Football business booming at Doncaster grass roots
It may not be the Premier League – but business is booming in Doncaster’s grass roots football too.
That is the view of one of the schools which have sprung up in the borough in recent years targeting soccer sessions for children at venues across the borough and beyond.
Dan Finnegan set up the Little Messys football coaching business four years ago as a sideline to his main day job running a wine business, having originally trained as an accountant.
But after the football business grew and grew, he moved out of the wine firm to concentrate on his expanding football operation.
His is one of a number of football coaching firms which have developed in the borough, with other organisations such as Minikicks having also established themselves.
He held his first sessions in a school hall at Barnby Dun in 2013, a year after initially having tried to set up a similar project in Wakefield with a friend.
In his younger days, he had been a keen footballer. He had trials for Derby and Barnsley, but went on to play at a semi-professional level for Emley, part time, while holding down his job in accountancy. He played in the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup.
The first session in Barnby Dun attracted four children. One of those was his own son. Another was his nephew.
But he says word spread and the sessions quickly grew by word of mouth.
Six years on, he has franchised out the name into other parts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and has over 1,000 youngsters joining the sessions.
“One of those from that very first session who I’m not related to is still coming to us,” said Mr Finnegan. “The other stopped because he started going to the Sheffield United academy.
“They told their friends, and a few more come. They told their friends too and it started to build up. Apart from us and Minikicks, there was not that much in the area.
“Two years later we had 100 kids, and did not expect to get any bigger.
“I carried on doing it as a part time business for 16 months.
“It grew and in 2015, we took Connor Steel on as a second full time coach. By then, the Goal football centre had been built on Wheatley Hall Road. By April we had three pitches.”
The following January, he set up his first franchise agreement, with a session starting in Sheffield, with another following in Wakefield. Since then, it has started in York, and from this month, in Scunthorpe too.
Now there are 23 venues, including Askern and Edenthorpe and Doncaster Goals, running over 100 classes a week. He directly employs seven full time and six part time coaches, in addition to himself.
“There are just over 1,200 taking part now,” said Mr Finnegan. “It has snowballed.”
"I think it is a booming industry. When you look back over the last 15 years, Little Kickers probably started the trend. But the kids sport industry is massive, and the more venues like Goals there are the better, as more kids engage.
“I think the facilites are the main thing, and I think there are more facilities where you can play football than there have ever been, and the FA has been putting money into grass roots football, with grants to get people qualified in coaching.
“It is about getting kids active.”
With the high profile of the recent women's world cup, Mr Finnegan believes girls football is also growing.
He already has girls taking part in sessions in mixed groups, and was this month looking to start new Miss Messys sessions for girls who would sooner play in all-girls groups.
“The market has been there for a while,” he said.
“We are planning to take on more coaches. We want to get females coaches involved too, and we are interviewing one.
“We're looking for more, but 99 per cent pf the applications that we get are from males. I think there is no reason why there should not be more, and I would like to see more applying.”
He has tried running rugby sessions, but struggled to get coaches. But he says he would look at running sessions in more sports, as he feels you cannot put yourself in a box in business.
“We have to get it right,” he said. “The children have to be playing and having a happy experience.
“It is the kids that make it what it is.”