With an emphasis of holding onto its talented youngsters, Amaranth FC have brought all the different strands of its organisation together to create a greater sense of camaraderie. Sandy Beeson reports.
Amaranth FC is an exotic choice of name for a football club based on the outskirts of Leeds.
Amaranth are a category of plant, predominantly found in Central and South America, so rich in nutrients and protein that they are said to have fuelled the Aztec Empire.
The word itself derives from the ancient Greek for ‘unfading’. It’s certainly more poetic than Rovers or Wanderers.
Amaranth Crossgates were in danger of fading at the end of the 2013-14 Yorkshire Amateur League Division Two season.
Nine points from their final five matches saved the team from relegation before a summer of change dramatically altered the club’s fortunes.
With two sons in Amaranth’s junior teams, former Barwick Sunday boss Simon Yaffe saw first hand that changes were needed at the club. Having taken a year out of football, Yaffe was offered the chance to get involved with Amaranth.
“They asked me by chance do I want to and I said ‘not really I’m enjoying life having no football’, for about 10 seconds, and then I thought, ‘go on then I’ll give it a go’”.
“The season before, the Sunday side struggled, the Saturday team struggled too and was about to disband. There was about nine lads out of two teams that came for the presentation which tells it’s own story. I said ‘let’s give it a go, let’s have a pre-season and see how we go on’. From not wanting to do it I’d signed up for the Saturday and the Sunday!
“From there it just bloomed. I got a couple more experienced guys involved. I got a lad called Dave Smith along, or ‘Smurf’ because he’s rather small.
“Smurf had a great background in football; he was coaching at Garforth Town. We also got Steve Gilmore who’s got a good pedigree in football and has been around the block. There’s also Stephen Gautrey who manages the Academy side and his assistant Steve Lascelles too.”
In readiness for the new season, Yaffe and ‘Smurf’ organised a training session, seeking out new players to inject life into a team that had been close to folding.
“The first training session I think we had near on 40 lads; some of these were existing players from Amaranth, some were lads that Smurf and I had brought down,” added Yaffe.
“We also got the Under-17 team from last season, asked some of them to go up an age group. The response was brilliant.
“We realised we couldn’t sustain just one Saturday team. We had to go to the committee and say ‘look, you’re going to need two Saturday teams here as well as a Sunday team’”.
Amaranth entered a new Saturday team into Division Six of the Yorkshire Amateur League, a team that Yaffe refers to as the Academy side.
Composed mostly of players that have come through the junior teams, Yaffe’s sons Aiden, 18, and Jay, 16, both turn out for the Academy team. They won the league despite incurring a nine-point deduction earlier in the season.
“We’ve got a load of young lads in the Academy team, a couple of lads in their 30s but predominantly it’s the young team that we’ve brought through from the junior sides. After the deduction, we said to them ‘listen, we can still do this, we can keep going.’ Obviously we did and we’ve won the league with two games to spare.”
With the title wrapped up, Yaffe, was able to turn out himself in the season finale, a 4-1 loss away at Norristhorpe Reserves, lining up alongside his sons.
“We’ve won the league and I’m playing with my two sons. I had played a full game earlier on in the season that I didn’t really want to play but it’s a nice touch at the end of the season getting us all on for the last game.”
Not to be outdone, the Sunday team, featuring Stockport County’s Jahsiah Donaldson, brother of Birmingham City’s Clayton, also won the league in dramatic circumstances.
Having trailed Kippax Band Club all season, Amaranth required a win by five clear goals in the last game of the season to lift the title. With 20 minutes to go Amaranth were winning 2-0, requiring three more goals. A late flurry saw them finish the match 7-0 and clinch the league with two goals to spare.
Although success for the teams this season has been welcome, a key emphasis of Yaffe and Smith’s blueprint for the club is to concentrate on youth development, something that had previously been lacking.
“Amaranth is a club that has always let decent young players go, there’s never been a connection between the junior side and the adult side so what we want to do is keep these young kids at the club rather than letting them go elsewhere.
“The trouble with Amaranth is it’s always been run separately, from the junior club to the Saturday club to the Sunday club. There’s never been camaraderie as one club. This season we’re all one club. The Sunday team has got maybe 10 lads who play on Saturdays which is great because they know the other players.”
Key to the club’s success has been the quality of the facilities enjoyed by all the Amaranth teams. Accessible only by navigating a local farm, the club’s facilities benefited from a £50,000 grant from Sport England in 2013, although Yaffe also credits the work of the volunteer ground staff.
“We’ve got two groundsmen who put a lot of work in called Brandy Morgan and Dave Kirsopp,” he explained. “They spend a lot of time up there, they both work full-time, they’ve got young families, but they’ve got the pitches perfect. They’re really spot on with keeping those pitches up to spec.”
The first team completed a trio of promotions, missing out on the title on the last day of the season but embarking on a remarkable run of form that saw the team win ten straight games without conceding a single goal, over 15 hours of football.
As if to highlight Amaranth’s emphasis on youth, the run was anchored by 21-year-old keeper Jacob Collier and a central defensive trio marshalled by two 18-year-olds from the junior set-up, Sam Clayton and Josh Milsted, as well as club captain John McGee.
“Youth is paramount but we’ve got John who’s been there and done it,” added Yaffe.
“He was always a decent standard and he’s brought these three young lads on.
“They were already decent players but they’ve all flourished.”
With three promotions under their belt and a youth setup that has paid instant dividends, Amaranth Crossgates are far from fading, they’re thriving.