Gary Hart looked back on his first month with Leisure Leagues and said: “getting back into football has been the best thing I’ve done…..”
One of Leisure Leagues’ newest partners, Gary only came for training late last month after taking on the Hastings area, but he has hit the ground running: “The league on a Sunday is already full and I am looking at extending it at the halfway point,” he said. “Plus I am looking at some other nights too.”
This transformation for football on the Sussex Coast is made all the more remarkable, given that Gary confesses he’d been out of touch with the game for decades. All that changed, though when the father of five sold one of his businesses, to free up some more time to spend with his family.
“Yes,” he recalls, that was a couple of years ago, and it was brilliant.” It was around this time that Gary took up the chance to coach a couple of youth teams in the town. He approached this with typical vigour and has just passed his Level Two Coaching Badges.
This led him on to Leisure Leagues, as he explains: “I was looking around for ways to make some money out of football and I came across the Leisure Leagues Franchise around Christmas time.”
Then, of course, came lockdown, which put his football plans on hold. And there were other, pressing concerns, but as ever it seems, the challenges were overcome. The entrepreneur switched his sweet business to an online one after his shop was forced to close: “It was tough. We bought it from my wife’s brother a few years ago, and luckily it has done well since we moved online.”
This ability to spot an opportunity saw him rekindle his interest in Leisure Leagues as we came out of lockdown, signing the license at our Head Office in July. The new Hastings Sunday competition started just a few, short weeks later, a fact that Gary puts down to the desperation of people for normality again: “It’s been easy to attract the teams,” he reasons. “This lockdown has meant people have missed sport and what we found in Hastings was as soon as we put the leagues up on the website, teams were joining.”
Sam Jones, Leisure Leagues Sales Manager welcomed Gary and said: “It’s a brilliant start and Gary is already looking at major expansion. He is the proof of the opportunities that exist at the moment.”
Gary has big plans too, not just looking at other nights, but the first ever youth leagues that Leisure Leagues have run too. “I know all the managers and coaches through the teams I am in charge of” he explains, and it would be fantastic to get something sorted for the youth down here.”
That’s for the future, however. For now, Gary, who has a long history in the seaside town with his sweet shops and his amusement arcades, is merely glad to be giving something back to the place he calls home. “Absolutely, it’s been great to have such a strong community focus, and to be involved in football.”
The Sunday league is thriving, and Gary is in no doubt as to why: “A good referee,” he states firmly. “Everything comes from having a good referee, and it makes for a league that people are keen to play in.”
More than that, though, the 30 years he spent away from the game means he relishes every moment: “I supported Liverpool as a boy,” he smiles. “You could say that me falling back in love with football has mirrored them. After all, we didn’t win the league for 30 years! But getting back into football and this Leisure Leagues venture has been absolutely brilliant – and the journey is only just beginning.”
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