Sharlston Welfare are navigating their way to the top

Pictured back row (left to right) Mick Roberts, Mark Webb, Lloyd Rowett, Ash Mackereth, Leon Leake, Craig Millard (Manager), Alex Eastwood, Rob Bedford, John Blackburn, Joe Colley, Kev Lockett and Andrew Ipson (Tippy). Front row (left to right) Lee Shepherd, lloyd Leake, Adam Perry, Danny Raybould, Callum Maxwell, Paul Ambler (Captain), Joss Cambridge, and Dean Ambler.
Pictured back row (left to right) Mick Roberts, Mark Webb, Lloyd Rowett, Ash Mackereth, Leon Leake, Craig Millard (Manager), Alex Eastwood, Rob Bedford, John Blackburn, Joe Colley, Kev Lockett and Andrew Ipson (Tippy). Front row (left to right) Lee Shepherd, lloyd Leake, Adam Perry, Danny Raybould, Callum Maxwell, Paul Ambler (Captain), Joss Cambridge, and Dean Ambler.
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Far from keeping their heads above water, new Sharlston Welfare are, in fact, riding the crest of a wave. Lee Sobot reports.

Establishing a Sunday League football club is far from plain sailing.

A name needs to be decided, facilities need to be found, sponsorship needs to be secured and players need to be attracted.

What should follow is a couple of years of the team finding their feet on the field, winning a few games here and taking a few hidings there.

New Sharlston Welfare AFC have ignored what should happen and instead embarked on a remarkable run of success in their formative years.

Since their inaugural 2011/12 season, Welfare have won promotion every year as they have scaled the Wakefield and District Sunday League.

Of course they have encountered troubles on the way, but the trajectory of the upward curve they have found themselves on has been nothing short of astonishing.

Club secretary and assistant manager Andrew Ipson recalls how, despite sitting in second place in the league, the club was in real danger of folding only halfway through its first season.

Motivation can come in many forms, and in this instance manager Craig Millard couldn’t bare to let a recent slog of DIY go to waste.

Ipson says: “This is really where the story starts as Craig Millard, along with some fellow players, had renovated the changing rooms at Kibble playing fields, and decided too much effort and work had gone in to let the club fold.

“Following a hastily convened general meeting with all players and staff, Craig was voted in as manager, with myself as club secretary and treasurer.”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of the club, the pair’s passion and drive dragged Welfare to a second place finishing, guaranteeing the first of their three successive promotions.

In typical Welfare fashion, the following season was not without its problems off the field either.

The changing rooms, which so much time had gone into restoring, were heavily vandalised and ultimately had to be declared derelict.

Ipson says: “The club and committee, which had grown at the same speed as the footballing success, had to hastily find new headquarters and facilities, whilst wishing to retain the Kibble fortress as our pitch.

“This started the most ambitious part of the club’s history: the joining of New Sharlston Welfare AFC with Featherstone Lions RLFC, with the long-term aim of both parties playing under the umbrella of Featherstone Lions Community Sports Club.

“The football and rugby clubs now have ambitious plans to create two new football pitches at the Millpond Stadium.

“The changing rooms and social club on site are second to none already.

“In time we hope to boast some of the best fully contained facilities in the area.”

Somewhat typically, while Millard and Ipson were busy attending exhaustive meetings with club representatives over the following 18 months, they were also busy using their 20 years of experience on the Sunday league scene to recruit the players who helped them win their second promotion in only two years as a club.

Pundits often assert that contenders are only pretenders unless they can win at Stoke on a Tuesday night, and Welfare faced their own version of this cliché as they needed a midweek win at Scisset to secure the title.

The manager’s hard work and enthusiasm paid off as players turned up in droves to help clinch promotion with a resounding 4-1 success.

Competing in their third different division in three years, Millard continued to increase the numbers and improve his squad in order to raise the level of competition between the players.

Having reached their second consecutive cup semi-final, this time in the Seymour Memorial Trophy, Welfare were pipped to the title by rivals Wrenthorpe Rangers on the final day, but had done enough throughout the year to guarantee promotion to the top division, Premiership One.

It perhaps shows the mentality Millard has instilled throughout the club that despite achieving such success, there is still a hint of dissatisfaction that they weren’t able to go up as champions.

“Craig’s mantra is to always strive to improve, never give up and always play your best football.

“A huge measure of the way the club has grown and flourished is that second place and promotion seemed slightly disappointing,” says Ipson.

Entering the unknown territory of the top tier, Premiership One, this year the team witnessed first hand the level of performance they need to strive for as they were beaten 4-2 at King George in their opening game of the league campaign.

Whilst losing is a somewhat unfamiliar feeling for the players and staff, they managed to bounce back and win their first three points at this level in a 4-3 thriller against visitors Alverthorpe.

Leon Leake, Lloyd Leake and Dean Ambler had given them a 3-1 half-time lead, however they required Ambler to bury a late free kick to guarantee the win and settle any early-season nerves.

The club has come a long way since Millard and Ipson took charge, both on and off the field, and they are now able to call upon the help of many others.

Ipson says: “The committee and backroom staff has also grown.

“Each member is invaluable to the club and brings specific skills, none more than main club sponsor and groundsman Mark Webb, of Mark Webb Landscapes.

“His tireless, often seemingly impossible ways of making a game playable have won praise from opposition and referees alike, whilst helping provide much continuity in the fixture list.

“In response to the support the club receive, the Welfare committee decided to give something back to the community and in December 2013 we raised £300 from a Christmas raffle, which we donated to The Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract.

“This year the club is actively supporting the Macmillan Nurses charity, wearing their logos on our training tops.

“There will be more ups and downs but the manager committee, and players still have a few more apple carts to upset yet.”

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