Ambitious Sky Bet have only been formed for 18 months but are backing themselves to make an impact on the Sunday scene. Lee Sobot reports.
THEY say it matters more when there’s money on it; and quite often, there is.
Barely a week goes by without those associated with Sky Bet FC having a pre-match wager.
But despite eight wins out of nine, utility player Thomas Jukes insists Division One of the Wharfedale Triangle League is no one-horse race.
Now in their second season since switching from six-a-side to Sunday league football, Sky Bet FC are cashing in following the pre-season switch to the Wharfedale Triangle League.
Managed by former Ossett Town player turned horse racing trader Joe Cundall, Sky Bet’s maiden campaign came in Division Two of the powerful Leeds Combination League but a respectable first season was soured by Whitkirk Wanderers who pipped the bookies’ team in two cup finals and also won the divisional championship to boot.
Jukes, 25, said his men failed to have the rub of the green, literally, with the former assistant manager saying his team’s passing style of football was not suited to first an often waterlogged Gotts Park in Armley or Cross Flatts Park thereafter. But it’s been all change for the current campaign and in Sky Bet’s eyes a change for the better into the Wharfedale Triangle League, and operating from Weetwood Playing Fields due to a new partnership with the University Of Leeds. With no Whitkirk to worry about and a pristine playing surface to boast of, Sky Bet are leading the chasing pack a merry dance and often have plenty to Toast on Sunday afternoons.
The team are sponsored by swanky city centre bar Toast where the Sky Bet players have been spending their Sunday afternoons since the beginning of last season. And after a baptism of fire in the Leeds Combination League, Jukes admits his men are relishing life in the second tier of the Wharfedale Triangle League, with all roads seemingly pointing towards elevation to the top flight next term.
Recalling how the Sky Bet success story all began, Leeds graduate Jukes told the YEP: “Myself and Joe Cundall played five-a-side at work and got to know each other through that.
“We decided that we had a good bunch of players at our work and we had talked on and off for a few months about it - about starting a team.
“It came to crunch time about a year and a half ago and in a kind of mad dash we got a team together and I think the reason we ended up in the Combination League is they were one of the last to close their registration.
“We had a squad of maybe 30 people to start with and over the course of that first year it whittled down to a hard core of like 15 lads who would turn up every Sunday.
“We did well in the league - I think we finished third in the end and we got to two cup finals as well but Whitkirk Wanderers were like our big rivals and they actually beat us to the league and beat us in both cup finals as well. We lost one cup final on penalties and one cup final 1-0 to like a 25-yard screamer.”
Asked if dodging Whitkirk was the reason for moving to the Wharfedale Triangle League, Jukes laughed: “You could say that! But basically we had a scout around a few different leagues and we were recommended the Wharfedale League so we looked into that and joined this summer.
“We’ve started the season pretty well and we’ve had a big upgrade in facilities as well as we have managed to get a deal together with Leeds University at Weetwood. The facility is a far advanced upgrade from last year when we were playing on a pitch in the middle of Beeston. Now we have got a pitch that suits us better and we are thriving now. We are really lucky.”
Lucky also to be blessed by such a handy sponsor in Leeds bar Toast where the side will be seen winding down or even wining and dining on a Sunday afternoon. Jukes explained: “All through last season we would go back to a bar called Toast which is just off Wellington Street. Then this year they actually part-sponsored us so we have got their names on our shirts and we make sure we always go back there after the game. We spend the afternoon watching the Sunday footy and they do a very good roast so we all sit down and have a roast dinner and watch the footy in there.”
Pre-game behaviour, meanwhile, inevitably concerns assembling that weekend’s betting markets for all matters Sky Bet FC. As a horse racing trader, manager Cundall is often a linchpin in producing such odds with Jukes not as heavily involved in the markets side of things for Sky Vegas.
Jukes was also last season’s assistant manager but that role is now taken by Paul Denvers, another close friend of Cundall’s who does not work for Sky Bet though in this team betting markets are infectious. Jukes admitted: “The betting is a big thing and a lot of the lads like to set prices on who’s going to be the top scorer and how many goals people are going to score.
“A lot of the lads are traders at work so they like to set different betting markets as it’s a big part of their lives which transfers on to our chat and things like that!”
What’s for certain is that Sky Bet are the talk of Division One of the Wharfedale Triangle League and are very much favourites to go up.
Jukes certainly hopes his team’s second season will end in promotion and plans are fluid to conquer the league’s top flight before a possible return back to the Combination.
“If we were to get promotion this season then I can definitely see us staying and moving on into the top division and trying to win that,” said Jukes, who moved to Leeds to attend university from Hull.
“We are also looking to go one better in the cup than we did last year and trying to win one of the cups. Some of the Sky Sports offices which are closely linked with Sky Bet are moving back down south to London but we’re lucky in that none of our players have actually been moved on. We’ve not lost anybody in that sense.” Be they based in Leeds or London, most would agree that Sky Bet are now favourites to win Division One of the Wharfedale Triangle League. Yet Jukes is adamant his men are no odds on certs. Jukes reasoned: “We are trying not to get too carried away as it’s still early on and we’ve still got a lot of games to play.
“I don’t think we’d be that short and on promotion we are probably about 4-6 and maybe evens to win the league.
“If you wanted the precise odds you’d have to ask one of our traders!”
FORMED: Summer 2013.
LEAGUE: Wharfedale Triangle League Division One.
CHAIRMAN, MANAGER, CAPTAIN: Joe Cundall, above.
DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL: Paul Denvers.
FORMER ASSISTANT MANAGER: Thomas Jukes.
HOME GROUND: Weetwood Playing Fields, University Of Leeds.
SOCIAL HEADQUARTERS: Toast Bar, West Point, 25 Wellington St, Leeds.
SQUAD: Joe Cundall, Paul Denvers, Thomas Jukes, Aaron Dugan, Joe Mirtaheri, Sandro Di Michele, Tim Clement, Dan Royle, Mark Waterhouse, Mark Denvers, Ryan Harwood, Sam Tyrrell, Matt Glynn,Craig Wainwright, Dan Glover, Nick Glover, Andy Bell, Tom Addy, Marc Hodges, Chris Spicer, Mike Toney.