BLUE-SKY thinking is reaping its sporting rewards in the West Yorkshire town of Ossett.
For those cynics who scoffed at the summer merger of rival clubs Ossett Town and Ossett Albion – formed in 1936 and 1944, respectively – into Ossett United there are already 850 reasons why it resembles a move that appeared ahead of the game in changing times.
This figure is the number of sales of United’s sky blue replica jerseys so far. Gone are the gold and black of Albion and the red and white of Town, but Ossett remains at its beating heart.
The numbers also stack up in terms of attendances, the key barometer in the success of any merged club.
Over 500 people attended the club’s maiden home match in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One East against Cleethorpes Town in August.
This followed on from a 1,345 gate in United’s marquee summer friendly with Leeds United at their home ground of Ingfield, with Ossett Town’s former headquarters now containing 300 sky blue seats shipped over from Japan.
The average time it takes to complete a merger is two years. Myself and the club secretary managed to do it in five months.Ossett United chief executive Phil Smith
Crucially the sporting public of Ossett are staying united. Average crowds are above the season target of 350, clearly pointing towards a club who possess the stability and identity to stick around on the non-league circuit.
It appears that even the traditionalists are catching on.
Ossett chief executive Phil Smith told The Yorkshire Post: “In terms of the colour change we did not want red or gold and amber, so we went with sky blue.
“I think we have sold 850 shirts. In 72 years Albion sold 44 shirts. So that is a nice little statistic for us.
“It has been a lot of fun seeing the change in mood to the whole decision of the merger.
“Originally we did have some people who were quite reticent and even some resistance from the traditionalists.
“At the same time we made a point that there was no guarantee that either team would survive another two years. The funds were not really there to survive.
“We had a vote at Ossett Town as they were a members’ club and Ossett Albion were not. One of the people voted ‘no’ as he did not want the bar to get busier and the pool table would be occupied too much.
“We do have one bloke who is still resistant and will only come in at half-time when the gates open. He will also only stand very close to the gate, but he wants to watch still. But each week he is moving closer and closer to the bar and stand.
“The fans’ reaction has been unbelievable. In our first game we had over 500. Our target is 350 and to try to sustain it on a regular basis and that would guarantee a good business model moving forward.
“I think when we got over 500 in the first game we all got giddy. But we are averaging 478 at the moment and we had 630 at the first FA Cup game.
“The other Monday night we had a training game with Huddersfield Town and 222 people turned up. Ossett Town or Ossett Albion did not get that for a league game on a Saturday last season.”
Ahead in terms of projected average gates, the on-pitch progress of United – managed by former Sunderland midfielder Andy Welsh – has also exceeded initial expectations.
Last season Albion and Town finished in 15th and 16th place respectively in Division One North and attracting supporters was an ongoing battle.
Now United lie in close proximity to the play-off spots.
The long-term aim is to reach Conference North, but the club are determined to walk before they can run under the guidance of former Albion chief Welsh, who beat Town counterpart Lee Ashforth to the managerial position at the new club in the summer.
What can be said with a degree of certainty is that the club have already travelled at a fair rate of knots since a chance meeting between Albion chairman John Chidlaw and Town vice-chairman Lee Broadbent at a junior football match in January first sparked talk of the merger.
Smith added: “I have got a few friends at the Football Association and worked in sports administration before at Premier League level. I had a lot of contacts to ask, ‘are we doing this right?’
“The average time it takes to complete a merger is two years. Myself and the club secretary managed to do it in five months.”
On the club’s on-pitch ambitions he added: “I would like to put a stake in the ground and get promoted next season after a stock-take of who we are up against and what we can generate ourselves.
“I would think that the club’s ambition will strongly be that.
“We set ourselves a two- or three-year plan to try and be self-sustainable.
“The chairman (Chidlaw) is a realist and said, ‘well, what if I get bored or my situation changes?’ With the foresight, we decided not to plough all the chairman’s money into signing midfielders and strikers to go up two leagues and then wonder where we are going to get the money from for wages.
“We decided to see what the club could self-generate and then allow a portion of that profit to be spent on the team.
“It is going well and there is much potential here. We (previously) saw the two teams in a small town performing at a very high level for the town restricting each other from progressing by their existence.”