Old Modernians field six teams each weekend and are hoping the firsts can reach the West Yorkshire top flight. Lee Sobot reports.
OLD Modernians FC have had plenty to celebrate since their 1906 formation.
With six teams going into battle, cup triumphs and promotions have been plentiful. Yet any 2014 celebrations would break new ground as the Cookridge-based side close in on the West Yorkshire Premier.
Formed from Lawnswood School, formerly Leeds Modern, Old Modernians send out six teams on a Saturday afternoon with five of them in the Yorkshire Amateur League – four of them playing at Tinshill Top with the first team and reserves ‘at home’ at Old Modernians Sports Club on Cookridge Lane. The Yorkshire Amateur League has played home to the club’s various sides since their formation. But that all changed with a new venture into the West Yorkshire League in 2011 and, three years on, builder Rob Turner’s side are closing in on the Premier. Ironically, Turner, who took over last season, was also recruited from the Yorkshire Amateur League after the folding of top flight outfit Bainbridge. Now he has his eyes on the West Yorkshire top flight, not that Modernians are there yet and far from it; after all, the Cookridge outfit still sit two places outside the automatic promotion places and even in the event of a top-two finish, promotion is not assured. Chapel Allerton-based first team secretary Chris Roy knows work would be needed on the Old Modernians Sports Club’s facilities to pass West Yorkshire League standards. But in an impressive 108-year history, Old Modernians have set standards of their own with Roy admitting his club are proud of their history, however 2014 unfolds. Former player Roy beamed: “I honestly can’t remember exactly what year we were formed but we’ve had the centenary and that must have been 10 years ago and the history we have got is a great thing. It was 1987 when I moved to Leeds so I have been there 27 years and in all that time there has only been maybe two seasons where we didn’t have six teams. To keep that going for that long is an amazing thing, really.
“The club is over 100 years old and it started because Lawnswood School – a long time ago – that used to be called Leeds Modern. That’s where Modernians came from – it was a former pupils’ association and it was basically pupils who went to that team. Now they have got six football teams, three rugby teams, three cricket teams and a lot of junior stuff going on. It’s a massive club, really.
“This season hasn’t been as productive and successful as previous years as in the last few years there has always been a team getting promoted or a cup win. The best we can hope for now this season is for the first team to finish second and then there’s the possibility of us getting promoted but even that is dependent on the facilities and there’s not much time left.”
At 50 years of age, it would be natural to assume there was little time left in former left- winger Roy’s playing career. But compared to 52-year-old club chairman Tony Mullin and evergreen 59-year-old sixth term servant Steve Brown, Roy is a spring chicken. Roy – who moved to Leeds from Scarborough back in 1987 – says the club has a lot to owe Mullin for, as well as former chairman Clive Smythe and director of football Mick Birch – an alarm engineer by trade. The club’s former manager, Birch now keeps the whole six-team operation ticking – for players young and old.
“Tony is still playing now and he’s 52 I think now,” said Roy, who has two daughters, Jenny, aged 23 and Grace, 13.
“Tony is as fit as a fiddle and he’s another one of the guys who I played with for a long time. He’s heavily involved with all the funding and he’s done a fantastic job. Tony now plays for the fourth team and me and him – up until two years ago – we played in the same team – the fourth team – but then I had a real serious eye problem and I have not been able to play for two years. But I’m not retiring, I’m coming back, and we’ll play in the veterans team which will be the bottom team. That’s the plan but it doesn’t always work out that way!
“Either way, we can’t beat Steve Brown who is 59 and amazing and still playing for the sixth team. He was a top player and I played with him in the first team. It’s a great club for that and there’s some great people who aren’t playing now but who are putting a lot of work in behind the scenes when going back 10 or 15 years ago there wasn’t that. A lot of it is also down to Clive Smythe who until five years ago was the club chairman. He led a bit of a revolution and completely turned the club around as we were struggling. He got everything organised and now there is a lot of energy.”
Energy that could result in promotion to the West Yorkshire Premier – a division effectively just one tier below the bottom rung of semi-pro football in the NCE League. But Roy is unwilling to entertain talk of the NCE League or even the West Yorkshire Premier, stressing that while his club remain ambitious they are also happy with life as they are. Asked about the possibility of the West Yorkshire Premier or even NCE League, Roy laughed: “I’m not going to get into that and it’s one step at a time!
“The way we see it is that we are close to the Premier League and we have played cup games against teams from the Premier League and we have matched them in a lot of cases. The one thing that is lacking is that little bit of experience but we are getting there. We just want to establish ourselves and improve year on year and see where that takes us. And even if we do finish in the top two then there are standards that you have to meet in terms of facilities such as showers for each team as opposed to a joint effort. Money has got to be spent and there’s a lot going on regards to that – the Old Modernians Association own that land and there has been a lot of talk about expanding into a field next to it and so on, but you are talking a lot of money to try and do it as it’s in Cookridge and it’s obviously a very expensive area to be.
“Either way, Moving to the West Yorkshire League has been excellent. Everything about it has been great and about half a dozen of us who used to play in the first team wish we’d done it a long time ago!”