WHEN A local pub in Bately underwent a major refurbishment this summer, it didn’t just provide the community with a new place to enjoy a few drinks and traditional pub food; it also launched Fox and Hounds Batley Football Club.
After the £330,000 revamp of the Fox and Hounds, located in Hanging Heaton, was completed and the pub had been successfully relaunched, it was decided by the management that it would be a good idea to have a football team associated with the establishment.
That’s when they called on regular Ryan Rylah to help gather a team of players and launch the team in the Spen Valley and District First Division.
Ryan had been involved in football at a local, grassroots level before, so after calling on a few friends from previous clubs, he was soon able to start building a squad for their maiden campaign in Saturday league football.
“Acquiring players was actually the easiest thing,” recalled club secretary and manager Ryan. “We got a team together in no time at all really; it took three weeks from the manager telling me he wanted a team to me having a squad of players ready to go.
“Obviously, from having been involved in football before, I knew a few players who were already playing in Saturday leagues. I’ve got some really good players to be honest, there’s some good talent in this squad, young talent as well.”
The connection with the Fox and Hounds pub has had its advantages, with the local helping to fund the football club through its formative months. And Ryan was also quick to praise the local community, who have been full of support for the club since the summer.
“It’s a good local area, Hanging Heaton, everybody helps each other out, so aspects like sponsorship weren’t a problem at all,” he explained. “It was one of the first things to be sorted actually, before we had even picked a kit or bought the footballs, we had sponsorship.
“Because of the Fox and Hounds pub and a lot of people going in there, people are aware of the club and are happy to support us. We’ve got local businesses, such as Leeds Pallets and Springwell Farm as our sponsors.
“They paid for all of our kit and then the Fox and Hounds pub paid for all the nets, balls, bibs and things like that.”
Finance is one of the biggest problems facing teams playing in grassroots leagues, with many people underestimating just how much investment it takes to not only launch, but maintain, a local football club.
“With pitch fees and fines for yellow and red cards, it’s hard,” explained Ryan.
“People don’t realise just how hard it is to set a team up. In all fairness, I didn’t know how much it cost to set a team up before this!
“But when you’ve got kit costing around £500, footballs costing £300 and pitch fees on top of that, it’s hard work.
“It didn’t cost me anything personally, but it’s taken between £1,500-£2000 to set this team up.”
With the club still just a few months old, it would be understandable if the team were struggling in the league, but the Fox and Hounds have certainly caught some of their opponents unaware; they have three wins in their opening nine Spen Valley Division One games, including an eye-catching 11-3 victory over Cleckheaton Sporting.
Their potential was further highlighted in the Spen Valley Trophy recently, where they narrowly lost 7-6 to Premier Division side Vision.
“The season’s been hit and miss so far,” said Ryan. “I think we’ve got one of the strongest squads in the league, but we’ve only ever played around 10 or so games as a team. And when you’re playing teams who have been together for five or six years, it really shows.
“This is basically a trial season for us, with us being such a new team.
“But we’ve got some really good individual talent, I’ve got probably one of the best strikers in the league in Paul Beaumont, and with more time they’ll start getting used to each other as a team.”
Not only are Fox and Hounds Batley a young club, they also have one of the youngest squads in the league as well.
“We have quite a few young players here, I’ve got Jack Rawson, who’s 17, and Tynan Neagle who’s just 16,” noted Ryan.
“There’s also a lad at left-back called Josh Milnes, and he’s best mates with Leeds United’s Chris Dawson.
“But I think it shows how well we can play though, when we go against a top side like Vision and we lose by only one goal.
“There’s some real potential in this squad, we just need to give it time.”
There are some areas of the club that Ryan is looking to improve though, especially off the pitch.
“I’m doing quite a lot on my own right now; I’m league secretary as well as manager. The problem is, all the lads are here because of me, so I don’t want to get someone in who they might dislike. It needs to be the right person.”
On the whole, Fox and Hounds have enjoyed a pretty successful existence so far. But Ryan is already looking to make some changes in the future.
“We’re in the Spen Valley league right now but next season we’re going to move to the Wakefield League,” Ryan added.
“I’m not staying in the Spen Valley League, I just don’t think it’s run very well.
“The long-term plan is to settle down in the Wakefield league and progress through their divisions the best we possibly can.”
And wherever they happen to play in the future, Ryan is confident that his tight-knit squad will continue to succeed.
“Happily, there’s no arguing in this team, which is a problem for many clubs at this level,” he proclaimed.
“When you get a bunch a lads together who don’t know each other, there’s going to be a few arguments in there.
“But because I put this team together myself and they’re all here for me, no-one argues, there’s no falling out. We all go back to the pub after and have a good laugh. We’re all good mates and it’s working well.”