Pascal Chimbonda has signed for Washington FC, in one of the most random transfers in living memory.
While nobody starts playing football as a youngster without feeling an affinity for the sport, modern footballers are often portrayed as being selfish, money-hungry, and nomadic. Occasionally this conception will be dispelled by a former pro signing up to a lower league side with the love of the game fuelling their intent. Julio Arca turned out for Willow Pond FC in recent times, and went on to become South Shields FC’s star man, leading them to Wembley.
That being said, it was hugely surprising to read that former Sunderland defender Pascal Chimbonda has linked up with Washington FC, a Northern League Division One side (the ninth tier of English football) that plays its home fixtures at Nissan Sports and Leisure Complex. While Arca has lived in the North East since moving to Sunderland in 2,000, making his involvement with local sides somewhat understandable, Chimbonda was last spotted in 2014 turning out for French Ligue 2 side AC Arles-Avignon.
Chimbonda played for Sunderland in the 2008-09 season, making 13 appearances for the Lads in a rocky campaign that began under the guidance of Roy Keane and ended with Ricky Sbragia. Sunderland finished 16th in the end, sealing their place in the Premier League with a 90th minute goal against Middlesbrough, who would be relegated along with Newcastle. Chimbonda was a relatively solid player, but Sbragia took the decision to sell him after Tottenham Hotspur offered to resign the defender for the same fee we initially laid out for him. He never regathered his form at Spurs, and the deal turned out to be a good one for Sunderland.
To find out a little bit more about Chimbonda’s move to Northern League One, we spoke to James Clark, manager of Washington FC and an experienced figure in the lower leagues. James, with his assistant and star centre back Michael Laws, have only been in charge at WFC since February this year but have already seen the club teeter around administration, be rejuvenated by a fans’ trust and sign a former Premier League star. Here's what James had to say about his time at Washington FC so far:
- So, James, this must have been a busy couple of days for you! How did this signing come about?
The club has been working on this signing for around six weeks all in all. We shared a mutual friend, and I heard he was coming back to the North East to live with his partner. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to get an experienced player through the door and I'm delighted that it has worked out after a few complications with International clearance and the likes.
While he's a couple of years older than when he was at Sunderland, he’s still very hungry to play football. He actually impressed us with how good his fitness level is - even when he wasn't playing he was still training three times a week and he hasn't lost a step in terms of skill either. His quality shines through and you can see why he played at the top level.
Since having him in training, he's been pestering us all the time, asking ‘can I play’. He's no more entitled to a place than anyone else in the team though. That's the way it is in our dressing room - you have to work for it.
- Washington FC nearly wound up at the end of last season. This must have been a huge year for the club?
Definitely. I joined the club last year and the remit was to keep them in the league, which I managed to do. Unfortunately, there was that cloud hanging over our head, that the board couldn’t keep it afloat and we would slip into administration.
AFC Washington were able to take over, though, and have rejuvenated the club. They've put a lot of time into both the junior section and the first team, and it has really transformed into a family club thanks to that hard work. This signing is only going to benefit that, as we now have something to show for all of our hard work. It's a really exciting time.
- What is the biggest stumbling block of running a community-driven football club?
Having the infrastructure and support to keep things ticking over. As the manager I don’t see half of what is going on, but the amount of effort that is put in behind the scenes, largely on a voluntary basis, is phenomenal.
Having those people around allows me to focus on what I know - training the side, coaching them a certain way, picking the team on a Saturday, and putting on a performance for the fans in attendance.
Pascal Chimbonda made his debut for Washington FC on Saturday 7 October, starting at right back in a 2-1 defeat at home to Penrith. The day may not have ended how Washington would have liked, but their attendance was more than double that of their fixture v Billingham just a month previous, which is perhaps the most important result for a football club on the grow.
We'd like to thank James for taking the time to speak to us during his match preparations, and wish Washington FC, as well as their new signing Pascal Chimbonda, the best of luck for the rest of the season.