FROM THE most humble of beginnings, Middleton Park now boast links with Manchester City and ply their trade at a new £1.5million home.
A few teenagers playing kick-about has become a club boasting three senior teams, a women’s side and a busy junior set up.
Not bad going on your 10th anniversary yet with the West Yorkshire League beckoning, club creator Wayne Dixon says the club’s first decade is only just the start.
Dixon was just 21 when he and his cousin Roy Reid were quizzed by a group of teenagers playing football at Middleton Leisure Centre in 2004. Dixon and Reid did not know the youngsters whatsoever but as a group there was a common passion for the beautiful game and subsequently the start of Middleton Park’s beginnings. Dixon and Reid – who were also spending a lazy afternoon kicking a football – were asked by the local group of teenagers about the prospect of setting up a Middleton Park football side. And keen to help the area in which he grew up in, there was no hesitation in Dixon agreeing to oblige.
The early days were tough with Dixon saying the club’s rapid progress would not have been possible without club chairman Garry Watson – a neighbour and friend of Dixon’s parents Caroline and George, who now live in Great Yarmouth. Back when they lived in Middleton, Dixon admits kit and documents were stored in their garden shed and even today Middleton Park are not exactly awash with cash. Despite a large set-up which costs £30,000 a year to run, not one member of the football club is paid. Yet Middleton Park are certainly paying their way as a rapidly growing football force with 31-year-old Dixon beaming with pride and huge ambition ten years in.
“To be honest, I’d like the club to be bigger!” said manager and secretary Dixon.
“I get a bit frustrated when it doesn’t pan out how I want it to sometimes. “But I do look back and think, ‘God, this is really good’ but I’m one of these people that always wants more and I am too ambitious for my own good sometimes!
“I was only 21 when it all started and I had a day off work along with my cousin. We said we’d go kick a football on the field so we pretty much did that and there were these kids playing. One of them said ‘why don’t you have a kick around with us’ so we did and one of them just asked if we could get a team going as we were older than them. That’s how it went really! We didn’t know them – they were just off the same estate as us. Middleton is quite a deprived area and there’s not a lot for kids to do. It’s easy for them to go down the wrong route in Middleton – quite easily – and I was brought up on the estate myself so I know what it’s like. For me, I was just setting it up for the kids on my estate and we needed something for them to focus on. Not only that but I ended up becoming interested in working with young people which led to me becoming a youth worker in the area for seven years.”
These days Dixon is an engage support worker who helps unemployed people move into work. It’s somewhat different to back in 2004 when he was a forklift truck driver for a warehouse company. Dixon’s cousin Reid was – and still is a scaffolder – and the next building-block as far as Middleton Park is concerned is the jump to the West Yorkshire League.
That’s a sizeable jump for a club whose first team are fifth in Division Two of the Yorkshire Amateur League - just three years on from being in the Leeds Red Triangle League. But Dixon is confident his ambitious outfit have got what it takes.
“I think we have got the players to do it and we’ve got the juniors as well so we’re successful at bringing the kids through,” said Dixon, whose 30-year-old wife Sarah, a graphic designer, helped set up the club’s women’s teams.
“We’ve met up with the West Yorkshire League already and they are really impressed with us so I think we have got a really good chance. You have to start at the bottom but our ambition is to get to semi-pro football and maybe even further. I’d love our men’s team to become a form of Social Enterprise and hopefully attract enough sponsorship to allow all local kids the chance to represent our club for free. That’s the dream.”
Certainly, based on the progress made in the last decade, Middleton Park have every right to shoot for the stars. And it is through a chance meeting with Manchester City development coach Graham Amery that the club now has a connection with the stars. Amery took a Manchester City soccer school to the club last October with plans afoot to repeat the trick in 2014.
And while their new home does not quite match the Etihad, Dixon – the eldest of four siblings – is chuffed with life back at the newly regenerated Middleton Park Leisure Centre to where his club have in effect come back home. The club began playing at the facility in its old guise in 2004 but then moved to Clapgate Primary School where some of the club’s team still play from. Cranmore & Raylands Community Centre – adjacent to the school – currently provides the team’s social headquarters. But it is at the revamped Middleton Park Leisure Centre where the club’s long-term future is envisaged with Dixon also having half an eye on developing a relationship with the neighbouring rugby club.
“It’s funny actually because we moved away from Middleton Park a few years but it just happened that the council were developing that site,” said Dixon, formerly of Middleton Park High and Middleton Primary. “It’s quite by chance that we have ended up back where we first started and now we have nearly everything that we could have wanted. The pitches are amazing – like bowling greens – and now we are just talking to the rugby club next door to see how we can link in with them a bit more because they have got a bar and things like that for the adult players.
“That will give us a bit more of a base as well.”
And there would no doubt be plenty to celebrate at a club where the conveyor belt of youth starts at 18 months old. Dixon’s son Isaac will not turn two until next March but already he is on the Middleton Park road to success. Dixon laughed: “Isaac is playing already as we have tots football which is for 18 months to five. He’s coming along nicely as well!”