From the start, Rawdon Old Boys make you sit up and take notice. Their guiding ambition, never far from the lips of any of the committee, is to become the best amateur football club in West Yorkshire.
“Anything is achievable,” said first-team manager Bob Nightingale. “From here, a lot of work and investment will be needed.
“If we get there during my tenure as manager, or during Ian (Whitfield’s) tenure as chairman, that remains to be seen” Bob continued. “We have ambition, though, and we’re financially better than we’ve ever been.”
Rawdon, just off the shoulder of Leeds-Bradford airport, compete in the Harrogate League. They ended last season as champions of the Premier League and are intent on repeating the trick this time round.
It has not always been a story of such sweetness and light, a fact to which President Stuart Darfield attested.
“The club was semi-derelict when I joined in 2003” he said.
“We’ve had to put a lot of work in.
“The clubhouse was relatively new but went into disrepair and the pitch was overgrown,” Stuart added.
The state of the club’s facilities has significantly improved, thanks chiefly to Richard Gill’s fundraising efforts.
“We have been able to buy a new line marking machine and new goalposts,” Rob said.
“Our old posts were dangerous, old and heavy; if they’d fallen on someone it would have caused a mess.
“Our line marker had a mind of its own!
“These are small steps, but we’ve come a long way already.”
When Stuart joined in 2003, Rawdon were in the Red Triangle League, which folded not long after his arrival. They then moved to the West Riding County Amateur League, with which their manager at the time, Phil Crossley, had affiliations.
In 2012, the club reached a crossroads.
“We had a very young side at this stage,” Stuart remembered.
“We had too many kids and the football was too physical for them.
“Myself and Ian made the decision that we had to let these kids progress, so we went into the Harrogate League and they blossomed. They really took to each other like ducks to water.”
He continued: “The Harrogate League was a breath of fresh air because everyone focuses on the football and there isn’t any of the rubbish that sometimes comes with Sunday football.”
The club have scarcely looked back. The appointment of Bob Nightingale as manager, to coincide with the move to Harrogate, has proved a match made in heaven for both parties.
Bob took up the story and underlined the importance of rooting the Old Boys in its local community: “At that stage, we changed personnel around.
“There were a group of players that stayed, but the ones we brought in were younger than the players who left.
“We were trying to create a club for the community, really, so we brought in quite a few local lads,” Bob added.
“Through my previous involvement with Guiseley Juniors, some of the players that came were from there and wanted to play in our young side.”
Stuart agreed: “Before this time it was one step forward and two back with players leaving all the time. Now, we’ve got a local team.”
In Bob’s debut season, they gained promotion from Division One to the Harrogate Premier. Their first season in the top flight would end in heartbreak.
Rawdon lost out on winning the league by one goal. They ended with a differential of 43, while Kirk Deighton Rangers had 44. Such a setback would be difficult for any team to pick itself up from.
Bob admitted it wasn’t easy: “It was heart-breaking and difficult to pick ourselves up from, but we managed to do so by the start of the next season.”
They bounced back in style, taking the title ahead of Kirk Deighton, who had denied them so cruelly the season before.
Paul Butler gets the goals, and has helped himself to 10 already this term as the team have hit the ground running with nine wins from their first 10 games.
Their back four “picks itself” according to Bob, who highlighted right-back Phil Stansfield as a consistent performer over recent seasons who has piqued the interest of teams higher up the pyramid.
Oxford law graduate Aidan Barry runs the rule in the midfield, while Bob’s son Oliver, a guitarist and singer, also turns out for the side. Old Boys have good links with the Rawdon community through the parish council and the cricket club, with whom they share some facilities.
Dialogue with the cricket club has encouraged the establishment of a junior section at the football club, a new experience for all involved.
Richard Stenhouse’s organisation and Richard Gill’s fundraising have been crucial in this process, which has seen them set up an Under-12 team.
This forms a crucial part of the club’s long-term ambitions to grow.
In the short term, their collective eyes are very much on the West Yorkshire Amateur league. They have only lost seven of their 72 games since moving to the Harrogate league four years ago. Bob firmly believed they can compete at a higher level.
“Getting into the West Yorkshire is a key step in our ambitions. No disrespect to the Harrogate League, but we think we have a group to challenge and take the next step.
“We applied in 2014 and will be applying again.
“We like to think we can compete at Division One level and eventually, at Premier League as well.
“We’ve proven that in friendlies and cup matches against those sorts of teams that we can match them.”
Throughout, there is an almost puritanical commitment to a certain style of football, which Bob called “the right way”.
“Something that we’re keen to note is that we play football in the right way,” he added.
“People who have been to matches always say the same.”
Stuart echoed this commitment saying: “Over the last few years, we can honestly say we’ve played in a sportsmanlike manner and have tried to play football the right way.
“We’ve said that ‘anyone can fight, but not everyone can try to play football’.
“We learn something new every year and we are always trying to get better.
“It’s like a snowball. It’s go to this point, from being a downright joke a few years ago,” Stuart adds, with feeling. “In the last ten years, we’ve gone from the ridiculous to the sublime.”
League: Harrogate Premier Division
Manager: Bob Nightingale
Ground: Billing View
Highs: Winning the league last season
Lows: Losing out by one goal in 2014