When devastating floods swept across Yorkshire and the North East at the turn of the year, Wetherby Athletic’s home at The Ings disappeared under the deluge.
Wetherby, affectionately known as the Tangerines, spent four months away from their multi-faceted home. With the help of Ripon City and an empathic approach from the FA, Athletic fulfilled their duties in their respective leagues, returning home eventually to a celebratory 4-0 win over Pool, just over four months after their last competitive fixture at The Ings.
It is a widely-acclaimed facility, with state of the art Multi-Use Games Pitch (MUGA), and one of the best clubhouses in the area.
Club secretary Jemma Carmody said: “Our first-team pitch was five foot underwater when the rivers burst. The pitches are all fine now and we are just getting the MUGA back up.”
The budding club is growing both on the pitch and off it. Comprised of three main components, Wetherby Athletic, Wetherby Athletic Ladies and Wetherby Athletic Juniors, the market town is the perfect setting for a non-league institution.
Since their inception into the league as Athletic in 1949, the club has strived to be a pillar of the community.
Last season, chairman Angus Taylor started the Pan-Disability programme. The initiative allows those with disabilities to take part in ‘Turn up and Play’ sessions, regardless of ability. The focus is very much on exercise and enthusiasm.
Mr Taylor said: “We are very proud as a club to be able to have started the Pan-Disability Sessions. We have seen them grow in such a short period of time and it is a wonderful string to add to the bow of the club.”
One of four senior men’s sides affiliated with the club, Athletic FC currently sit fifth in the West Yorkshire Premier League. With a highest-league finish of eighth in their history, the club is currently enjoying their best-ever season. They also lifted the Barkston Ash FA Challenge Cup, the one bit of silverware manager Mark Forster was desperate to get his hands on this season.
“One area we have certainly improved is our spirit, and again this has to be down to the team and management” said Pete Arnett, press officer and club photographer at Wetherby Athletic. “Off the pitch as well there is an amazing focus to get it right. We have a very strong core of dedicated people behind the scenes.”
The club oozes a family atmosphere, not only illustrated through their community work, but by the manner in which they treat their own. One player, Chris Turner, has just retired from the club after 30 years as a player. There is also a charity match planned to celebrate their late coach John Fairweather, a much-loved character in Wetherby, with all funds going directly to the British Heart Foundation. They look after their own.
Mr Arnett said of the event: “The game has garnered a lot of interest. It is going to be between the current first team and the Wetherby Athletic Veterans, or ‘Legends’ as they insist I call them!”
Further information can be found on their website.
After an impressive promotion from the North East Regional Southern Division last season, Wetherby Athletic Ladies find themselves in the prestigious NERWFL Premier Division.
Playing the likes of Barnsley, Sheffield United and York City Ladies, Athletic find themselves in a relegation dogfight, but the notoriety of the club has grown considerably under the guidance of manager Steve Carmody.
Jemma, an ex-player as well as club secretary and wife to Steve, said: “Our main aim was to stay in that league. We lost a few players due to retirement, but were encouraged to have new players from our development side.
“It’s been difficult at times, we’re not going to lie, but that’s where we have to rely on our senior players to keep the youngsters going because they are the future of the club. That’s where you get your fitness, your extra bit of pace. Some of these clubs have been performing at this level for some time or have a big strong development club behind them to push.”
Wetherby Athletic Ladies have purposefully put an emphasis on their youth structure, to ensure that they can compete at the highest level, but it can be difficult against the likes of Barnsley and Sheffield United who have a Football League club to support them.
“A few years ago, there weren’t that many links with the juniors, so that’s what we’ve been trying to do.” said Mrs Carmody. “We also have a reserves team who have been promoted for the last two seasons in a row, it helps push our first team. It’s a difficult thing to do with a small club, with small resources.
“There will be trials in the summer, but we are also looking for those who may want to join the coaching staff. It’s always good to get new blood and some fresh eyes in.”
The men’s side are similarly focused on youth and new faces, feeding their first team with a competitive under-18s side, notably Sam Straker and Josh Wilson, who scored in their recent Challenge Cup final and are an example of those who make the jump into the main squad.
The only issue hindering this great club has been their lack of floodlights. The Wetherby Athletic Reserves had to pull out of the Galaxy East League due to games being played on a Thursday. Their under-21 team was also disbanded from the West Riding Floodlit U21 East League, after it was deemed unpractical for the team to travel to Leeds and Wakefield for every fixture. But it is an issue the board have agreed to “tackle when it arises”.
As the teams continue to grow, so has the football club’s outreach. They have a Facebook page, Instagram, a Pinterest page and a Twitter page with 3880 followers. They are even the first club in their league to offer a free online match day programme.
Over the years, the interest in Wetherby Athletic has ebbed and flowed, like it does for so many at grassroots level. But there has been a conscious effort to make the club more visible and accessible across the local area. This was recognised this season when Wetherby won the West Riding County Football Association Community Club Of The Year award for 2015-16.
Wetherby is a staunchly loyal club working wonders in their community on a shoestring budget.
Athletic have a saying: ‘Once a Tangerine – Always a Tangerine.’ Well this club certainly bears good fruit.
Ground: The Ings
Division: West Yorkshire League Premier
Manager: Mark Forster
Captain: Tom Hesketh
Honours: Barkston Ash District FA Challenge Cup - 2016, West Yorkshire Division One Champions - 1999.
Training: Wednesdays, Wetherby High School