As part of a series called ‘Changing The Game’, we’ve spoken to Dean Williams. Dean is the Chair of Sleaford Town FC, as well as Chair of The Wheelchair Football Association. He's told us about his roles and journey through grassroots football, and his experience and commitment to ensuring football is a safe, enjoyable, inclusive, and accessible for all.
"I’m a businessman, who would like to think of myself as mildly entrepreneurial. Essentially, I’m an Executive Coach – helping senior executives and teams improve their performance. This has been my career for 23 years. I’ve lived in Lincolnshire for the last 5 years, with my beautiful wife Roz. We have three grown up children aged between 27-30."
Dean goes on to tell us about his passion for football, and his own journey in the game.
"My own football career was cut short in my early 20’s due to an acute knee injury. At some point, I have a knee replacement to look forward to! Football has always been a huge passion of mine. I always felt that I had some unfinished business with the game as a result of my career being halted so early. I flirted with management and coaching, but then got my football fix by travelling the country watching my son. He was some player.
It was when I moved to Lincolnshire that I started to explore how I might be able to have an impact back in the game at grassroots level. I attended Grantham Town versus FC United of Manchester at The Meres, the hosts winning a dramatic game 3-2 … and I was hooked again. I approached the then Chairman, Nigel Wedgwood, and we talked … eventually resulting in me becoming a Director of the club. Albeit a very small stint of 6 months. The pandemic then happened so there was a break, before I was offered the opportunity to ‘get back in’.
Since the summer of 2021 I have been at Sleaford Town FC – one season as Vice and the last two as Chair. In August 2023, I was appointed Chair of The Wheelchair Football Association in England. Outside of these two voluntary roles, I actively work within three professional football clubs offering my executive coaching – two English clubs and one within the States."
What is your motivation to commit as much time to football as you do?
"I love football. The game in general, but also the opportunity it provides for people – particularly at grassroots level. In my career, I work across multiple sectors and industries, but until 5 years ago - not within sport. I wanted to break into the sporting industry, so decided to fund my Masters equivalent in Sporting Leadership – adding to my understanding and credibility in this field.
I wasn’t going to fund this and then not put the learning to use! So, that’s a part of the motivation but in all honestly, I commit so much time because the people that I work with deserve it. I can measure the impact I have, but their gratitude and hard work inspires me to keep giving. I’m a believer that if you volunteer for leadership, you should carry out your role with painstaking excellence, even if you are a volunteer. Leadership is an honour."
What is life like as Chair of a football club? Why Sleaford Town?
"It’s very diverse but also wonderful! There are a multitude of things that come to me requiring my time, input and leadership. In my time as Chair, I’ve surrounded myself with brilliant people – technically sound and highly motivated individuals. Without them, I simply wouldn’t be able to fit everything in. Their brilliance enables me to focus on strategy, financials, brand and the commerciality of the club.
I have a main board, a shadow board and defined roles for secretarial aspects, treasury and media. Everybody knows that I don’t like surprises, so they keep me beautifully informed and engaged throughout. I work very closely with the first team managers too and am close enough to the players. I love to engage with the fans, both in person and via socials. I think transparency is vital for a Chair.
Why Sleaford Town? Post pandemic, I was on the lookout for another club where I could apply my skills and acumen and make a clear impact. I met with a couple of other local clubs, but on meeting club legends Brian Rowland and Jamie Shaw, and learning about the rich history, and seeing the site, it became very apparent that Sleaford was the club for me.
It’s fair to say that the club was not in a great moment when I met with them – recovering from the pandemic and relegation strugglers for a number of seasons – it just felt like I could help make a difference. My skills are very much in creating vision and optimism, and implementing a structure that helps enable it. Those within the club have bought into this wonderfully. We have great people at the club who share the vision, have found their part to play, and are hell-bent on achieving the very best for Sleaford."
Can you tell us a bit about The Wheelchair Football Association? What makes Powerchair Football special?
"The Wheelchair Football Association are responsible for governing and growing the sport of powerchair football within England. There is a National League comprising of a Premiership and Championship, Regional Leagues, a National Cup competition and a defined pathway to the England Powerchair Football team – under the structure of The FA Para Unit. The WFA is a charity, so in my role as Chair I lead a team of Trustees, of which I am one.
Powerchair Football is a truly incredible and gripping sport. Played by athletes with a high level of impairment, the electric wheelchairs enable the sport to be fully inclusive. It allows all ages, disabilities and genders to compete together in a competitive environment – affording the players the opportunity to play the game they love regardless of any impairment. I’ve always been an advocate of providing opportunity through football, working with Lincolnshire FA to set up disability provision within Sleaford Town. We set up Cerebral Palsy football within the club last season and are actively talking about increasing opportunity within the club. Lincolnshire don’t have a Powerchair Football team at present… watch this space!"
What is your proudest achievement in football?
"It has to be achieving the highest ever league finish for Sleaford Town in their 100-year history. It came in my first year as Chair in our centenary year! What makes it so special is that we planned for it on arrival at the club in the summer of 2021. I created a three-season blueprint to transform the fortunes of, and the culture within, the club. Season one (2021-22) was about changing the narrative on Sleaford Town – away from relegation strugglers and bringing back some optimism, which in turn would get people back supporting.
We finished 12th that season, after being bottom with one point after seven games. Season two (2022-23) coincided with our 100-year birthday and we wanted to celebrate our centenary with our highest finish in history (7th at step 5 was the previous highest). On the back of the previous season, attendances were up significantly and people believed, they wanted to be part of something. Everybody was united in this goal. We created the tagline - #LetsCreateHistory… and we did, finishing 5th and in the actual promotion picture until the last week of the season.
We smashed so many records last season. A real change in fortunes and culture in less than 24 months. This season the tagline is #LetsCreateMoreHistory – despite a tricky first half of the campaign, let’s see where we are come the season end."
If someone was inspired by you and wanted to support football in Lincolnshire, how could they do it? What one piece of advice would you give them?
"Just identify the clubs local to you and go and take a look. Watch what people do within those clubs on a matchday and see for yourself how much it means to everybody involved. It’s an amazing thing to witness. Most clubs at grassroots level have a real community and family feel… you get a chance to be part of this whatever role you go onto play. It’s then about just having the conversation with the current custodians of the club – I’d be amazed if your approach wasn’t welcome.
In terms of advice, I’d say you have to fall in love with football outside of just the football match! Results will be mixed and therefore your emotion needs to be regulated to even out the highs and lows. Now I love matchdays, but I have found that having a wider purpose – a clear understanding of what else is important within the club, the community – helps ensure that your mood, motivation and effort is not solely impacted by the result that afternoon/evening."
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