Dawn to a new era arrives as AFC Ely bids to keep grassroots game alive

Ross Gray (pictured) co-founded AFC Ely with John James in their bid to keep the grassroots game ali

Ross Gray (pictured) co-founded AFC Ely with John James in their bid to keep the grassroots game alive. Picture: SUPPLIED/ROSS GRAY - Credit: Archant

For one football club, the dawn of a new era has arrived, as they look to bring their community together in a bid to keep the grassroots game alive.

After noticing several teams folding in the Ely area, Ross Gray alongside friend John James wanted to do something about this.

So, once they spoke to former teammates from their previous club, The Isle FC which plays in nearby Witchford, they decided to launch AFC Ely.

“After seeing a lot of teams folding in and around Ely, we wanted to build a community club. I did some coaching last year, but I still want to play,” Ross said.

“I knew John when he was with the Ely 07s team, and we got together coaching The Isle FC.

“When you walk in a pub, people thought The Isle was a pub team, so it was difficult for people to take that team seriously. We thought if we move to Ely, we will attract more players.”

Since discussing the idea in January, Ross and John hope to get around 28 players and non-players on board to sign on for the team, which will play in the Cambridgeshire County League for the 2020-21 season.

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Ross, who used to play local football in Essex before moving to Cambridgeshire in 2016, is keen to increase awareness of his new venture and has already got the support of local businesses.

The team will play their home games from the city’s Paradise Centre, but despite the coronavirus pandemic halting action for now, it’s hoped players and passers-by will still turn out in numbers to support the beautiful game.

“It is something I talk about a lot with my father-in-law that grassroots football is dying. I’m a father-of-two; I want my children to grow up with grassroots football and I still enjoy it,” Ross said.

“I moved from Essex and Ely City Crusaders was the first club I played for and seeing what they had is something to aim for.

“We are competitive and want to win things, but it is also about security. We only have to look around at teams that are disappearing, so our first objective is to secure the club.

“We want to generate interest and we are going to do everything we can to get exposure.

“Some of my friends run their own businesses and I’m sure they will be grateful to get that extra support, so it will be building bridges within the community.”