The Athersley Rec story is a remarkable one. It should be bottled up and given as a blueprint to all Non League clubs as one to follow.
Clubs claim to be community clubs, but in reality they are not. Athersley, founded in 1979, truly are. Developing local players has been at the forefront of the club’s philosophy, with Geoff Horsfield being their headline success story. They have also constantly defied the odds to achieve success on a Saturday despite their refusal to pay their players.
General manager Pete Goodlad is the driving force of Athersley. As one of the founder members, along with Alan Richardson and many others, Goodlad has spearheaded the rise of the club from local amateur football to the Toolstation NCEL over the last 41 years on and off-the-pitch. They have put their heart and soul into developing a wonderful club and facility for their local community.
Their Sheerian Park home was just a field until 2003. Now it is a proper Stadium fit for Northern Premier League football and a major focal point of the community.
This is Pete Goodlad’s and Athersley’s story:
“What makes me proud is at the minute I’ve gone through 5,600 players and I’m on my third generation with some of the families because their grandfathers played, their fathers played and now their sons are playing. It makes you proud because they are all friends.
“We are a family club and we have records right from when we started in 1979 to today. Mick (Shepherd) who started with me does all the record keeping and we can tell you any game on any date, who played, who scored, who was on the committee, the attendance. We’ve got everything. We have a total history of this club from day one to today. It is fantastic and I’ve got thousands of photos, cut-outs of reports from newspapers and we have things in folders, on discs. The club’s history is also mine, Alan’s (Alan Richardson) and Mick’s and other people’s life. It has got so big the club and I can’t run it on my own and we have some fantastic volunteers. We have always had.
“The club has won 98 trophies and my proudest moment trophy-wise was when we won the Sheffield Senior Cup when we beat Frickley at Hillsborough. My father had died two days before so it meant a lot. It was the only cup I had never won. People said that we’d never win it because it was too bigger competition for us. But that year, that side was unbelievable considering we weren’t paying.
“I always remember one of our first away game in the NCEL at Selby Town on a Tuesday night (in 2012). We had a good side with your Bennett’s. We beat them 2-0 and they had just come down a league. We battered them and Ralph (Pearse) their chairman came up to me in the bar and said to me ‘where’s you got these players from, you’ve a right side, how much is it costing you to pay them’. He didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t pay them. So you can imagine that he then didn’t believe me when I said that the players paid to play. He’s a lovely gent though is Ralph, I always like to see him. So anyway I pulled the sheet out of the back of my pocket and with Ralph following me I went round the lads collecting their fivers. He couldn’t believe it and went ‘if I did that to our players, they’d just walk out’. For me it is all about loyalty, respect and being friends – these are the values we have built this club on.”
“It is hard to say what is my proudest moment. I had a dream, that’s why I started it (The Rec). I started when I was 14 and I played for Athersley Youth then at under 15s level. It was a good side and the guy who got me going was someone called Reg Bonson who was the leader of Athersley Youth Club. His brother used to be a professional footballer and so was he. He was a fit bloke and he took us for sport. They had a great team. Mick Butler used to play, the ex-Barnsley player, that’s where he started. I used to go watch the open age team.
“When I got to 17 Reg said that a lot of his players like Mick Butler were moving on. He asked me if I would get involved on the administration side for our under 18s side I was the secretary. This was years before we started the Rec so I started being a secretary at 18. I was also selling things like raffle tickets. It took over me.
“I ended up with playing the under 18s and I played for the open age Athersley. I also became the under 18s manager and we won the league which was a huge achievement as the league had teams like Barnsley in it. We were playing against the likes of Mick McCarthy. We once battered them and won 5-1 at Oakwell. Our under 18s side eventually took over Athersley Youth’s open age team.
“The club started in 1979 and we started with the juniors and we progressed from there. When we moved to Athersley Leisure Centre in 1984, that’s how we got our name Athersley Recreation Football Club. We started with the juniors and we progressed and we went through the leagues – the Barnsley Premier League, the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League to where we are now in the NCEL.”
The incredible development of Sheerian Park
“The ground used to be the old Edward Sheerian School field and we had a relationship with the school and we were allowed to use it as long as we looked after it.
“If the school had a game on a night we’d put the nets up for them. We had great relationship with the school, but you have to remember that it was just a field. It was just an open field with one pitch.
“As we progressed through the leagues and applied to the County Senior League we were aware that the criteria was strict and you had to have changing rooms.
“We used to change at Athersley Sports Centre and walk down so we had to look for somewhere else to play and that led us to Carlton Park.
“When you look at how much effort has gone into it, we had to rope it off, build our own portable dugouts, mark it out, clear it up. People don’t realise what some people have sacrificed to make sure this club got to where it is today.
“We didn’t get the old Edward Sheerian School land off the council until 2003. We did about five or six years down at Carlton Park and then we made sure we had a few facilities so we could move back to Sheerian Park. We got the changing rooms and the fencing around the pitch.
“You then look at what we did then because the higher you go the criteria gets harder to meet. More things are expected of you and we have done them like putting stands. I think we have a lovely ground. It was an open field with one pitch when we started.
“We have done everything ourselves. We did get some funding and the main funder who I can’t thank enough was the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. We accessed quite a bit of money and that paid for the floodlights and stand which was brilliant.
“The hardest part was securing the funding to secure the site. Before we could do anything with the land we needed a fence to stop people coming in. The day we bought it we actually had to get 35 burnt out cars off the field. The scrap man was rubbing his hands. The grass was also 6ft high and a farmer baled it for us.
“It took us six months to actually clear the site and it cost £77,000 to get the fencing up. People don’t realise how much hard work has gone into the ground and it gets harder because there isn’t as much money around as there used to be.
“People’s attitudes have changed as well. I remember myself, Jase (Dodsworth), Thommo (Matthew Thompson) Ryan (White) and others doing work which would be done now by contractors at the end of the season.
“The lads all had to come to help out and we used to shift 40 tonne of sand and 40 tonne of soil. They painted the fences. These were all fans, volunteers, footballers and managers from the club. We all did it together.
“Now a lot of people won’t get off their backside unless they get paid. It is sometimes the same with volunteers when you say ‘will you come and help us’? ‘How much are you paying’ is a a regular response. So recruiting volunteers is harder and harder. We’re lucky that we do have a good balance.”
“Geoff played for me when he was 14 year old in the Junior sides and he got to the first team when we were in the Barnsley Premier League. Barnsley lost out on him and they always regretted it.
“There was no such thing as an academy or centre of excellence in those days. It was the old scouting system with an old bloke going around watching players.
“Geoff was playing for us up at Birdwell and this old bloke came up to me and he says ‘I’ve come to look at this young lad you’ve got called Geoff’. I had actually told Barnsley to come and watch him so I told him he was number 11 and even though Geoff was only 15 or 16, he scored three.
“The scout came to watch us again the following week and Geoff scored three again. The scout couldn’t believe it so asked if he could speak to Geoff’s dad Terry who is one of my best mates and he still lives on the estate.
“Geoff got invited up to Barnsley on a Tuesday night to Oakwell to train. He came back on the Thursday to us and said he had been invited to go and play for the intermediates on the Saturday against Newcastle at Oakwell. That was brilliant and they beat Newcastle 5-2 and Geoff scored three.
“He played five games, I watched them all, and he scored eight goals. On the Tuesday we went training at the sports centre and who turns up? Geoff. They’d told him to come training with us and they’d send for him.
“I was a bit annoyed so I went to see Jack Raines who was the main scout for Barnsley at the time. He didn’t know anything about it, but I told if they were going to treat him like that I wouldn’t tell them about anymore good young players who come my way.
“On the Saturday, Ray McHale, the ex-Barnsley player who was the manager of Scarborough the old Division Four, rang me. He’d been given my name and he had been told about Geoff. He wanted to fetch his reserves to play us in a friendly the following day. Geoff had to play, that was his demand. We got it all arranged and we drew 2-2 and Geoff got both goals.
“Ray went ‘bloody hell’ at the end and was shocked that Barnsley hadn’t taken him. Ray spoke to Geoff’s dad and in the centre circle he signed forms for Scarborough. Ray basically signed him on the spot.
“He went to Scarborough, but after a couple of years Ray McHale got sacked and he didn’t get on with Steve Wicks who took over. He let him go and he came back to me. I got him back playing and doing alright. After a bit he went to Guiseley, then Witton.
“From Witton, Halifax signed him which was brilliant because they played on a Friday night so I could go and watch him. I used to go in the boardroom and it was brilliant. (Kevin) Keegan signed him for £300,000 at Fulham and that’s when Geoff put some of his own money in to help us buy the ground as a thank you to me and the club.
“He played in the Premier League and had a great life and career as a professional footballer. I’m really proud that we helped him on his way. It is a fantastic story.
“But I should add that we have had a few who have done alright – Dean Short, Jonathan Brown, Wayne Scargill who played at Bradford, Gordy Owen. We’ve had some good-uns over the years.”
“We are a club that over the years has not been a financially well off club. It is always run hand-to-mouth and we’re proud of what we have achieved with hard work, commitment, loyalty from players, volunteers, everyone to develop the club from when we started in 1979 to where it is today.
“Everybody knows we are unique club in the fact we haven’t got a properly built clubhouse. We have Portacabin’s and we make do with what we have got. But we are proud of the ground we have built and it is clean, tidy and well-respected. It is a fantastic facility.
“The Cabins have been up a while and they tend to deteriorate over a period of time. Over the last two years we have had the worse weather you could ever ask for in Britain – rain, wind, storms. We’ve had some horrendous storm damage here and the fencing, gates, Portacabin’s have taken hit after hit. Roofs are starting to leak.
“Obviously we don’t have a rich chairman or benefactor so we have to patch things up and we beg, steal and borrow to do that. We’re a community club who run galas, bonfires for the community. But we’re a community club who want to develop our own players and do things from within. That’s what got us success over the years and we’ve got to a position no-one thought we would ever get to.
“We’re realistic and we realise that you reach a level where you are meant to be and we’re at that stage at the minute. A couple of years ago we started paying players when Luke Potter was in charge. But we didn’t enjoy it and players were coming and going. They were not our players and they were coming out of the changing room and six or seven were going into the bar while the rest went home. That’s not what myself, Alan and everyone else have built this club to be about.
“We were very depressed about it and we thought we had only just escaped relegation the year before so why spend that money for the sake of it. We made a statement and we went back to our roots and get the community and fans back on our side.
“We went with young lads (last season) who had no experience and we obviously appointed Graham (Nicholas) as manager. We had a bad pre-season and things just didn’t work out and I don’t like doing it but I had to sack him. I took it on for the rest of the season and we progressed with the young lads and we managed to get Shane Kelsey in and the atmosphere this year has been absolutely tremendous. Even though we have been struggling with our league position, but the actual progression (of the young players) has been fantastic from November to the finish. We had committed ourselves to relegation, but that’s not going to happen so from a selfish point of view the break has been on our side on the football front because we’ll start in the Premier Division again.
“There’s real optimism and I’d love to see these lads play now they have 12 months behind them. People actually said to us ‘god help us if you keep this team’. We’ve promoted Shane to the manager’s job and he’s a great lad and very committed and played at a decent level. He’s got a great attitude. We’re not paying money other than a little win bonus, but they have to work to get it. We work hard at this club so why shouldn’t players. Hopefully we will get the squad together from last year and that’s up to Shane. We’re getting back to the values the club were built on and it is great.
“Even though we were bottom of the league, our attendances went up 10% because people realised what we were doing and liked to watch local lads. It has been great and I really have my mojo back.”
Pete Goodlad was interviewed by James Grayson
A further article detailing Athersley’s battle for survival in the face of Government restrictions will be published later.
You can visit Athersley’s GoFundMe page by clicking HERE