University friends who changed name of a team to get a free lunch are aiming high. Lee Sobot and Laurence Contreras report.
No changing rooms, no training sessions, no subs, no funds and lots of hangovers: Sunday Football in its truest form is a bunch of lads that get up early on a cold morning to play fantastically one week – and terrible the next.
This story couldn’t be truer when you look at Royal Park FC.
Originally formed as Grimthorpe Athletic, the current Leeds Combination League Division Three side were quickly renamed Royal Park.
They had humble beginnings as friends Sam Duffy, Ross Donaldson, Pete Jameson and Matt Holt, who attended Leeds University, wanted to put together a team for the intra-mural league.
Grimthorpe Athletic were born in 2007, named after the street the core members of the squad lived on.
They spent their first season as the whipping boys of the league, conceding goals by the dozen some weeks.
Ex-player and winger Ross Donaldson recalls their debut.
“The first ever game we played when me and Duffy started we had players who had literally never kicked a football before,” he said.
“We got beat 21-0 and I remember wondering what have I got myself into here?”
The following season new faces were recruited and a new club name was coined.
In an attempt to represent the boys’ favourite post-match pub and get some free lunch in-return they named themselves Royal Park FC, after the establishment in the heart of the student community at Hyde Park in Leeds.
Then, in 2008, the club recruited some new faces from outside the Leeds University system.
“We got some lads in who were undefeated at all the five-a-side tournaments put on at Goals that year,” explained Donaldson.
“We ended up having a front four of those guys, letting them interchange as attacking midfielders. They were untouchable some weeks.”
It was a total contrast to the previous season with the club finishing third in the league.
Of those four players one, Loz Contreras, still remains at the club.
The club then moved to the Leeds Sunday League and had back-to-back fifth-placed finishes in the Raftery Second Division, before a dismal 2012-2013 season, which involved some giant-killing performances in the cup competitions but poor form in the league.
The latter campaign ended embarrassingly with the side fielding an ineligible player, Sam Duffy, which resulted in a hefty fine and a club suspension.
Problems with the FA continued into pre-season and their woes were increased as they lost key players, including the creative central midfielder Guy Hughes, defender and captain Joe Sayers, and the effective winger Donaldson.
Manager Shaun Maynard had a difficult summer, but with the help of centre-back Ben Bentley and new captain Dipesh Patel, they were able to find the finances to keep the club moving forward.
New players joined and players were moved about to new positions.
Manager Maynard said: “We got battered in our pre-season matches in the summer and it didn’t look like we would have a club for the start of this season.”
“We had no midfielders, so I had to convert our top-goal scorer Loz Contreras to be a box-to-box midfielder, which has worked wonders thankfully.”
He added: “We were in trouble with the FA as we had no money for the fees owed and we didn’t even have a league to play in.”
But the club are still going strong with Royal Park having a 50 per cent win record.
They are yet to draw a game all season in a win-loss ratio of mirror images.
Captain Dipesh Patel said: “It’s been a strange season for us, we have put in some fantastic performances at home, but really struggled against lesser teams away. We hammered one of the better teams in our league, Leodis, 4-1, and also Pendas Arms 6-1 in the cup, who are in the league above us, but then lost games to the teams around us like Travellers and Bedford Arms.”
And Patel is confident the club made the right choice in switching to the Leeds Combination League.
“Moving to leagues suits us much better,” he said. “Teams focus more on getting the ball down and playing as opposed to the physical and overly-aggressive approach many teams had in the Leeds Sunday League.”
The captain is realistic about the club’s short-term goals, insisting that getting the team to gel is paramount after the turbulence from last season echoed through to the start the current campaign. He said: “We’ve got a lot of new players in the first XI, some of whom have already become key to us winning matches.”
He added: “We will gain a lot more consistency the more we play together, which at the moment is just Sundays, as we have no midweek training sessions.”
Manager Maynard has big plans for the future, with a much larger squad and dreams of eventually running a football academy.
He said: “I want to get the club to a level where we have a first and second team, playing in the Saturday and Sunday League.”
He added: “Ultimately I would like to have an academy for young kids to come to.
“It would somewhere for them to get away from any problems they may have in their lives, have a good time and learn how to play football.”
Unfortunately the club fell victim to racial abuse earlier this season – one of their players was subjected to monkey chants by a substitute from one of their league rivals.
“I was lost for words, I couldn’t believe that in 2013 I was witnessing such behaviour” said Maynard.
He added: “We are team of black, Asian and white players; so for somebody to pick one player out is unbelievable”.
The team put the incident behind them and went on to comfortably win their next home game.
They now look to have a strong finish in the league and build into next season.
ROYAL PARK FACTFILE
Formed: 2007 (As Grimthope Athletic).
Renamed: 2008 (Royal Park FC).
2007-10: Leeds Universities Intra-Mural League.
2010-13: Leeds Sunday Raftery Second Division.
2013-14: Leeds Combination Third Division .
CHAIRMAN: Shaun Maynard.
MANAGER: Shaun Maynard.
Secretary: Ben Bentley.
Captain: Dipesh Patel.
Home: Elida Gibbs Rec Ground (Stanmore).
Roll of Honour: Semi-finalists, Hope Leeds United Members Trophy (2013); semi-finalists, The Presidents Trophy (2013); third place Leeds Universties Intra-mural League (2009); fifth place, Raftery Second Division (2011 & 2012).