In 2009 Paul Edwards became the test case for Top Corner, the largest local amateur league operator in the capital, as they looked to rapidly expand their business through franchising.
While keeping core leagues in the centre of London they began selling off zones outside the centre. Mr. Edwards was the first individual to buy into the franchise, doing so in Islington.
Almost 700 teams play in Top Corner’s leagues across 33 venues in London.
With its proximity to the city, Islington is considered one of the company’s most prized and lucrative areas. Six leagues are currently managed by Top Corner in the borough: football in Finsbury Park, two football leagues on Holloway Road, another on Caledonian Road and football and netball at Highbury and Islington.
Much of this can be attributed to Mr Edwards’s work. As Managing Director of Top Corner in Islington, he bought a franchise from the company encompassing all of Islington’s leagues in October 2009.
He explained: “The company got to the stage where it was a lot easier for someone to grow the business if they’ve got their own interest. Now I have the incentive. I’d worked as a league manager for five years and it was much easier for them to take the risk with someone who was working in-house.”
Today the most important aspect of Mr. Edwards’s job is retention of customers, and this has as much to do with giving out goal scorer of the season awards, awarding trophies and making sure that leagues are set up fairly as Top Corner’s professed ethos of friendliness.
But with competition from Power League, which has a stranglehold on the local football league market outside the M25, Top Corner is constantly looking to grow. Most recently this has meant the company has diversified to cater to netball and even dodgeball players who want to form leagues.
The company is always keen for new school sports centres or leisure complexes being opened or renovated, looking out for new venues.
Mr Edwards cites St Mary Magdalene School on Liverpool Road as a prime example of how a good location can pay dividends.
“It’s just around the corner from one of our other venues and because it’s so close to Highbury and Islington station it’s easy to get to. If we have a location close to where people are working in the City the leagues fill quite easily.”
Most important to Mr Edwards and Top Corner is knowing what sports players want. He said: “Because I play myself, I get London Transport to the venue and get my friends to come along for a game.
“You know if you believe in the product and if you do you will throw quite a lot of money at it because you know once you’ve got people there and they enjoy it too, over the course of a season you’ll pay off all the money you’ve put in.”