You could be forgiven for not realising it, but the City of London has its own football club which dates back to the 1800s and is among the leading lights of the amateur game.
One reason you might have missed it is because red tape has seen them exiled from the Square Mile for two decades and forced to play home games in Dulwich Village instead.
But that is about to change. Next season the Honourable Artillery Company’s teams are due to return to their historic base of Armoury House, just a long throw-in away from Finsbury Square.
“We are very excited about playing at Armoury House again,” Charles Randall, president of the HAC football club, tells City A.M. “It’s as though the City’s football team is coming back to its natural home.”
While the HAC itself is the second oldest regiment in the world, predated only by the Vatican Swiss Guard, and now part of the Army Reserve, its football players are no longer drawn from the military.
Instead they are almost exclusively City workers from some of the biggest firms in banking and financial services.
Star striker Tom Coulter, who scored 17 times in 19 appearances last season, and full-back Ben Harper work for Barclays; midfielders Lewis Treacy, Tom Farrar, Joe Weston and Benji Thompson have jobs at Rothschild, Linklaters, Deloitte and RBS respectively; and outgoing captain Dave Holmes is at Merril Lynch.
Grimsby Town manager Michael Jolley is their most distinguished old boy, having played for – and cut his coaching teeth with – HAC while working as a fixed income trader in the City around the turn of the century.
BBC presenter Chris Hollins – the son of former Chelsea midfielder and manager John – also played for HAC having, like Jolley, previously excelled at university level.
Arsenal and England centre-forward turned broadcaster and writer Alan Smith, meanwhile, is patron of the HAC’s two teams. “There is no chance of a playing comeback, however much we might need him,” jokes Randall, 70.
Rich sporting tradition
The HAC first XI plays in the Premier Division of the Amateur Football Combination, the London and Home Counties outpost of the top tier of the non-professional game in the UK where the standard is comparable to some semi-professional sides.
They have been runners-up on three occasions since the league was formed 15 years ago and have two cup wins in the last decade.
Last season they finished fourth of 10 teams in a division won by Old Hamptonians, who count former Manchester United defender – and son of ex-Old Trafford chief executive David – Oliver Gill, now also at Deloitte, among their number.
The second XI have climbed to just one rung below their colleagues, having achieved promotion to Senior Division One last term.
Several of the squad had spells in the academies of Football League clubs – Holmes at Nottingham Forest, Treacy at Blackburn and new skipper Alex Roberts, who works in sports marketing for Pentland Brands, at Coventry – while Coulter and Roberts were among four HAC players to be selected for the Combination representative XI last year.
The teams are continuing a rich and long-standing tradition at the HAC, which also boasts cricket and rugby teams dating from the 18th and 19th century respectively.
The five acres of Artillery Green have been used for sports such as archery since about 1660, while a member of the regiment, Cowper Jackson, is credited with helping to codify the laws of association football in 1863.
More recently, the HAC’s rarefied grounds have hosted occasional pre-season rugby matches for Premiership champions Saracens.
New players wanted
Football has been banished from the HAC for almost 20 years, however, after construction work on an underground car park and the erection of a winter marquee left insufficient space for a pitch that met minimum size requirements.
Some lateral thinking and minor landscaping by groundsman Bob Mills have made room for a football field again, paving the way for the teams’ long-awaited return this autumn.
Mills has taken the precaution of installing a high stop net behind the goal at the Bunhill Road end, though, after a window in his flat was smashed by one wayward shot.
While these are exciting times for Randall, like many of his equivalents in the professional game he now finds himself preoccupied with the summer transfer market.
The relocation away from London of forwards Tommy Riddell and Dayo Olufemi, who scored 22 in 16 for the second XI last term, has left the HAC short of forward talent and on the lookout for new signings.
“We are excited about moving back to the pitch in front of Armoury House but the loss of two of the club’s best three strikers is a major worry,” adds Randall, who encourages interested players to get in touch via the HAC’s website.
“As president, my aim is that the players enjoy their football – as I did about a million years ago – and improve individually. The results matter less, but there is a lot of talent in the club.
“The players are well aware the HAC sports badge means something special. The current group are a credit to the company.
“They set high standards with style. That is what the HAC establishment has been about for hundreds of years.”