Volunteer-run Middleton Park Ladies are doing their bit for the development and expansion of women’s football in the Leeds area on the back of the sport’s international success. Daisy Young reports.
Since their formation in 2007, Middleton Park Ladies have prided themselves in being run solely by volunteers who have a passion for the game whilst also developing players of both genders along the way.
The side was set up ahead of the 2007/08 season by the club committee after a group of local mums wanted to set up a football team to keep active but also for it to remain enjoyable.
To this day, the team continues to be made up of local girls from the Leeds area or those who attend one of the area’s many universities.
Dawn Kellett is the current player/manager of this ladies team having been at the club since the start of the 2013/14 season.
She was so engrossed by what the club had to offer that she began coaching the side, something which she has previous experience with, having managed Huddersfield Ladies reserves a few years ago.
She was subsequently appointed as the club’s female football development officer in May 2014 by the club’s committee and now has the challenge of developing the young girls and women at the club – something she relishes.
Kellett explained: “It is a local squad and I can definitely see potential for the future.
“We have great training and match facilities alongside committed managers who always aim to get the best out of every individual no matter what their ability.”
In recent years, the team have jumped between Divisions Two and Three of the West Riding County Women’s League.
After finishing fourth in Division Three last season with 22 points alongside a successful cup run that saw the side reach the quarter-finals of the Shield Cup, hopes were high for the current campaign.
Yet Park have not had such an enjoyable season in 2014-15.
They managed to beat Norristhorpe home and away earlier on in the season, giving them six points.
Yet Norristhorpe then dropped out of the league which meant that Middleton then had the points they had gained off them taken away.
The team have failed to win any other league games this season and therefore the side now currently sit rock-bottom of the league with no points and a goal difference of minus 35.
It is perhaps unfair for Middleton to be sitting on zero points given these results but their misfortune hasn’t dampened Kellett’s spirits.
The player/manager insisted: “We have played some great football so far this season, beating Norristhorpe both home and away.
“But unfortunately we have struggled for consistency week in, week out and we haven’t been able to field the same team twice in a row for one reason or another.”
Park’s biggest defeat of this season came in November when they were humbled 9-1 by Bradford City A at home, whilst the tightest game they have played in so far has been the 5-6 loss to Thornes which came back at the start of December.
Middleton’s next game is against Thornes, who are currently fifth on nine points, and they will be looking to bounce back from a 5-0 defeat to second-placed Battyeford Belles last time out.
Thornes were victorious in the corresponding fixture earlier in the season but Middleton put in an improved performance on Sunday when beaten 5-3 at home to Dewsbury Rangers despite having only 10 players available to play.
An end-to-end game saw Dewsbury come out on top overall, but Kellett’s side can take some positives out of their performance and could be confident of getting at least a share of the points against Thornes.
And such an outcome would spark big celebrations at Middleton Leisure Centre which is home for Kellett’s side, alongside their male and junior counterparts following a £1.4 million re-vamp to upgrade the facilities ahead of the 2013/2014 season.
They had previously played their home games at Clapgate Primary School before making the move back to the Leisure Centre.
The Leisure Centre was re-developed after being granted funding by the Football Foundation and the FA so the area can continue to develop players and give members of the community access to top-quality sporting facilities.
It now has state-of-the-art facilities including a full-size 3G pitch where the team trains on a Wednesday evening, and it’s where the club envisages their long-term future to be as Middleton look to beat the drop back to the West Riding County Womens League Division Three.
The club is completely voluntarily run and therefore funded through players’ subs and membership, not to mention a lot of fundraising.
Middleton therefore hold regular fundraising events including an annual Community Gala held in June each year which aims to raise funds for all of the teams by inviting clubs from around the area to play in a friendly tournament at Middleton.
And it’s not difficult to see that a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes in order to run this tight-knit club.
Park will also be thrilled that women’s football has risen rapidly in the past few years with more and more females participating in the sport – a fact that was highlighted only recently when the England Women’s International side played in front of a record 45,000-plus crowd at Wembley Stadium in a friendly against Germany. The increase in participation and popularity has been noticed at Middleton with them being able to set up a reserve team a few years ago – something that they aim to do again in the future.
“Ideally I would like to have a first and second team with the firsts playing in Division Two and a second side plying their trade in Division Three,” said Kellett.
That view is shared by club secretary Wayne Dixon who added: “As a committee we would like the team to progress to the national structure in the future with plans to develop a junior girls’ section already underway which will enable girls to progress to our seniors.”
“We always look for more players to help improve the squad and we would never turn a player away.”
There is, after all, always a positive feeling around the club, where everyone is working for each other and trying to push the club forward all the time. That’s epitomised by Kellett when asked to sum up her side:
“Surprising, challenging and sociable,” she says, to sum up a team bottom of their division, yet very much on the up.