FEATURE: A top town team from infants right up to uni

Harborough Town Under 18s.
Harborough Town Under 18s.

They began playing football in the under-sixes as Harborough Town Minis. Twelve years later, the core of the side was still there as they played their last-ever match together last week for Harborough Town Under 18s.

And their manager has been the same man all the time - Ben Ward, father of two of the team’s players - twins Matti and Sam Ward.

Some of the lads have spent two-thirds of their lives training and playing football together - but now they all go their separate ways, many of them to university.

“I’ve been playing for this team for literally as long as I can remember” says current team captain Matthew Brown, from Foxton, near Market Harborough.

He’s off to Hallam University in Sheffield in the autumn and admits: “It’ll be so strange to play for another team.”

Team boss Ben Ward once played rugby for Northampton Saints, but was unable to get his lads to follow in his bootprints - they both preferred football.

“They were five years old or or so and kicking a ball around with about 30 young lads at the sports hall at Robert Smyth” said Ben.

“One week they were split into three teams and they were looking for parents to manage them.

“I thought ‘sod it, I’ll take one of the teams’, and that’s how it started for me.”

Players have come and gone since then, of course, but many team members - drawn from south Leicestershire and north Northamptonshire - have been in the squad since primary school.

They’ve been successful too - from County Cup Champions at under-11 level, right up to League Cup finalists in the under 18s (they lost on penalties).

They’ve also twice been the Harborough Mail’s Junior Sports Team of the Year.

“They’ve had lots of success, but it’s not just been about them winning” said Ben. “It’s about seeing them develop from young boys to young men.

“And I’ve been fortunate. They’ve been a fantastic group of lads - very easy to work with - and the parents have been great as well.”

So will Ben carry on as a football team manager now “his” team are moving on to jobs and universities all over England?

“No, I don’t think so. I’ve been so involved for so long. There’s pressure too, although the lads all delivered.

“And really I got involved for my sons, because I wanted to see them involved in sport, for the well-being and the fitness and the camaraderie.”

And has it been fun for Ben as well as the team he created? “Yes is the simple answer.”

Team captain Matthew summed up: “Ben’s been much more than just a football coach. Any one of the lads feel comfortable speaking to him about anything.

“It’s been a pleasure to be in his team and a pleasure to have been with the same fantastic lads all these years,

“We’re all going our separate ways now, but we’ve got something we’ll always remember and I’m sure we’ll all stay in touch.”