Football for all is the motto of Old Centralians FC who believe giving people the chance to play is the main thing – even if it has meant some hairy ends to their league campaigns. Leon Wobschall reports.
OLD CENTRALIANS are developing a reputation as being great escapologists from the drop in Division One of the West Yorkshire League – and they are hell-bent on keeping that proud record intact this year.
Centralians, who play on West Park development fields, are just above the danger zone ahead of the final few seminal weeks of the campaign, with their survival hopes boosted by a 3-2 weekend win over Old Modernians.
Sealing their safety in the 90th year of the club’s existence would be just the ticket for player-manager Robbie Campbell, although avoiding a repeat of last season’s exploits when it took them until the final day to confirm safety would be the preferred scenario.
Campbell said: “We stayed up on the last day last season when we got a point versus Knaresborough Town, who had been promoted.
“Hopefully, we won’t have drama like that again. If we do it with a game to spare, I’ll be a happy man and so will be the missus to be honest!
“We got promoted from Division Two in the West Yorkshire League into Division One in 2007-08 and then had a good attempt at getting promoted again in 2010-11, but just fell short.
“We have struggled a bit since and this is our fourth season at this level where it’s been a bit of a relegation battle.
“The first team aim has been mid-table and we have got there two or three times and then been pulled back into relegation trouble. But we are confident we can stay up and we have the games to do it.
“We have had our moments this year. We did get to the District Cup quarter-final and it’s definitely the first time for a while. We lost to Leeds City, but gave it a real go.
“The aim is to stabilise after four years of scrapping at the bottom. A couple of years of being mid-table is the aim and setting our objectives from there.
“But if the worst came to the worst and we went down, we’d be confident in the side we’ve got to get us back up and rebuilding from there.”
One thing that Centralians can count on is a core of players who will be sticking around come what may.
That continuity of selection is also there across the three teams in the Yorkshire Amateur League, with Cents Reserves excelling in 2014-15 – they are top of Division Three and gunning for the title and their second promotion on the spin.
Supplementing that with enough quality to make an impact at first-team level is not so easy.
Campbell added: “We’ve lost key players and we have no recruitment policy really and it’s just a bunch of mates and we’ve been together since we were 15 or 16. When lads come in, they tend to stick around and we have players who have played 300 or 400 games. Some have played six hundred and others seven hundred upwards. It’s a bit crazy.
“For us, we get caught up in a two worlds a little bit. We are trying to support the rest of the club in the Yorkshire Amateur League and do well at first-team level in the West Yorkshire League.
“The club motto is football for all and we don’t to lose any sides and want to keep providing football for as many people as possible. But also we want to kick on as a first team and strengthen and get more quantity of first team players to be more competitive.”
Highs and lows have arrived this term for the firsts, but one thing that cannot be questioned is the side’s battling spirit and another thing you can count on them doing at the business end of the season is fighting to the end with their never-say-die spirit high.
Campbell said: “The highlight was beating Ilkley Town 4-1 with a Bruce Lee hat-trick. We just annihilated them. The low was getting trounced 11-0 in the cup at Beeston St Anthony’s. Thankfully, the week after we beat Mods and then Ilkley Town.
“The fighting spirit in the camp is outstanding.
“Captain Chris Ward has been an absolute mainstay in central midfield. He’s a class act, who has been there since the year dot. He’d had 300-odd appearances and is only 27 or 28.
“Richard Moses has come in as a centre-half and Bruce Lee and they have added real quality. Danny Harrison has made the step up from the reserves this year; Chris Hunter too.”
For Campbell, it’s been a frenetic end to the season on and off the pitch, fitting in secretarial duties with management and still donning his boots when needed, not to mention life with a young family.
He said: “I am manager and secretary of the club. I was manager of the seconds for two years and then stepped up to do the firsts this year after the previous manager.
“I still play as well and the idea was to play from the start as I still feel I have got it in me. But the reality is a lot different and I have found myself on the sidelines more as I am doing everything off the pitch.
“But I am enjoying every minute of it and we have a good dressing room. I have a good assistant in Gary Sowden who gives me support.
“My two young children joke I am always trying to get out of the house. But they follow how we are doing and I love every minute of it.
“Those days when you get a result make it all worthwhile.”