A new league, a new gaffer and a teenager’s dream move to the Premier League have been just three of the talking points in what has already been a whirlwind season for Ossett Albion Reserves.
Having ended a 12-year stint in the Lancashire Football League, the long-established Wakefield-area side is adjusting to life in the more rough and tumble West Yorkshire League, and have lost the services of their star striker, first to the first team, and soon afterwards to Premier League Swansea City.
It’s these sort of challenges that make football what it is, says new manager Ben Jones, who has placed emphasis on player development in what is a young side.
“It’s been a challenge, but a good one. I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “The lads have been great and we’re on a big learning curve.”
A learning curve indeed. Having become part of the furniture in the Lancashire League, the club decided to up sticks and move closer to home to ease travel strains and a more definite schedule.
Ossett were perennial challengers in their former league, but currently sit 12th of 16 in the bottom tier of the West Yorkshire Association ladder.
“I’m telling the lads that we’re drawing a line through the season and that we start again after Christmas.”
“I’m told that they’ve come from a much more ‘nice football’ type of league, and it’s been tough for some of the younger players to get used to a much more physical style of play.
“I’m not belittling the West Yorkshire League at all. There are some very good footballers in this league that have come down from the non-league system and so on, and a lot of people would be very surprised at how good some of the players it has are.”
Even the most casual observers of non-league football in Yorkshire will be familiar with the name Ossett Albion.
The club’s first team have been in the upper echelons of the non-league circuit for most of its history, have now been in the Evo-Stick Premier for a decade and are generally held in high regard within Yorkshire football. For these reasons, Jones believes that every opposition sees Ossett as a prize scalp, especially at home.
“Some teams have been upping their game when they come to us,” said Jones.
“We’ve got a perfect pitch ourselves and a lot of other teams don’t have one as good as ours. Just the name Ossett Albion brings a bit of a ‘cup final’ thing about it for some of these teams. Everybody is going to want to beat you.
“But that’s football. I’m not in the business of saying whether it’s an advantage or a disadvantage, it is what it is.”
It’s a lot to combat for a very young and inexperienced side, many of whom have graduated from the club’s thriving under-19s side. One of those graduates was star striker Jordan Garrick, a 17-year-old whose rise from the under-19s, through the reserves and into the first-team ranks earned him a sensational move to Premier League Swansea last month.
Having been watched by scouts from Rotherham, Sheffield United and Huddersfield, among others, it was Swansea’s approach that took the youngster’s interest.
A two-week trial period followed, and the Ossett starlet penned a two-year contract in November.
Scunthorpe midfielder Dave Syers also spent his formative years at Ossett, cutting his teeth in the reserve side before a spell in the first team earned him a move to Harrogate Town, going on to sign for Bradford and Doncaster.
Former Grimsby and York City forward Steve Downes did the same, as did Preston and Doncaster striker Mick Norbury. The club also played more minor roles in the development of Huddersfield Town cult hero Rob Edwards and current Norwich star Cameron Jerome.
Jones, who is 33 and spent time playing at a higher level as a centre-forward himself, knows that nurturing young talent is a huge part of his job description.
The club’s first team are enjoying a great season in the highly competitive Evo-Stick Division One North, a great run of form putting them well within reach of a promotion charge.
Jones is full of praise for the way the club’s premier side are performing, but is keen to stress that the two sides run fairly independently. He said: “I have quite a few young players in the reserve team. The typical age is between 18 and 24. We’ve got some very good young players in the team and our aim is to develop the players we have, not just into the first team but on to a higher league. Jordan came up through the ranks with Ossett and earned a big chance, and that’s what we are trying to do. The firsts do have quite a few players and it’s not ideal training with 26 or 27 blokes. I’ve said to our players that we’ll do our thing and let the first team do theirs. It’s working not just for the first team, not for the reserves, but for the club in general.”
Following in the footsteps of Garrick, 18-year-old right-back Declan Dawson has become a first-team regular. Centre-half Greg Hunter is another player Jones singled out for praise along with forward Dominic Simpson.
Jones added: “If they listen to the right people and do the right things at the right times, they will eventually get there.”
OSSETT ALBION RESERVES
Ground: Our Physio Stadium
League: West Yorkshire Association League Division Two
High Point: Whenever a player progresses into the first team or beyond