A lot has changed since the formation of St Ignatius Football Club back in 1966.
For starters, England’s national team have gone from world-beaters to trophy-dodgers.
But not much has changed with Stephen Spurr and therein lies the secret to the Heavy Woollen Football League’s permanently longest-serving team. Middletown-based Saturday footballer Spurr was just 20 when Sunday side St Ignatius were formed by members of the St Ignatius RC Church in Ossett and drinkers at the Weavers Arms next door.
Forty-seven years later, Spurr is the club’s long-standing manager and secretary though his continued presence should not really surprise. The former St Ignatius Primary School pupil was a young tailor for Carl Stuart in the town when embarking on his Saints adventure.
Nearly five decades on, Spurr is manager for the same employer and little else has changed either. As Spurr puts it: “I never change my bank, I never change my telephone number, I haven’t changed my wife, I run the same car and I’m at the same club. I don’t move far!”
Nor does he intend to, with Spurr proud of the longevity of his football club and the 67-year-old possessing absolutely no desire to retire. Spurr told the YEP: “With me, it goes back to the start as I played in the first game and I just continued. I’d like to say I was a two-year-old when I started playing but I wasn’t – I was about 20!
“I don’t really know how I became secretary and manager – I must have been the only one with a pen – because Trevor Brook was the secretary and he’d just had enough after about six months.
“It was a case of ‘who else is up for it?’ and nobody said anything until someone my mentioned my name because I had a pen in my top pocket and that was it. I had no dreams of doing anything like this!
“It is just something that I got and I’ve kept it going all this time. Now we’re the oldest team in the Heavy Woollen Sunday League. There are one or two clubs like Birstall St Patrick’s that are older than us that have dropped in and out of the league a few times but we’ve continued playing and the fact that we’re the oldest team in the Heavy Woollen Sunday League is not a bad thing for us.”
Not that Spurr pretends that keeping St Ignatius sound has been easy. The club stalwart particularly remembers one challenging period in the 1990s when a large number of his team left to set up a new club associated with the Two Brewers pub they drank in.
Three decades on and based at the former Empire Stores site on Horbury Road Playing Fields, St Ignatius have a 48-year-history to raise a glass to go.
Spurr recalled: “We have come close (to folding) once or twice such as when all the players left me in the early 90s.
“But I rallied round and got some of the old players to stand in for a few weeks.
“About five or six of them all left me and that meant a frantic couple of weeks before the season started, but I went out on the highways and just got anybody who could stand up really! We got relegated but it was about continuity.”
In any case, promotions and trophies are not the sole motivation that keeps St Igantius going. Spurr continued: “When we started there were about 10 or 11 Ossett clubs in that league and we’re the only ones left.
“Out of all these big teams like Ossett Academicals, Victoria and Woodhead we’re the only ones still playing Sunday football in the Heavy Woollen. It’s just about perseverance and just doggedly not letting it go.
“In the 70s, we were in the first division for about three years but we bob up and down. We are one of those that go up and down.
“Irrespective of where we are in the divisions – and yes it’s nice to go up and to win trophies – a few years later you hit the buffers and it starts all over again. I’ve had some very good players go through my hands but I don’t tend to put up with players who just go round clubs because they are winning and then move on somewhere else. You don’t know that straight away – but you can soon suss them out.”
Spurr is all about loyalty. It’s part of the reason why the manager/secretary and wife Bernadette are such a perfect match. It goes without saying that Spurr’s better half has a big input into St Igantius FC – not least in ensuring the club’s kits are properly washed and come out the right colour.
Spurr joked: “The players used to take their own kits home to wash on a Monday. But the shirts used to go in with this and that and some of them could come back pink and some came back white! So we started collecting the washes and Bernie’s has always done that right
“She’s always been involved and for the last 20 years she has been pitchside as well. I couldn’t do it if she didn’t as well.”
There are others that offer valuable support. Former player Michael King is club chairman with his brother Andrew also on the committee along with son Phillip Spurr.
Alex Spurr is club captain alongside Andrew Hill.
One of the manager’s two sons, Phillip, still plays for the club while Hill also helps with coaching duties.
Then there’s Desmond Manso who also helps out with the managerial instructions.
It seems there are no shortage of potential successors, but they could be waiting a while. Spurr, who is also a big badminton fanatic, added: “With me, my enthusiasm will not run out but you never know what’s around the corner, I’m afraid.
“But, hopefully, I can keep it going as long as the lads are still enthusiastic and still want to play. I’ve no thoughts of hanging my boots up so to speak and I’m interested in keeping it going until someone else is in the position to take over at some point in the future.
“That may or not happen, I’ve no idea, but I have been grooming someone but I won’t embarrass him by giving a name.
“Whether he will actually want the job is another matter!
“Some people have an enthusiasm for cars or whatever, for scooter bikes and all that. I am just a football person and a badminton person, that’s all.”
“That’s what I do.”
League: Heavy Woollen League Division Two.
Chairman: Michael King.
MANAGER and secretary: Stephen Spurr
coaches: Andrew Hill and Desmond Manso
club captain: Alex Spurr and Andrew Hill
Home ground: Horbury Road Playing Fields (formerly Empire Stores).