Team Of The Week: Smawthorne FC dreaming of an end to nightmare season

Team of the week: Smawthorne FC of the Castleford Sunday League (JG1001/95e). Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Team of the week: Smawthorne FC of the Castleford Sunday League (JG1001/95e). Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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FOLLOWING 24 losses from 24 games, goalkeeper Darren Crewe readily admits this season has been “a nightmare” for depleted Smawthorne FC.

With a league goal difference of minus 99, the custodian admits he’s been “rather busy between the sticks” – when he wasn’t sidelined with a fractured neck that is. It’s little wonder Crewe admits his team have been close to folding. Yet for club stalwart Crewe, calling it a day is easier said than done.

Smawthorne prop up the Castleford Sunday League following a clean sweep of defeats which have seen 123 goals leaked. Throw in the club’s cup adventures this term and the tally rockets to 169 with Halton Moor having put 27 past them in October’s County Cup tie. FC Pontefract also hit Crewe’s men for an answered double in September’s Oakworth Open Cup clash while FC Byram Munich smashed in seven during last month’s First Divisional Cup clash. Crewe admits there are times when his men wonder why they bother.

But there are two big reasons for soldiering on with both the club’s history and even recent success responsible for keeping Crewe and company going. It was only this time last year that Smawthorne were at the opposite end of the Division One table – top – before teams playing catch-up on games in hand eventually overhauled them. Smawthorne eventually finished seventh but a summer exodus of players to a reformed AFC Pontefract Ex-Servicemens Club means it is a different ball game 12 months on. Now they have one remaining league game to play – at home to Pontefract & Castleford United – and Crewe admits the chances of gaining a first point of the season are “probably none.” Yet the passionate ‘keeper is clinging on to the hope of a brighter future with Crewe hoping next season could be kinder given the possibility of a new influx of players. Having been around since the club’s early days as Mighty Mexborough, Crewe is hugely reluctant to see his team fold. It is the reason the shotstopper was back in goal just 10 games after fracturing his neck last summer though at 42 years of age he knows he should have known better. But therein lies the club passion at Smawthorne and if they are still going then so is their ’keeper. Should time be called on the club’s future then the same will be true of the shotstopper’s playing career though Crewe deeply hopes his men are not destined for a sad demise.

“It was only last season that we were top of the league and if we had to call it a day, it would be pretty sad,” admitted warehouse worker Crewe. “I’ve been there from the start and it really would be sad to see the team fold. But if the club goes I’ll retire definitely – especially at my age. This season has been a nightmare but we lost half a team at the start of the season and we have just been playing kids who have never played league football before. It’s been a real struggle, we’ve started without having 11 men at times and it’s the worst season I’ve ever seen. We’ve been close to jacking it in but, to be fair to the lads, they have stuck it out and we are still together. We just want to keep it going but unless we get a new influx of players it might be over.”

That would be a sad day for Smawthorne, today managed by centre-back player manager Gareth Edwards, who was recruited from Cutsyke and replaced outgoing boss Craig Massey. Massey, a plumber, called it a day due to work commitments earlier this season. But at least Smawthorne have a history in overcoming adversity. The team began eight years ago as the Mighty Mexborough under Liam Marshall and Lee Hambleton. Crewe was part of the original set up. The closure of the Mexborough pub then forced the team to relocate their headquarters to the Airedale Hotel and with that move came a name change to Airedale Athletic. And soon Crewe found himself in charge of first-team affairs with the ’keeper then taking his men’s headquarters to The Loft pub, while maintaining the Airedale Athletic tag. Crewe then left the club to join Ladybalk in the Premier with Massey taking the managerial reins of Airedale Athletic who were moved to the Smawthorne Hotel and became Smawthorne FC. And Crewe was quick to return when finding himself out of the Ladybalk picture with Smawthorne in need of a ’keeper. That SOS return has been repeated this season with Crewe so concerned by the goals being leaked during this season’s enforced absence that he made an incredibly speedy return.

“I must have missed about eight to 10 games because I fractured my neck,” said Crewe, whose wife Helen helps with secretarial duties.

“We put a young kid in goal and we were getting 10, 12, 14 put past us. I was going to retire to be honest but the results were so shocking that I had to come back just to help out – I’ve been here from the start after all. The week before I came back we lost 27-1 to Halton Moor in the Cup, but to be honest I was absolutely gutted at having to miss it even though I knew we were going to get pummelled. This season we have drawn three of the best teams about in the cups – FC Ponte, Ferrybridge Progressive and Halton Moor and it couldn’t have been any worse really!”

Neither could this season as a whole though Smawthorne and company at least take their weekly setbacks in good grace. Crewe, who lives locally in Long Acre, admitted: “People take the mick all the time but at the same time everyone says well done for keeping going. It’s commendable to the young ones for turning up every week even though they are getting beat because it would be easy for them to just walk away.”

And in any case, life is always colourful when Crewe is about, or Swampy as he is nicknamed. Mohican-clad Crewe explained: “I got nicknamed Swampy years ago and it’s stuck since and so has my mohawk which is green at the moment. I’ve had it 20 years plus – it’s been pink, purple and blue but mainly green.”

It remains to be seen how much longer the colourful character will be keeping out goals in the Castleford Sunday League – or trying to – and how much longer his team lives on for.

But even Smawthorne and Crewe can take solace from the fact that things could be worse. Lovell Park, who are bottom of the Leeds Combination League, have lost 17 out of 17 and have a goal difference of minus 175.

Upon learning there was a team even worse than his, Crewe laughed: “Flipping heck. Do they need a ’keeper?!”

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