Evesham United’s friendly against League Two Cheltenham Town on Saturday will herald the start of a new relationship between the neighbouring clubs.
Robins Under-18 coach Pete Haynes is also acting as assistant to new Evesham manager Neil Hunt.
Striker Callum Ebanks is set to join the Southern League Division One South club on loan to build experience during the second year of his scholarship at Cheltenham and he is unlikely to be the only one.
Hunt was born and bred in Evesham, but spent several years on the books of Cheltenham before injury curtailed his career.
The 49-year-old has stepped up from running United’s youth team to take on the first team job following the departure of Carl Abbott in March.
His aims include bringing more home-grown players through the system, with a recently installed Under-23s side an attempt to bridge the gap between youth and senior football.
“Considering the catchment area and facilities we have, the club has not produced enough players to play for Evesham United,” Hunt said.
“I was going to run the Under-23 side, but when Carl left I was asked to take over until the end of the season.
“I was then offered the first team job and I don’t think I would have if it wasn’t for COVID because the budget has been cut like it will at most clubs.
“The pressure has always been to get promoted here, but I don’t feel I have that, which gives us the chance to use three or four local players and go a bit younger, but with some experience too.”
Haynes has taken all of Evesham’s pre-season training sessions so far, which have taken place on a newly-built floodlit 3G pitch adjoining the club’s Jubilee Stadium home.
“Pete’s coaching has been fantastic and taken us to a different level,” Hunt said.
“I am from the old school of running and running, but our sessions now have all been all ball work and the players have been loving it.”
Pete Sollis has returned to Evesham as physio, while the Under-23 side will be run by John Oliver and Nick Clayton.
Among the new faces in the playing squad this summer are goalkeeper Lewis Clayton, who has joined from Cirencester Town.
He is joined by former Bishop’s Cleeve captain Adam Mace,the returning Lorcan Sheehan and fellow midfielder Jack Horrell, along with forward Aaron Basford, who was released by Cheltenham this summer.
They also have experience in the form of Matt Williams, Ryan Paddock, Calvin Dinsley, Jamie Lucas and Ben Hayes.
Badsey-based Jordan Lymn, who spent one year as a professional at Cheltenham, has also re-signed, while former Cinderford Town forward Josh Hunt is expected to join this week.
“We don’t want players travelling from too far afield and all of the lads are close enough,” Hunt said.
“I am as proud as punch to manage the club, growing up just around the corner.
“We have an opportunity to build a foundation for the younger generation coming through and hopefully get us to the next level of football, but if that takes two or three years, so be it.
“I think we’ll be there or thereabouts, but there is no great pressure from the club because we’ll have six players under 20 and more local lads, which is what we want to keep building on.”
Hunt, who runs his own double glazing business, signed for Cheltenham in 1985.
He was invited for trial by John Herbert, a teacher at Evesham High School who was also on the Robins’ board of directors.
He played in the same youth team as the likes of Sean Whelan and Keith Knight and they were managed by Geoff Medcroft.
A ball-playing midfielder, Hunt progressed to the fringes of the first team under John Murphy and his successor Jim Barron.
“I remember introducing Jim to a striker from Evesham by the name of Simon Brain, who he came and signed,” Hunt said.
“I was training with the likes of Mark Buckland, Steve Crouch, Chris Burns, Mark Boyland and Kevin Willetts, which was fantastic. Steve Brooks is probably the one that stands out though because he was different quality week-in, week-out.
“I broke my leg twice in my teens and had five knee operations so I never fulfilled what I wanted to achieve as a player, but I became a manager at 28.”
After spells playing for Tuffley Rovers, Moreton Town, Malvern Town, Pershore Town and Badsey Rangers, Hunt retired and became manager of Littleton, who had led to a promotion.
He then switched to Malvern Town as assistant manager,taking over in the top job a year later and leading them to two promotions in three seasons.
His next role was assistant to Paul West at Evesham before doing some scouting work for Worcester City boss Andy Preece.
From there he enjoyed a spell as manager of Pershore and then Stourport Swifts in the Southern League before taking on the youth team job back at Evesham.
His son Joseph is now following in his dad’s footsteps by progressing through the youth ranks at Cheltenham.
Right-back Joseph is just starting the first year of his scholarship and he has trained with the first team already during pre-season.
“He’s very different to me as a player, but has a fantastic attitude he played against Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup last season at 15, which was a great experience,” dad Neil said.
“He works hard and I am hoping he gets some minutes on Saturday.
“The plan then is for us to have two or three loanees from Cheltenham to improve us and give them experience.”
Evesham’s first behind-closed-doors friendly was against Redditch United on Tuesday evening.
After hosting Cheltenham they have further warm-up games against Littleton, Pershore, Tuffley Rovers, Mark Yates’ Stourbridge and Malvern Town.
“We are due to start in the FA Cup on September 12, but I don’t think the season can start unless we have supporters coming into grounds,” Hunt said.