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

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

To put that into perspective, a club like Yeovil, who recently competed in the Championship, represents a town of around 45,000 people.

Another good example is Kilmarnock, which has a Scottish Premiership team despite the city’s small population of 46,000.

A more extreme example would be Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim, which is located in a village of 3,191 but still shared the stage with Manchester City, Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League just three years ago.

European ambitions are certainly not on the agenda of new Wakefield AFC chairman Guilherme Decca. In fact, even the talk of National League participation is nonsense.

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

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

“We want to change that, but we’re also realistic about how hard it will be to climb the pyramid – it’s not an easy task and it’s a long-term project. We believe we can make it happen.

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

“There’s no point in spending money signing players and getting promoted and then being relegated once you’ve run out of money. You have to create a real club that is self-sufficient.”

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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 potential of the project that attracted the VO2 Capital CEO to the West Yorkshire club.

He said: “[Wakefield] were lower in the pyramid than we would have liked to be quite honest, was too low. But we thought the potential was there and worth the whole trip.

“Initially we were thinking of the National League, the National League South/North. But look, we’re going to make mistakes along the way, so it’s really good that we’re lower in the pyramid.

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

“Of course today [the club] is completely dependent on us, but hopefully in five years it will be on its own and in 50 years the club will still be here. That’s the idea is that it becomes an asset to the community and something that can become part of the football culture in Yorkshire.

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

Booming attendance, a harbinger?

Featherstone Rovers rugby league ground

While rugby league is the dominant sport in and around Wakefield, the thirst for football has manifested itself in the growing attendance at the club.

In a league that is most often watched by the proverbial man and his dog, Wakefield drew crowds of around 600 late last season.

Decca added: “I was for the last game of the season, although we counted 600 – because some people came after the game had 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 audience last season and compare to NCEL teams and stages six and five, we’re already higher than most.

“We’re really excited about this year, we’ll continue to have good crowds and I think our job right now is to build the club up. On the pitch, that’s only part of the job. another part is how do we get into schools, are we going to start offering free football, how do we partner more with local businesses.

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

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

Wakefield kicked off their 2022/23 campaign in NCEL Division 1 last weekend with a 3-1 win over Glasshoughton Welfare.

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