THE chairman of an Isle of Wight football club has his sights set on making Ryde Saints a great force representing the town by turning his attention to Smallbrook Stadium and investing more than £65,000 to transform it into a leading venue for local fans once again.

The site, also the home of Isle of Wight speedway, has a long and rich football history, with the former Ryde Sports hosting the likes of Aston Villa, WBA, Sheffield Wednesday, Portsmouth and Southampton in its heyday more than 30 years ago.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Ryde Saints’ new £15,000 changing rooms at Smallbrook Stadium.

Over the past year, under the control of its chairman, Jamie Humm, Ryde Saints have been developing Smallbrook as the club looks to a bright future.

So far, the Division 2 club — relegated last season — has set out its stall by installing £15,000 changing rooms and have just completed a £50,000 new under-pitch drainage system.

Humm, who has been at the helm ten years and managed the Saints' youth teams, said: “We aim to raise our use of the site and promote Smallbrook as a prominent football venue again.

“Ryde already had successful football clubs, but there was also a niche for one that supported younger players aiming to break into senior football — and Ryde Saints was born.”

Isle of Wight County Press:

Ryde Saints manager Andy Brown, left, with club chairman Jamie Humm. 

Humm, a former player who joined the club in 1995, has a vision to make the club a major community asset in the area.

“I’d love to be chairman when an ex-Ryde Saints player signs a professional contract — something overdue from our region of the Isle of Wight.”

Formed by Des Murphy in 1995, Ryde Saints had a difficult first decade, but he eventually got the reserves promoted from Combination 2.

A huge turning point for the Saints came with the appointment of Andy Brown as first team manager in 2014.

He led to the club to winning ways — reaching the final of both the Isle of Wight and Hampshire Junior A Cups.

The first team went one better the following season by winning the Hampshire Cup — the first Island club in 25 years to do so — together with promotion to Division 1 and winning the Ryde and District Cup.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Ryde Saints manager Andy Brown, right, with club chairman Jamie Humm pitchside at Samallbrook Stadium, Ashey. 

But the club were dealt a body blow by dropping down to the Island’s second tier.

Although the idea of moving to Smallbrook first arose in 2000, the stadium’s blocked drains and damaged pitch, regularly waterlogged, made it unfeasible for Saints.

The club, with its first team in Division 1 at the time, revisited the idea of returning to Smallbrook and restoring it as a top football venue.

Fundraising and funding applications followed, with manager Brown, supported by dedicated volunteers, leading a project to bring in new Portakabins and get them installed, completed in 2017.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The developing Smallbrook Stadium pitch from the air, which needed a lot of work by volunteers to make it playable again after years of waterlogging and neglect.  Photo: Jamie Humm

Club volunteers stripped the cabins and painted, repaired, re-roofed and re-fitted them to include benches, as well as rewired, erected security fences and negotiated cost-price building materials.

It was a huge community effort, with more than 2,000 voluntary man hours invested.

The club was awarded £50,000 from Sport England to fund new drainage, which has proved to be very efficient, following spells of heavy rain, which will benefit football and speedway.

The pitch is now ready for Ryde Saints to use.

The club has, in tandem, also been developing Salters Park, Haylands, as a community facility, with the club spending £5,000 on goalposts alone — but with still a long way to go.

Volunteers have spent two years landscaping the site, dismantling and removing fire-damaged outbuildings and cutting long grass and hedges to make the park suitable for football.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Following seven separate incidents of arson, the community now recognises the venue as an asset, with such attacks no longer an issue.

Mr Brown, the Saints’ first team manager and a former Ryde Sports player, said the project was something he was proud to lead.

“The facilities, from voluntary hard work over years, with support from coaches, the community and sponsors, has enabled us to have facilities and foundations to build upon.

“Having been in Island youth and senior football for more than 40 years, this is a milestone for Ryde.

“Our club now provides access to football for all, plus the opportunity for all who participate, to enjoy the game and develop at all levels, ages and abilities.

“It’s now vitally important to sustain — and hopefully further grow — our service to the community and our status in Isle of Wight and Hampshire football.

“This can only be achieved with the continued hard work of many, plus the continued support from community and local businesses.”

On the pitch, Saints youth coaches train and manage 70 youngsters, making the club one of the biggest youth organisations on the Island and has been recognised by Hampshire FA with its prestigious Club of the Year award.

“The club is in a period of relative calm having just finished projects, boasting nine teams with a programme which integrates teenagers into adult football, so we will be pushing on with the same high standards Des Murphy first set in 1995,” added Mr Humm.

“We want to get the club’s first team promoted and push ourselves to be the highest finishing Ryde team on the Island.

“I know football coaches would love to use Smallbrook as a platform to build toward a Division 1 title challenge, while of course fundraising for improvements to Salters Park continues.”