Hartshead FC are on the up – potentially literally in terms of promotion – after club officials brought the senior and junior teams together as one footballing entity. Robert Bhamber reports.
When looking over the local Saturday football leagues, it’s hard to find a team enjoying a more successful season than Hartshead FC.
The club have lost just four games in all competitions this campaign and are well placed for promotion to the West Yorkshire League Division One.
Highlights of the season so far include consecutive 6-2 away wins against Palestino and Churwell Lions, as well as the 10-2 thrashing of Middleton Park in mid-December.
Playing their home games at Princess Mary’s Athletics Track, the club was originally formed in 1991 by Chris Foggin, competing in the Spen Valley divisions before making the switch to the West Yorkshire Leagues.
Andrew Lambert, Hartshead’s current secretary, treasurer and chairman, has been involved with the team in a variety of roles since 1999 and has overseen wholesale changes during his time at the club.
“I first got involved with the club when I took my son up to train with the then-Junior team,” Lambert recalled. “I ended up joining in with training, and that then led to me taking charge of the junior side, from under-8s to under-17s.
“After that I started to make my way up the club, getting involved with the senior reserves and eventually taking over responsibilities for the first team.
“After the older group of players hung up their boots, I started running the club from then on in.”
And one of Lambert’s big changes was to morph the senior and junior teams together, so that Hartshead FC became one entity.
“The lad who currently runs the club with me was originally part of my junior team,” explained Lambert.
“I was running the seniors and he was running the reserve team, but we found that we often just didn’t have the number of players required to carry on with two teams.
“That’s when we made the decision to jump in together and revert to having one team.”
Hartshead have had mixed fortunes in the West Yorkshire League, gaining promotion to Division One, where they spent several seasons, before suffering relegation in 2011.
Since then, the club has finished 10th, 14th and sixth, but they are enjoying a much more successful campaign this time around. The team currently sit top of Division Two, nine points clear of Baildon Trinity Athletic, although Hartshead have played a game more, and won 1-0 away at Rothwell Town in their last league outing.
Commenting on their season so far, Lambert said: “We’re looking to get promotion back to Division One and hopefully push on from there if possible.
“Since the older group of lads have moved on, we’ve had an influx of youth, a lot of who already knew each other, they’ve grown up together, and we’re doing well this year. I just think we’ve got more quality players now, all of a similar sort of ilk, whereas before we had players who were perhaps not at the right level. It’s a competitive league and you can’t really afford to have one or two that aren’t at the same standard, but at the minute everyone’s sort of at the same level, which is helping. Plus we’ve got 17 players in the squad, which generates competition and generates performances.”
While Hartshead are looking to swap Division Two for Division One, they certainly aren’t looking to move from the West Yorkshire League, with club secretary Lambert full of praise for the set-up.
“The standard of the league is very good,” he said. “And the number of teams is just right as well. Here, the division’s are clearly set out. You’ve got the Premier League, Divisions One and Two, and then the two Alliance Divisions, which are purely for reserve teams.
“However, in other leagues, such as West Riding, while there may be three divisions, the reserve teams are mixed in with the seniors.
“The structure of the West Yorkshire League is set out very well and because of that it’s always very competitive. There’s clear lines as to where you can and cannot go. If you’ve got the facilities and win the Premier League, you can then jump into the North East Counties.
“In my opinion, it’s a step above any other league around this area. I think a move to any other set-up would be a step back.”
The club may be flying high this campaign, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Hartshead, like many other Saturday and Sunday league clubs, face a constant fight with finances, and as club secretary, Lambert knows first hand just how difficult it can be to keep a club running.
“Of course it’s all voluntary and finances are always tight.
“Obviously all of the lads pay their share with their signing on fees and so on, and then we just try and generate any sort of sponsorship we can get.
“It’s difficult getting sponsors really, it’s more through word of mouth and through people that you know; you just get lucky sometimes.”
Not to mention, after a mass departure of players, the club nearly folded a few years ago.
Lambert said. “We almost went under a while back. There were a group of players, all around the same age, who left all at once, and we then made a conscious decision to try our best to keep the club going. We managed it, but we struggled on a regular basis for a while after as we just didn’t have the quality required for the standard of league we play in. But hopefully, this year is going to prove dividends and we’ll get our reward for carrying on.”
And that reward could well come in two different forms, as not only are Hartshead in prime position for promotion, they are also in the semi-finals of the District Cup. Lambert, however, refused to get too carried away on his side’s chances of cup glory.
“You never know, anything can happen in a cup competition,” he claimed. “It all depends on who we get and where.”
But when asked which he wanted more out of promotion and cup success, his answer was clear: “Both!”