around 45,000 people.

Another good example is Kilmarnock, which despite their small population of 46,000 boast a Scottish Premiership side.

A more extreme example would be Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, based in a village of 3,191 people but still sharing the stage with Manchester City, Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk three years ago in the Champions League.

European ambitions are certainly not on the agenda for new Wakefield AFC chairman Guilherme Decca. In fact, even talking about participating in the National League is nonsensical.

Instead, the priorities are elsewhere and the goal is simple: build the club first and focus on football results later.

When asked what drew him to Wakefield, Decca recounted Planet Sports: “The attractiveness of the city, the fact that it’s a big city, we think there’s a demand for football. There is no professional team, although there are several great local teams.

“We want to change that, but are also realistic about how difficult it is to move up the pyramid – it’s not an easy task and it’s a long-term project. We believe we can do it.”

“We will do our best to get there as quickly as possible, but for us it’s not about how fast we can get there. It’s about doing this sustainably and creating a club that becomes an asset to the community.

“There’s no point in burning money to sign players and get promoted and then relegated when the money runs out. They have to create a real association that is self-sustaining.”

Why Wakefield?

Pre-season friendly at Wakefield FC

Decca could have chosen hundreds of other clubs to invest in, many of which are already higher up the English football pyramid.

Nonetheless, it was the project’s potential that drew the CEO of VO2 Capital to the West Yorkshire club, who play at The Millennium Stadium in nearby Featherstone.

He said: “[Wakefield] were deeper in the pyramid than we wanted to be completely honest. But we thought the potential was there and it would be worth going through the whole journey.

“Initially we thought National League, National League South/North. But look, we’re going to make mistakes throughout the journey, so it’s actually a good thing that we’re lower in the pyramid.

“We’re really passionate about building a club. It’s not just about getting promoted. We really want something that becomes an asset. That it is not up to me or VO2 Capital to receive it.

“Of course today [the club] is totally dependent on us but hopefully self-sustaining in five years and in 50 years the club will still be there. That’s the idea that this becomes a community asset and something that can become part of football culture in Yorkshire.

“We know the demand is there. It’s a rugby league city but we believe the space is there and people want to embrace it.”

Visitor boom a sign for the future?

Featherstone Rovers rugby league ground

While rugby league is the dominant game in Wakefield and the surrounding area, the thirst for football has been evident with the club’s growing attendance.

In a league most often watched by the proverbial man and his dog, Wakefield drew around 600 spectators towards the end of last season.

Decca added: “I was there for the last game of the season even though we counted 600 – because some people came after the game started – I think we had almost 800. You don’t see that at this level. Absolutely not.

“We did a study. If you take our average attendances over the last season and compare them to teams in the NCEL and tiers six and five, we’re already higher than most.

“We’re really looking forward to this year, we’ll continue to get good crowds and I think our job now is to build the club. On the pitch is only part of the work. The other part is as we get into schools we’re going to start offering free football and partnering more with local businesses.

“The numbers were really promising but the journey has only just begun. The club can’t go anywhere without fans. What will determine our success? For me it’s more than the results on the pitch, the fans in the stands. If we continue grow , eventually we will win on the pitch because it means the club is viable.

“We see a lot of clubs outside the league with 50 people in the stands. How do you sustain a club with these numbers over the long term? It is almost impossible. So we have to keep building the club to get the fans and the community. That is goal number one and the goal is performance on the pitch. They go hand in hand. We can’t just concentrate on the team and the sporting performance.”

Wakefield started the 2022/23 season in NCEL Division One last weekend with a 3-1 win over Glasshoughton Welfare.

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