the Heavy Woollen League lost two former powerhouses at the turn of this decade.
New Scarborough were the first to fold, closely followed by Babes In The Wood under the new name of Tingley WMC. But two years on, both of them are back – only under one roof as Woodkirk Valley Sunday. The new look outfit are currently three divisions below where they predecessors were but, as manager Gareth Huxall admits, don’t expect them to stay there.
Huxall’s side are the latest addition to a blossoming Woodkirk Valley FC umbrella that now features two senior sides and nine junior teams. And while it is Dave Swithenbank’s Saturday side in the Yorkshire Amateur League that are the club’s flag-bearers, there is no denying that Huxall’s revolutionary Sunday team are grabbing this season’s headlines. Huxall’s men have won every game they have played in this term with Woodkirk chasing a marvellous treble in the Heavy Woollen County Trophy, the Brook Butler Cup and Division Two of the Heavy Woollen League. Yet it is a ‘return’ to the Premier that Huxall has in mind with Woodkirk Valley Sunday in fact a joining of forces of two former top-flight teams in Babes In The Wood and New Scarborough. Following both clubs’ demise, Huxall, who played for both, was saddened to see players from both teams spread out across West Yorkshire and believed a joining of former forces could create a new Heavy Woollen League force. The re-opening of the New Scarborough pub and Woodkirk Valley’s desire to form a Sunday side provided the perfect opportunity. The rest – as they say – is history – as too soon will be Woodkirk Valley’s days in Division Two of the Heavy Woollen.
Knowing just what was in the newly formed Woodkirk Valley locker, Huxall had asked league officials if his men could start straight away in the Heavy Woollen Premier. The manager was not shocked by the league’s response – but nor has he been surprised by the subsequent conclusion. Huxall explained: “Babes In The Wood and New Scarborough both used to come mid-table in the top division and we said to the league can we start in the Premier? I explained that I was pulling together two teams that were essentially Premier Division teams but they couldn’t just put us in the top division and they put is in Division Two.
“We kind of warned them that we might upset a few people by putting a load of goals past teams but that’s what’s happened anyway. It’s been good and an enjoyable first season!
“When the two Sunday teams folded a couple of years ago, a lot of the local players were sort of here, there and everywhere with nowhere to call home really.
“Everyone was just playing in different areas but at the start of the season the New Scarborough pub in Tingley where I used to play from re-opened. The new owners wanted a team to represent them and at the same time Woodkirk Valley were chatting with me about how they wanted to introduce a Sunday team to add to the number of teams they have including a Saturday team and quite a big junior set up. It just made perfect sense. The club had the facilities close to home and they kindly allowed us to use their home pitch and facilities and as a result these two teams were combined and merged into one team.
“It’s a bit strange really as the two pubs are only about half a mile apart and we used to play in the same division. Because of the location, the rivalry was massive. But we looked at the beginning of the season in terms of would it work if we came together and it’s worked really well – as the results have shown. It just made sense to bring both groups together.”
Huxall – who lives in Morley – has been just the man to bring those groups together and even at just 30 years of age the IT salesman has experience of managing in the County Amateur League. A junior career that started at Glen Juniors ultimately took him to Tingley Athletic who he once managed.
“Some of the lads that played in that team are now playing for me on a Sunday so there’s some decent players in the mix,” admitted Huxall.
“And Dave Swithenbank who is the manager of our Saturday team has also been fantastic. He’s said if any players from my team are interested in the Saturday team then we’ll get them signed on and vice versa.”
But also key to the cause have been the New Scarborough Inn’s new owners Karen and John Rezaei who were front-runners in generating the idea of reforming a new Sunday side. The pub now sponsor the side and while Woodkirk Valley FC’s headquarters are at Woodkirk Sports Club, the Sunday outfit’s social headquarters are at the New Scarborough Inn. On every match day this year they have been celebrating and Huxall hopes that theme can continue – both in their search for a 2013-14 treble and in a long-term bid to return to the Premier.
A good guide to long-term prospects will come when the Spinkwell Lane outfit play their Brook Butler Cup semi-final – against Premier Division big guns Thornhill Lees. But that competition has already provided one marker when Woodkirk hosted Premier Division leaders Birkenshaw in November’s tie. Huxall’s men were ‘surprise’ 3-2 winners and both a 2013-14 treble and a swift return to the Premier are very much envisaged.
Bramley-born Huxall, whose brother Gavin plays for the team, added: “People like Towngate, Thornhill Lees and the teams in that top division – we will obviously get there at some point and we are relishing the prospect of competing with them. We actually got drawn against Birkenshaw who are top of the Premier Division earlier this season and we beat them 3-2 so that was pleasing. We have got the league and two cup semi-finals to focus on and we play one of the semis this weekend against Savile Arms who are a divisions above us. Then we’ve got Thornhill Lees in the other one which is the big one.
“We are taking it one game at a time but ultimately we would love to have a 100 per cent season.
“That would be fantastic and to go all season and win every game – not many people can say that regardless of what division they are in.”