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In each issue, we celebrate a player who deserves to have their grassroots career up in lights by inducting them into The Grassroots Hall Of Fame. For Issue 6, it’s Chris Speirs, previously of Atholl 1965.

Atholl 1965 has a peculiar grassroots history, with the original Atholl side born from student accommodation at the University of St Andrews, based in the old Atholl Hotel. Over thirty years later, a particularly successful side were off and out, scattered into the big wide world.

Chris Speirs helped re-launch the side in London twenty years ago. He went on to be their record goalscorer with over 100 goals before retiring in 2015, while laying the foundations for players to go from grassroots to the top of the game. But more important than that, he was able to create a club that had a huge impact on its players, tying them together for the best part of two decades and transcending football. 

Jon, aka The Monk, was one such player:

“I came to the club in 2009 looking for a Saturday team. I honestly think that if Chris had not taken a gamble on me as a player, I would have been so homesick that I would have left London the same year. During twenty years in the game, Chris Speirs is by a country mile the best manager I played for and with. He was the positive role model that I needed at a difficult time in my life. I needed guidance, patience and understanding and that sums up Chris.

“They are still my fondest memories in the game – Regents Park Hub, Hackney Marshes, Victoria Park and finals at Hanwell Town! Chris was not just a player-manager but a role model who I can call a friend.

I met my wife due to these guys and have three wonderkids as well as forming bonds with players that span countries and continents. They are a band of brothers and without them my life would have been very different, I am sure of it.”

Ciaran was Captain of Chris’ side:

“Speirsy might not have been the stealthiest, but he was a real box fox. A nightmare to mark with that ass of his, he brought others into play and scored all sorts of goals, mostly from inside the six-yard box, it must be said! 

“All jokes aside, the big man’s goals kept us competitive for many a season. A real Atholl legend and an honour to play alongside.”

Dennis set up Atholl 1965 with Chris:

“I set up Atholl 1965, but what I had in organisational skills I lacked in charisma. That’s where Chris came in, who took over the running of the club after the first season. He was a joy to play for – so likeable – a genuine nice guy. You never wanted to let him down. He was so disappointed when you said you couldn’t play, it almost broke your heart to tell him. The team wanted to play for him and not let him down.”


Tell us about when you fell in love with football?

I have loved football all my life but it wasn’t until I moved to London in 2000 and set up the Atholl 1965 FC with a few friends (special note to Dennis Johnson who was the driving force in the early years) that my love really started. Playing football with close mates and the social aspect on top made it something I could not wait for after each Saturday waking up on a Sunday. 

Tell us about your grassroots career, any highlights?

The highlight for me is the fact that the club we set up in 2001 celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year and is still going strong. I cannot imagine how many different players have turned out for Atholl 1965 FC over the years, but we have had such a diverse group – from people we have bumped into in the park, players who have played professional football in Germany, players from every continent, to players from all ages and a player who made his debut in the Premier League last year. We won our first trophy in 2003 with an epic 3-2 win against a French team called the Mavericks who were a lovely bunch of French lads who we always got on with. We also won the first division in 2006-2007 to get promotion to the top league. On a personal note, the highlight was getting to 100 goals in my final season in London in 2010-2011 – although admittedly I was doing the counting! As I say though the biggest highlight is the fact the club is still going and has forged so many long-standing friendships – we still meet up each year to play the current team in a friendly end of season match, for instance!

What do you love about grassroots football?

For me it is the fact that every weekend a bunch of guys get together, try their hardest on the pitch then have a good laugh off the pitch whether we win or we lose. As long as everyone did their best that was the main thing.

What does it mean to be inducted into The Grassroots Hall of Fame?

It is an honour to be asked although I hope it does not mark the end of my football career! I’m still playing fives! Grassroots is the life blood of the game and without it there would be no football. It brings so much joy to so many thousands of men, women and children every weekend and it is so important that it continues to be recognised and given the support from the relevant authorities to ensure the facilities and organisations are such that it continues to beat strong!

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