Team of the Week: Well-schooled YMCA tackle league test

Westbrook YMCA, front left to right, Ross McCormick, Tom Chadwick, Tom Benbow, Andy Purcell, Jarrid Robson, Josh Browne.'Back, James Acornley, Tom Harte, Craig Jones, captain Ian Craig, Brent Stojanovick,'James Watson, Billy McGrath, coach Colin Pearson.
Westbrook YMCA, front left to right, Ross McCormick, Tom Chadwick, Tom Benbow, Andy Purcell, Jarrid Robson, Josh Browne.'Back, James Acornley, Tom Harte, Craig Jones, captain Ian Craig, Brent Stojanovick,'James Watson, Billy McGrath, coach Colin Pearson.
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Westbrook YMCA might not immediately sound like a seat of learning, but there is more than a strand of the scholarly around this particular club.

The core of their team comes from nearby Leeds Beckett and Trinity universities. Their president and former manager Barry Foster is a retired school master.

As if that wasn’t enough, captain Ian Craig teaches in Wakefield.

When it comes to University Challenge, Westbrook would likely wipe the floor with the rest of the West Riding County Amateur League division one; unfortunately, this holds unwanted implications for the availability of their smart squad.

Chairman Steve Waite explained: “We’ve got a great affinity with the various teaching institutions of the area.

“The league made the decision to play a lot of games in the early months of the season in case they hit weather trouble, which, of course, has been proven absolutely right.

“The problem for us is that, with a lot of university-based players, they don’t come back from their summer vacations until the end of September.

“By then, we’ve had to play eight or nine games with what is basically a second team!

“If we’d won them we would be in a significantly stronger position than we are now.”

Westbrook sit second-bottom of the West Riding’s second tier, having won just once in their 12 outings so far – a stunning 8-2 victory at Wakefield City.

Westbrook, who play at Lawnswood YMCA’s sports ground, have seen their home form suffer in particular, having lost all five of their games on home soil.

They have also slipped out of both cup competitions they were entered in to, namely the Leeds Challenge Cup and the West Riding’s regional trophy.

Steve saw their struggles as symptomatic of the renewed strength of their competition.

“The league took out three of the weaker teams and brought in three teams that are really good enough to play in the top division. The inclusion of Honley, Newsome and Holmfirth Town has also been a factor in our poor start to the season.”

The club’s recent history has been somewhat chequered.

They spent two years in the Harrogate & District League from 2003, and their financial problems reached such a stage in 2012 that they took the decision to merge with Horsforth St Mary’s and play in the West Yorkshire Premier Division.

They had some success in the Wharfedale Cup that year, but at the end of the campaign it is understood that St Mary’s issued an ultimatum that the team’s name would no longer represent Westbrook in any way.

Westbrook left them to it.

Returning to the West Riding, they were left without a new manager in the middle of the 2013/14 season when the long-term incumbent stepped down.

“We advertised for a new manager through the County FA,” said Steve.

“We came across a young man working at Huddersfield Ladies looking for a senior team to get involved with.

“His name was Kyle O’Reilly.

“He had a great immediate impact, but had to leave us halfway through last season due to being promoted at Huddersfield; I’m sure that was the direction he wanted to go in.”

Colin Pearson, whose family have connections with the club having played for them, took the reins halfway through last season.

It’s not been plain sailing since then, according to Steve.

“The early days with Colin were a bit difficult;. He does have his own way of doing things.

“He hasn’t really managed before at a senior level. He mentioned having some involvement with junior football, but it’s different when you’re getting money out of adults to play.

“He’s got to make them keen trainers. Most of these kids have no work commitments, unlike when we played.

“It’s a different bunch of values, a completely different climate to when I was involved as a player and later a manager.

Steve, a retired pilot of 20 years, managed the club in the late 1980s when they set up a mean collection of silverware.

Steve has picked up 17 trophies, whether as champions or runners up, during his involvement with Westbrook YMCA. During his tenure they won the Wharfedale Cup, the Leeds Combination Premier, the Sanford Cup and the Red Triangle League.

This was the heyday for a club formed in the Westbrook Lane area of Horsforth in 1951.

“One of the founding members, a parent of one of the early players, was a rep’ for a big oil company and he funded the team for years,” Steve said.

“Before a cup final, he used to put us up in a hotel the night before. We played a game of bingo in the morning and then played the game!

“That’s all a long way off now.”

These days, Westbrook’s ambitions are far more modest. They have faced a battle to get their facilities in order, which took them all the way to the behemoth that is the Football Association.

Steve added: “The YMCA built a new gymnasium which infringed on our pitch, which we’ve now had to move halfway up the hill.

“This has meant we’ve had to replace the fencing around the ground as well, and we looked to the County FA and eventually the FA to fund that. The money’s there but you have to jump through so many hoops to get it.

“They say it needs to be proven to enhance the future of the club and that you need to be in the running for promotion to get the money. I told them that it was the worst season we’ve had in 20 years. We finished fifth last season and there’s no reason why we can’t aim to do the same this time. I’m quite confident we can.

“We didn’t get the funding, though. When we separate the shower area, we’ll get a level 7 grading which will make us eligible for promotion. We just need to get a team to match!”

Of his skipper Steve added: “Ian’s been with us for a while. He started this season poorly, but we’ve moved him back up front and he’s back on track.”

Striker Jarid Robson has turned heads this term, scoring seven goals in just seven appearances thus far.

“Jarid is a Cambridge lad studying at Trinity University,” said Steve. “He is what you might call slightly built, but has lots of skill and is tough to play against.

“We’ll lose him at the end of the season; he’s going back home, unless he meets a Leeds girl!”

Despite upheaval in their ranks, the club remains on a relatively strong footing financially and looks with security at other sides that struggle to put a team out in a difficult climate for 11-a-side football.

TEAM STATS

Name: Westbrook YMCA.

Ground: Lawnswood YMCA.

Manager: Colin Pearson.

Chairman: Steve Waite.

President: Barry Foster.

Captain: Ian Craig.

High point: Albeit fleeting, their 2012 flirtation with Horsforth St Mary’s was good while it lasted.

Low point: Losing their long-term manager in the middle of the 2013/14 season was a big blow.

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