Tributes to pioneer of football club’s links with the community

THE leader of Woking Football Club’s work in the community has retired after 17 years in the role.

Jane Booth, also well known as Jane Spong, a pioneer of fostering engagement between football clubs and their locality, stepped down at a celebration lunch in the Geoff Chapple Lounge at the Laithwaite Community Stadium on Tuesday.

TEAM EFFORT – Jane with coaches from the community and academy sections of the club that she worked alongside,

Guests included Brian Lee MBE, the president of the National League, in which Woking play, the Mayor of Woking, Cllr Liam Lyons, and representatives of the Surrey FA.

Mr Lee paid tribute to Jane’s work, noting how the presence of the mayor and Cllr Colin Kemp demonstrated a partnership with the local authority not seen in many places.

“It was a lovely occasion,” Jane said. “And wonderful that so many people came along. I even had a text from our MP Jonathan Lord, who was away and couldn’t attend, thanking us for our efforts.

COMMUNITY SPIRIT – Jane with the Mayor of Woking, Cllr Liam Lyons, at the lunch marking her retirement from the football club’s community work

“It’s great when someone like that notices what you’re doing.”

Jane became involved with the club’s community work after leaving a job in London and being approached to get involved, at first on a part-time basis.

“We brought together the community and academy sides, not least because we felt we could access funds better that way.

“I can remember when the Football Conference Trust was being launched around 2012 to help make a difference in the community. We were pacesetters even then, and I was asked to make a speech at the House of Commons.

“It was quite an occasion, to be in a place I never thought I’d get into. Representatives of all the clubs, various authorities, MPs, all coming up to me and shaking my hand.

“If I had to point to one thing more than any other in my time here, it would be that moment.

“My belief has always been the same, that we may be opponents on the pitch but when it comes to community we’re all on the same side. If any club has asked for help or advice we’ve always given it freely, that’s how it should be.

Jane with former striker Darran Hay

 “Our experience is start small, start slowly and take it steady. Don’t overstretch yourself, it’s no good if you start a project but it’s not sustainable.

“The worst thing is for the community to get involved then be told six months later it’s all over.”

Jane is proud of having built a loyal and long-serving team, many of whom have been with her since the early days.  

“I’ve tried to run it as a family, but Mum’s gone now though,” she said. “I’ve had to cut the apron strings.”

“The time was right. I lost my husband this year and I’ve had some health issues, I needed some time to myself, to get away from the day-to-day pressures.

“I’ll be going back as a trustee in the new year, though, and I’m sure I’ll still be involved in some way.

“And I’ll still be a fan. After 50 years, it runs through you, doesn’t it?”

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