Chairman Gary White proud of Heybridge Swifts turnaround in fortunes

Friday 03 Nov 2017
Heybridge Swifts celebrate their second round qualifying win

When Gary White first started watching Heybridge Swifts in 1998 as a fan he had no idea what he was getting himself into.

Just 18 months ago, the 58-year-old took up the role as chairman of the Essex club – having previously been treasurer – as the Swifts were stone dead last of the Bostik League North Division.

But under the guidance of manager Jody Brown, Heybridge have managed to survive on the final day of two successive campaigns. This season, however, things have changed.

“It has been a great experience,” White said. “I haven’t injected any money myself into it, it’s a members club not a limited company. We’ve managed our finances and got some good sponsors through the door. Before we used to depend on one sponsor, we have four or five so it has been a great ride.

Exeter City v Heybridge Swifts
  • Emirates FA Cup
  • First Round
  • 2pm, Sunday 5th November 2017
  • St James' Park
  • By Charlie Peat

“I never dreamt of being chairman. It never crossed my mind when I first started watching 19 years ago. So I was shocked when the former chairman said I could take the club further.

“It’s very much a team effort here; it’s a great family club and there’s lots of volunteers helping out so it’s just a fantastic place to be. In the end, I guess I would now say it has been a dream position!”

The club has won seven of its first eight league games and, having started in the Emirates FA Cup preliminary round in mid-August, has made it all the way to the first round proper where they will face League Two’s Exeter City at St James’ Park.

And Brown was full of praise for the work White has done to transform the club’s fortunes.

He said: “Gary has been absolutely instrumental to the upturns of this club. When I came in two years ago the club were rock bottom, three points from 13 games, out of all the cup competitions and destined for relegation but we managed to stay up.

“We stayed up last season too and this season, it has been a different story.

“We’ve had such a team ethic from all parts of the club. From the players to the groundsman, it’s a real close-knit group all pulling in the same direction. We never dreamt of making it to the first round proper but it’s a great thing to be going into and a huge moment for the club.”

White has seen the impact of the Swifts cup run not just at the club but around the whole area and thinks the financial benefits could help pay for a brand-new stadium as the ambitious chairman looks to climb the leagues.

He said: “There’s so many maintenance issues that need dealing with. We are potentially moving stadium or renovating the clubhouse. So we think we’ll sit tight with the money and look to build a strategy that can help us move up the leagues.

“We used to be in the league above but went down in 2009. Our top priority is to get back to that level. 

“The morale and the excitement is unbelievable. We’ve sold more than 250 tickets for the trip down to Exeter. The whole place is buzzing and everyone in the area is talking about it.”

Emirates FA Cup history

The Swifts have made the first round proper on three previous occasions and have lost in all of them without scoring a goal.

The Essex side lost to Gillingham 2-0 in 1994, 3-0 away to Bournemouth in 1997 and were humbled 7-0 at home to Bristol City in 2002.

As for the Grecians, their best showing the world’s oldest cup competition came in 1981 when they reached the quarter-finals, losing to Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 at White Hart Lane.

In recent years, Exeter will be remembered for holding Liverpool to a pulsating 2-2 draw at St James’ Park in 2016.

Did you know?

Peter Cawley, father to Heybridge Swifts defender Jack Cawley, played for Exeter City in 1991 – making seven appearances for the Grecians.

The prize

Winning the first round proper will take one of these sides closer to the bright lights of the third round and also will pick up £18,000 in the process.

By FA Staff