Gospel Oak Football Club: A team with roots firmly in the community
- Credit: Polly Hancock
“If you're going to represent an area you've got to help it out as well – that's what football is about.”
A year and a half ago, a group of former William Ellis students got together for a kickabout on Hampstead Heath.
Now, they’ve established Gospel Oak Football Club – a grassroots team embedded in the local community and proud of its roots.
Left unable to play due to the Covid lockdown, the Sunday league side has instead chipped in to help its neighbourhood through the worst of the pandemic.
Players have fundraised for Queen’s Crescent Community Centre and delivered food parcels to local families.
“We thought it goes hand in hand with the club really," the team's founder Jack Lawlor said.
"Football is all about bringing people together. It was only logical and there's no way we couldn't have helped out, so it's the bare minimum to be honest.”
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After running a local club at Swansea University in his final year, Jack laid the foundations to set up his own side once he returned home.
“I fell in love with running a football club,” the 23-year-old said. “Football has literally been my life, like a lot of other boys around Gospel Oak and Queen’s Crescent.
“There’s a high proportion of very, very talented young footballers in the area, but growing up the problem was that you could never really play around here.
“There was never a team that could unite the kids playing in Malden and Lismore Circus.
“When you grow up around Gospel Oak and Queen’s Crescent, cage football is what most young footballers here do.
“It's interesting because you go there one day and you'll be playing with youth academy boys, then on another day you’ll be playing with boys who've just come for a kickabout.
“But it is always a very, very high standard around here so we just wanted to bring those players together.”
Jack, who works for the Abbey Tavern in Kentish Town and the Prince Albert in Primrose Hill, said running Gospel Oak FC had given him a sense of purpose.
“I knew as soon as I came out of university, on a selfish note, I needed something to keep me busy while I’m in that stage where I don't really know what I want to do.
“I know a lot of other people my age, especially in the area, are probably in that situation too.
“Growing up around Gospel Oak and Queen’s Crescent, one of the biggest things for people here is football, so forming the club just seemed to make sense.”
While the football has given players a platform to perform, Jack said the club had helped build an identity and connection with the area.
“There’s always been a thing about no one really knowing whether Gospel Oak is actually an area, or where it begins,” he said.
“So we believe we’re helping give Gospel Oak and Queen’s Crescent an identity.
“We’re not saying it's going to be the focal thing in the area, but at least it's another form of identity that people can attach themselves to.”
On the pitch, before Covid brought a halt to its progress, the side showed promise in its Barnet Sunday league, pushing for a title tilt after winning four of its six games.
The recipient of a grant from Camden Council and sponsored by the Gipsy Queen pub – which welcomes players after games and has a framed shirt hanging on the wall – the club plays its home games at Highgate Wood.
Off the pitch, the side has had fun “creating memories” by publishing clips of matches on its social media channels put together by videographer Ismael Martinez, who is from Kentish Town.
The team has wider plans to reach out into the neighbourhood including coaching sessions for children in the area.
Its plans for the future reflect the caring character of a grassroots side buoyed by the strength of its local community, and the meaningful connections it is building.
“We’ve still got a long way to go before we have a voice, but slowly it feels good.”