Cray Wanderers FC – The Flamingo Park Project 

A New Year Update – An interview with CEO Sam Wright

2024 promises to be the biggest year in the Cray Wanderers history with our new home of Flamingo Park taking shape since the start of the season.  Please see here an interview with CEO Sam Wright updating supporters on recent developments.

Hello Sam.  A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family.  On August 11th on the eve of the start of the football season you made an announcement on social media to let fans know that work was finally about to get underway at Flamingo Park with the aim to be playing there next season.  What is the current update to end 2023 as it is starting to get exciting?

Basically we are probably about 100% complete with the pitch and the FIFA testing going on on it which is excellent as that means it is playable at our level of football.  It has had the formal sign off from the consultants that were working with the Football Foundation who have been brilliant and gave us a nice bit of funding for the project. So their guy signed it off who commented that it is one of the best he has seen and ironically he said the thing you really need to do now is start playing on it as soon as possible get people on there, get your youth teams playing on there.  Unfortunately that is something we can’t do just yet because the aspects of the project we are still trying to finish off is putting the terraces and fencing in.  That is basically where we are at as of now.

Since the 11th August, for the first four weeks there was a guy out there, very knowledgeable who was literally just moving earth and you thought what was he doing but as he was moving the clay, getting the levels right you could just see this was starting to take shape.  I’ve been glued to the window on a number of days staring at whatever element has been going on. The initial levelling, the tarmacing and a big shout out to Velocity who have been fantastic from start to finish.

I have been taking little snapshots of the timeline through social media posted by you and Gary Hillman of developments since August 11.  Starting August 14th, the first sighting of flattening out of the surface, September, base layer of pitch starting to be laid, drainage cut in etc.  Into October clean stone finish and kerb stones in. These are perhaps the unglamorous things involved with the project but most essential.

They are the no 1 most important things as obviously the one thing you don’t want is there to be a heavy downpour and suddenly you get a pitch that is unplayable. Which has happened to a few clubs with badly designed pitches in the past.  Also the clean layer of stone which helps water get through the permeable tarmac and into the drainage system.

Into November, tarmac lorries in to help get ready for the pitch, November 13th, the pitch starting to get rolled, lines going down on the pitch, floodlights work starting, December 1st, floodlights switched on and since then, pitch prepared, rubber crumb, dugouts, goal frames set up so the pitch area has really taken shape in a short space of time.

That’s right, it has literally been just four months.  There have been one or two little pitfalls, particularly with the weather and the amount of rain over the last few months. There was also a four week spell where nothing happened. So really the work has been done in three of those four months.  When the work started they got so far ahead where we had great weather at the start that the tarmac team were then booked up on other jobs so there was a four week wait between the clean stone and the tarmac going down.  

I know you have mentioned to me in the past that this is only really phase one of the project and for supporters what the next phase entails.

I think we are going to elaborate and there probably will be another video going out on YouTube as what we want to try and do as there has been a lot of talk that this was never going to happen and we just want to manage people’s expectations because this isn’t the finished article.  This isn’t the big shiny two tiered stand running down one side with changing rooms inside and classrooms and function suite.  That element will be phase 2 and will come at a later date.

The most important part of phase 1 is that Cray Wanderers first team will play league football at Flamingo Park, our own ground and the facility will be gradable to our level of football. So it really is hitting the requirements we need for Step 3 football.  250 covered seats, there will be a nice stand down one side that spans the halfway line which will have 250 seats and at the back of those seats will be a little terraced standing area. That will be the main standing in the ground, over at the far side, furthest away from the road.  That leaves us with a nice big space on the near side to the road so that in a few years time when we are ready to go and finish it off properly we will be able to do it without affecting playing football there.  Similar to Bromley when they put the big hoarding up behind the goal where the Glyn Beverley Stand and where Broomfields is. They were able to do all of that without impacting the first team playing football there. 

Phase 1 is the most important and vital part in the history of the club moving forward because it means we have our own place to play. We are utilising the pavilion which is a bit old fashioned but have been doing a lot of work internally to make sure the changing rooms are decent and again fit the requirements of our level of football.  We have done quite a lot of work upstairs in the bar and have an events space up there now which is as good as many of the others that we go to at our level.  We have also been putting some concessions in so that we all have the ability to get a burger and a beer, a sausage roll or a cup of coffee and get that pitchside as well as the building.

That’s right and anyone who has been to Flamingo Park for an event or just popped along in the last few months will see how the clubhouse has changed again in a short space of time and is an excellent facility, friendly, helpful atmosphere with some incredible work going on behind the scenes and great dedication from they guys to get things moving.

This is a great time to give a mention to those guys because that upstairs facility has been refurbished purely out of love for the football club. The gratitude to Alan Richardson, Gary Defroand and Terry Smith, those three lads, for what they have done for this football club has been phenomenal.

It has been a long four and a half years up here and often days where it is just me on my own pushing stuff around, moving bits as well as trying to do my day job and running the business side of the football club.  We took Claire and Stacey who run the youth section, Dino who runs the bar and catering, you mentioned the friendly atmosphere, his team that runs the bar and functions have done fantastic jobs out on Wednesday 20th December so there are so many elements on a day to day basis moving the club forward.

A date for the supporters diaries and for the groundhoppers out there, I think the first competitive game following consultation with the Development committee once the fence work starts on 15th January which should take about three weeks, the Ladies are at home on Sunday 4th February vs. Oakwood and this could be the first game to be played on the pitch. 

February and March are going to be key months for us so we make sure we get sign off on us being able to play first team football here so it’s an aspiration to be playing next season here and the initial indication from the plan that have in place is that it should be fine and to be signed off for the start of next season.  There is though a lot of work to be done and water to go under the bridge before that.  We are getting there, it has been a really enjoyable few months, it feels like the place is coming alive.

One other really important person to mention after taking a walk outside.  The grass pitches at Flamingo Park have been superb, it has probably been the wettest few months and lots of cancelled matches in the local area but Charlie Kerr, our groundsman has been exceptional. We are now getting a team of people involved where we can start becoming a club that has raised the bar a little bit and looking to push Cray Wanderers on and off the pitch and everyone working to the same ethos and what we are trying to achieve. 

There has been huge levels of feedback on social media whenever you, Gary or Ozay post something about the ground and a lot of these comments have stated they cannot wait to come and watch us so hopefully we should get some healthy numbers through the gate once we are ready to go.

That’s right, the next six weeks after the new year are going to be pivotal for us. We are thinking of setting up a Community Trust that will start working in the local community. As a Charlton Athletic fan, I remember us going back to the Valley and they worked extremely hard and had a campaign called Target 10,000. I can’t promise to get those sort of numbers at Cray Wanderers but I hope to knock a zero off the 10,000. We have a plan to target 1000 coming into the new ground on a regular basis and will be doing a lot of outreach in the local area, community, schools to make that happen.  We are really hoping that we can change the dynamic of the football club.  This is a really fantastic opportunity to grow our fanbase. Also there is a fair amount of disillusionment with top level football and the cost of taking themselves and their two kids to football and travelling.  If we can make coming to Cray Wanderers a good experience for supporters and affordable who knows how many fans we can attract,

Story to be continued…….