Mention of the town itself might prompt some familiarity, but while part of the furniture in non-league, its football club has never really found a way into the wider limelight. Buxton FC, though, is a name you might finally start to hear more of in the not-too-distant future.
At the Northern Premier Division outfit, some increasingly notable names have been lining up at Silverlands in recent times. Following the likes of one-time Premier League defender Matt Kilgallon last season, this summer’s arrivals included ex-Derby County forward Jamie Ward, part of every Northern Ireland game at Euro 2016 and appearing in the Championship as recently as three years ago. Defender Ben Turner, meanwhile, was a regular for Cardiff City in their debut Premier League campaign, having also memorably scored the dramatic extra-time equaliser against Liverpool in the 2012 League Cup final.
Hopes of a drop of champagne football in this mineral water town have been heightened, and at the forefront of the push for progression is Bucks chairman David Hopkins. He began as a sponsor of the club around a decade ago.
“I started going to one or two games, and realised what I felt there wasn’t at the club, so it was a sloping grass pitch, there was only a first team, no Under-19s/21s. At the time, I was chairing the local junior football league, we took lads from Under-8s to Under-16s, and I was aware that there was quite a gap to where these lads could go.
“I felt Buxton had an opportunity to bridge some of that gap. I approached the board and asked ‘why aren’t you doing these things?’ and I suppose it’s time and money, so I said ‘okay, we’ll get involved and help that’, and that’s when we started the 19s and the 21s.”
Among his business interests, Hopkins is CEO of the family company, builders’ and plumbers’ merchants M Markovitz Ltd, based in nearby Tideswell, and with a list of depots now spanning much of the UK. Football is more than just a casual interest, however, and his involvement at Buxton eventually accelerated to the chairmanship.
“I’d done my time at the club hopefully earning the respect of people, and I think they understood I was there for the right reasons, I’d got a real passion for it, and maybe it was time for me to step up and be chairman. I felt like we could do a lot more.
“Having done the grassroots and the community side of it, COVID’s got in the way a little bit, but now we want to take the first team on a journey and see where we can go.”
Football is undoubtedly a thread that runs through this part of the Peak District. In Derbyshire but on the border with Cheshire, Buxton is closely connected culturally to Greater Manchester, with Staffordshire and even South Yorkshire also relatively nearby.
The result is a town of greatly-varied footballing allegiances, predominantly Manchester United, but with the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Stoke City and others (including Arsenal) also popular. The core of dedicated Bucks fans aside, Buxton have traditionally, and understandably, been the second team of choice.
Given the drive being demonstrated by the club, does the chairman see an opening to make Silverlands the regular matchday choice for a lot more locals?
“I’m a lifelong Man United fan, I’ve got a table at Old Trafford, but if Buxton are playing and Man United are playing, I’m at Buxton. I think you can be a Buxton fan and a Man United fan, or a City fan etc. and that’s the sort of thing we say to the youngsters.
“In terms of it being the game they go to first and foremost, I think naturally, the better we do, the more family and community engagement we’re doing as a club, I think we’re making our own lifelong supporters, if you like. All those sorts of things massively help, and we don’t shout about it, but we are ambitious as a club.
“No disrespect to the Northern Premier League at all, it’s a great league, some lovely clubs in it, great people, but we would like to move up the leagues a bit. How far we can go, we don’t know, but other people have shown that you can do it; Harrogate’s maybe an extreme example, they’ve made it to the Football League, but you can do it.
“If we were successful this season in going up, we think we’ve put a squad together that could do quite well in the league above, and we’ve done that by design. We’re not just looking at the here and now, we’re looking medium to long-term at the club as well, which is why we’re doing all the other things, in terms of the welfare of the players, the analysis, nutrition and so on.
“We’ve spent time looking at clubs who are ultimately where we want to go, and they’re all doing that, all the time. If we want to get there and sustain that, then we need to get that into our DNA as well.”
It is a club also long overdue an FA Cup run, and all the attention and wonderment that brings. Reaching the third round in the early-1950s, Buxton last made the final qualifying round in 2010/11 – the furthest they have been in modern times.
Gary Hayward’s side, currently five points off the top of the Northern Premier Division, with a game in hand on leaders South Shields, host Rushall Olympic this Saturday in the second qualifying round.
“We’re optimistic but the nature of the FA Cup is its unpredictability," says Hopkins. "We got Sherwood (Colliery) away in the last round, on paper a very winnable game, and we could have very easily gone out."
“I don’t think it’s sensible to look further than the next round. Yeah, all things being equal, you do think at some point it’s going to be our turn, but you’ve got to earn that turn.
“Marine didn’t do it by accident last year, they earned their way to the third round. We don’t know, but we’ll take the club and the fans as far as we can on the journey in that competition.
“Coming out of COVID, and with all the suffering everyone’s had, there’s never been a better time in my memory to give the town something to be really proud about.”
The aforementioned Harrogate Town, and Sutton United, are two clubs in the past year to have swapped non-league for EFL, which meant having to part with their 3G pitches. As a club based somewhere that can resemble a snow globe while the sun loungers are out a few miles away, the installation of a 4G pitch in the past 3-4 years has been especially welcome for Buxton.
Silverlands has gone from a venue only open for a match day, or a birthday party and the odd charity game, to much more of a centrepiece, and a hive of activity.
“If you go back not many years, in theatre terms, that arena was dark 98 per cent of the time. We’ve transformed that now, so it’s open from 9 o’clock in the morning until 8/9 o’clock at night, every day of the week; the whole community is there using our facilities.
“Some people you speak to say ‘oh, yeah, it must be a game-changer, it’s all about your first team knowing your game’s going to be on’ – that’s such a small part of it. It is a benefit, but it’s a five or ten per cent benefit, against all the other stuff.
“I think it’s such a solid foundation that it’s been built on now, and the community stuff we’ve done is massive. The 4G pitch, the academy, and the general surroundings, we’ve genuinely tried to improve the environment for the spectators and the players.
“If you see what we’ve done with the dressing rooms, away and home, we’ve invested quite heavily in that to create an environment where everyone should be very comfortable. We’re moving things forward on every level, and I think that helps create Buxton fans.
“Whether we’re people’s first team or second team, as long as Buxton’s somewhere in that answer, it’s good enough for me at the moment.”
A look behind the curtain at a club who have started to knock on the door of the EFL was recently afforded to them.
“We had a little trip, Solihull Moors invited us down for the day a couple of weeks ago, and they’re an ambitious National League side. That was both reassuring and scary.
“It was reassuring in the fact that we’re doing all the right things, but it was also scary to see the level that they’re doing it to, compared to the level we are at the moment.”
The club’s academy, established in partnership with Buxton and Leek College, and Derby University, is into its third year. The coaching personnel includes former Chelsea and Leicester City defender Frank Sinclair.
Away from football, Hopkins also co-owns family restaurant The Merchant’s Yard in Tideswell, as well as the renowned Steelworks Studios in Sheffield with Eliot Kennedy, the songwriter/producer whose career has included working with the likes of the Spice Girls, Take That and Bryan Adams. Time will tell if Buxton FC’s own slice of the big time is on its way, but being content to simply tread water seems far from the thoughts, regardless.
The chairman pays tribute to the continuing efforts of those behind the scenes, and be it an upgrade in league standing, or that long-awaited dose of cup-run-fuelled enchantment, he wants to keep playing his part in shining a light on club and town alike.
“I’ve had a reasonable degree of success in business, so I’m thankfully in a place to be able to do it. Our heart of our company is still in Derbyshire, so we run our charity #ChallengeDerbyshire, supporting end-of-life care, and we also pile a lot into the football club, because we can, and we feel it’s nice to be able to give a bit back into the community where it’s still the heartland of our business.
“At Buxton, you’ll get to see football in a lovely environment, you might not expect it but you’ll see a very high standard of football, and you might just be supporting a club going on quite an exciting journey.”
There is certainly a generation or two who wouldn’t mind having something other than ‘where the water comes from’ or ‘near Manchester’ to throw in when asked where they come from...
Interview/article by @chris_brookes