Leeds’ Yorkshire Amateur reserves primarily serve the first team ranks but it doesn’t mean they are not ambitious. Lee Sobot reports.
Had they been around in 1919, Steve Waite and his Yorkshire Amateur Reserves would have been playing their home games at Elland Road.
Yet in manager Waite’s eyes, Bracken Edge is more than fine.
The reserve team manager says his men are blessed to play at such a facility with Waite only urging more members of the local community to cheer his team on from the sidelines.
Warehouse foreman Waite is responsible for running the West Yorkshire League reserve side supporting Phil Harding’s Yorkshire Amateur first team who ply their trade in Division One of the Northern Counties East League.
Managed jointly with Lincoln Richards, Harding’s team are blessed with an impressive history that began at Elland Road – sold to Leeds United for £250 in 1920. Formed in 1918, the Ammers history also features two impressive forays into the FA Cup first round in 1932 and 1946.
Such a run today would bring the crowds in droves to Bracken Edge with its stadium capacity of 1,550. Yet that stadium is shared by Waite’s reserve team with the 52-year-old admitting most teams in Division Two of the West Yorkshire League can only dream of regularly running out at such a facility. Now all the reserve team chief wants is some fans to share it with. Waite readily admits that his team’s job is to support Harding’s first team and supply the stars of tomorrow. It is a role he relishes, with Waite saying every player graduating from the reserves to the first team represents its own kind of victory. It is, after all, Harding’s first team that are the Yorkshire Amateur flag-bearers. But that’s not stopping Waite holding high ambitions of his own with the manager setting his sights on a quick rise up the West Yorkshire League and on boosting the usual Saturday home gate of FIVE – if his men are lucky.
“We’ve got a stadium which is something that not a lot of teams at this level have got,” Waite told the YEP. “In the league that we play in, there’s not a lot of teams – in fact I can’t name any – that have got a stadium. We play in a very good, well looked after stadium and there is plenty of scope for people to come and watch us. But at a normal reserve game we get five people watching us, if we’re lucky. It’s quite bad and I’m a bit shocked really by the lack of support for a club of this stature on a Saturday when there’s not a first team game on.
“Mine is a truly multi-cultural team – I’ve got a Malian, a West African and an East African playing and it’s quite a diverse side so you’d think that people from their different communities would watch them play. But the problem is the first team are in the Northern Counties and we are in the West Yorkshire Second Division and people tend to avoid us because it’s a reserve team.
“But Yorkshire Amateur is a big name in football. We just need people to notice that there is a team in the middle of Harehills and Chapeltown and to come and support us really. It’s free to watch us and you can even get a cup of tea!”
Another attraction – if Waite has his way – will be the opportunity to witness potential stars of the future. After all, the Ammers link with professional football does not end with Elland Road and the FA Cup. Leeds United’s Brian Deane and Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom have donned Ammers’ colours, with the club well positioned to unearth future talent given its bustling junior section. And even if it means weakening his team, if a talented footballer progresses from Waite’s men to Harding’s then, for the reserve team boss, it’s a case of job done. Ray Spencer, David Pemberton and Enos ‘Buju’ Huly are three players to have graduated from Ammers’ reserves to the first team during the current season with Waite now hoping for big things from 24-year-old Polish right back Jakub Kazcykowski – formerly a professional with Polonia Warsaw. He is recovering from a cruciate ligament injury but will be supported by a manager bursting with passion to see players progress.
“For every lad that goes on to make the first team it’s like three points, it’s like a win for me,” said Waite, whose men are 11th in their division. “I’ve had lads for two games who have then go to the firsts but that’s the way it is with this team and both the lads on the park every Saturday and myself realise that. We know it’s always going to be a struggle but we’ve got a job to do and there’s nothing to say that I haven’t got the next Brian Deane in my ranks. We’ve got to get our heads down and we’re still looking and recruiting even at this late stage of the season, plus I’ve got lads coming from the Academy. As a club we’re not sticking in the mud and we are trying to push forward. Phil Harding is pushing his first team and I’ve got a job to do in the seconds.”
There is certainly no denying the enthusiasm emanating from Waite who is enjoying something of a second coming in the beautiful game. A keen footballer for Rothwell as a youngster, Waite eventually made the switch to rugby because of injury before eventually shelving sporting involvement altogether due to his new job as an HGV wagon driver.
Yet a change in job allowed Waite a second opportunity which was gained at Leeds Combination League side Old Ball where he formed a strong friendship with last year’s Ammers Reserves boss and current Huddersfield Town Ladies coach Glen Preston whom Waite served as assistant boss. Now Waite calls the shots with wife Gail known to wash the kits and brother Ian, the reserve team secretary – and linesman. Waite is thriving in his role as manager – and relishing the task of closing the three division gap to the first team.
“I’ve got a great bunch of lads, there’s a great atmosphere and I’m really proud to be manager,” said Waite, whose club are planning an end of season tournament to honour former president Bill Ellis whose wife Pauline is the club’s tea lady. With having a new manager and new players, this season has not been brilliant, but it’s not been bad and hopefully we’ll build from this and I think that we are going to be pushing for promotion next season. That might be too boastful but I hope not though we are constrained by first team rules in that if we get too close to them we will never go up. But we’ve got two or three leagues we can have a go at first before we have to worry about that!
“Currently, the West Yorkshire Premier is the highest we could go but I accept that. If we’re getting up there then players should be playing in the Northern Counties shouldn’t they?”