Houghton and Leech remember ‘Storm Emley’ and the 2014 Battle of Emley Moor

Ex-Emley player Antony Leech, pictured with his cut sock, says the 2014 Battle of Emley Moor was one of the best games he ever played in and watched, while Simon Houghton says the “footballing gods conspired” against Shaw Lane

Emley’s incredible 3-2 comeback over title favourites Shaw Lane Aquaforce in late January 2014 remains one of their most memorable victories as a new club. They were 2-0 down at half-time. Basically dead and buried.

But in almost biblical fashion, the extremely fiery Toolstation NCEL Division One clash swung Emley’s way. Ash Flynn had haunted his former club with both goals for Barnsley-based Shaw Lane, but his red card early in the second half was a major turning point, as was the change in weather. 

Torrential rain poured down and ‘Storm Emley’ raged over the Welfare Ground during the final 30 minutes. The gale-force wind meant Shaw Lane goalkeeper Jamie Green, a former Emley player, and his defenders were penned in their own 18-yard-box. The Ducks were lambs to the slaughter.

Emley were desperate to complete a double over Aquaforce for various reasons and Darren Hepworth’s suddenly turbo-charged troops took full advantage of their new-found good fortune.

Sylbert Stewart scored twice in the 69th and 81st minutes to level it and Doran Jordan struck the winner in the closing stages. Hepworth surely will have been 20 yards on the field celebrating when Jordan’s winner hit the back of the net? But there is not doubt that Emley celebrated their victory like winning the FA Cup Final at Wembley. In their own eyes they had got one over on a team who were their bitterest rivals for just one season.

By 5pm the storm had gone and Shaw Lane manager Simon Houghton stood almost speechless during his post-match interview, quipping: “Look at it now (at 5.10pm) there’s no rain or wind. It’s like someone has flicked a switch.” It felt like everything was against Aquaforce that afternoon.

The defeat served to be a sliding doors moment in the club’s early history as it was the day where the bell truthfully tolled for Houghton. Although he soldiered on for one more game – the bizarre 1-0 defeat at Dinnington Town – the Emley defeat is where the club’s confidence in him was lost. His departure paved the way for the arrival of Craig Elliott.

Non League Yorkshire has spoken to two of the day’s key protagonists, former Emley star Antony Leech, now the captain of Shelley, and ex- Shaw Lane manager Simon Houghton who share their recollections of the 2014 Battle of Emley Moor.

Saturday 25th January 2014

Emley (Slybert Stewart 69. 81, Doran Jordan 87) 3-2 Shaw Lane Aquaforce (Ash Flynn 7, 28)

AFC Emley: Lawlor, Leech (Pleasants 57 (Crookes 71), Brook (captain), Ingham, Jerome, Steers (Wadsworth 76), Tunnacliffe, Jordan, Kenworthy, Stewart, Hallam. Subs unused: McLoughlin, Stead.

Shaw Lane Aquaforce: Green, Cobley, Fawcus, Grace, Cyrus (captain), Joseph, Reece, Swift (Claisse 66), Flynn, Price (McDonnell 60), Whitehouse (Barlow 78). Subs unused: McGhie, Danville.

Referee: A Smith (Castleford)

Attendance: 177

Antony Leech watches on as Ash Flynn runs away to celebrate his second goal

If Darren Hepworth was more excitable than normal, it says something about the scale of a victory.

“Today was a result for a team that believes in themselves and a victory for teams that build over ones that buy,” Hepworth had said minutes after triumphantly punching the air before walking down the tunnel to huge acclaim by the adoring Emley supporters.

The roots of the animosity are traced back to the summer of 2013 when heavily financially backed Shaw Lane Aquaforce were promoted to the NCEL and Houghton started assembling a team of all-stars.

Emley’s crown jewels, young centre-back John Cyrus and 42-goal man Ash Flynn were on his shopping list and Hepworth was devastated to lose them. He was clearly upset about having his key men taken from him meaning his master-plan had to be ripped.

“Shaw Lane didn’t gain many friends when they started and they upset a few people by throwing money around,” Antony Leech says. 

“Don’t get me wrong if you’re offered the money it is brilliant and it is hard to turn down. We were building a really good team at Emley and we had Flynny who has been the best striker in the NCEL for the last ten years. Obviously JC was up-and-coming and a great player and they signed them both in the summer. We didn’t want to lose them.”

Antony Leech getting stuck into Ash Flynn in the first game
Shaw Lane’s dugout leaps up after a Paul Sykes challenge
Emley players pile on Hepworth and Liam Schofield after the left-back scored the second goal in the first game

Aquaforce were expected to canter to title glory. Everybody wanted to beat them and Emley were the first team to achieve that feat – winning 2-0 in Barnsley with Paul Sykes and Liam Schofield scoring – a few weeks into the season. 

“Everyone was up for the first game and Shaw Lane were favourites to go up,” Leech says. 

“I was up for up it and I wanted to lay down a marker and we beat them fairly comfortably. They didn’t like it and we probably rubbed in it their faces. From there I think they had a bee in their bonnet which led to the second game where they really wanted to win and get their own back.”

Even Simon Houghton admits that certain aspects of the first game were remembered.

“When Emley beat us at home earlier in the season, a couple of things did happen and we reminded a few of the lads before the second game,” he says.

By Christmas Day, Shaw Lane were second in the table and although they had lost their previous two fixtures to Selby Town and Clipstone, the Ducks were still a sure bet for promotion.

Emley’s promotion bid had collapsed and Hepworth’s men were in no man’s land in mid-table.

Aaron Joseph on the deck after an industrial challenge from Leech in the second game
Leech receives his yellow card

So whilst no longer promotion rivals, the rivalry had reached a critical temperature. Shaw Lane’s signing of midfielder Aaron Joseph in mid-December was a major blow to Emley and the club were understandably upset about his exit. The subsequent approach for emerging star left-back Schofield drew more anger.

“Their pursuit of Aaron Joseph who was probably our best midfielder was the worst kept secret,” Leech says.

“Nose was an unbelievable player, but in the changing room he was the most laid back guy ever. Sometimes he used to fall asleep in the team-talk. The deal they offered him was too good to turn down and the club was powerless. Nose leaving and Shaw Lane chasing Liam Schofield certainly riled Daz. The second match was always going to be a big game, but these things added fuel to the fire.”

Houghton agrees he knew what to expect because of his signings and he wasn’t surprised with how Emley celebrated the comeback victory.

“For Emley it was a cup final,” he says.

“We’d taken JC and Flynn from them and then Aaron Joseph a month earlier. Signing them didn’t go down with Emley and they were up for it. Daz especially was up for it and he made his players up for it and fair play. You could see at the end (of the second game) by the way they celebrated that it was a cup final for them.”


The Teams walk out
Ash Flynn celebrates his first goal
Leech in battle for Emley
Aaron Joseph in the thick of the battle
Young defender Jack Steers out-leaps former Doncaster Rovers striker Jason Price
Leech taking a first half throw-in

Because of the bad weather across the country, the pitch was only passed playable an hour or so before kick-off. Experienced referee Andy Smith was also concerned with the forecast which suggested heavy downpours and gale-force winds were set to come during the second half.

Emley were attempting to end a three-game losing streak. Shaw Lane, without suspended striker Danny Frost, would go two points clear at the top with a victory. 

“Daz was actually a calm guy during his team-talks over the years, but this day he was particularly fired up,” Leech says.

“Everyone at the club wanted to beat them. That’s from the management, the players, the chairman, the secretary, to the fans. The team-talk was about getting at them, but it didn’t actually work like that because we were really poor. You could tell that Shaw Lane were up for it as they went 2-0 up quite quickly.”

Ash Flynn and John Cyrus celebrate Shaw Lane’s second goal
A muddy Leech after Flynn was yellow carded for the challenge

Flynn had scored both and with the way he and Cyrus celebrated the second goal, they were clearly thrilled.

Tackles had been raining in too. Leech had left Joseph on the deck and received a yellow card for it. That was before Flynn flew in on him and was lucky to stay on the field.

“To be fair, he should have been sent off for the challenge and it was probably my fault for getting him too fired up,” admits Houghton.

Leech ended up with a hole in his sock and in a bit of pain.

“After he scored his second and then he did a bad tackle on me and got booked,” he says. “For me, without a doubt he should have been sent off. What annoyed me was their bench saying ‘great tackle’. That’s why I started showing them my cut sock.”

Second Half 

Simon Houghton was the manager of Shaw Lane Aquaforce for half of the 2013/14 season

“I’ve known anything like it, it was like the footballing gods were conspiring against us,” says Houghton when reflecting on the second half.

His team were in total control. Flynn had nearly completed his hat-trick after rounding Emley goalkeeper Adam Lawlor before finding the side-netting.

Shaw Lane’s position was not in doubt until eight minutes into the second half. Flynn burst clear of Emley’s defence was brought down by Lawlor. Everyone in the ground expected a penalty, but instead referee Mr Smith showed a second yellow card.

“We were cruising and we didn’t look like losing at half-time,” Houghton says.

“We were 2-0 up and Flynn went through and got taken out by the goalkeeper. It should have been a penalty and if we had scored it, it would have 3-0, game over. But he got sent off for a second yellow card for simulation, I still can’t believe it now, six years on.”

Even Leech believes Flynn was unlucky to be sent off.

“It was poetic justice in some respect, but I don’t think it was a dive to be honest so he was unfortunate to get sent off for that,” he says.

“I’ve actually chatted to Flynny about the game as he played a few games for Shelley a while ago. We had a laugh about it so there’s no hard feelings. I didn’t ask him for a replacement sock!”

Once as the gale-force wind came, Shaw Lane goalkeeper Jamie Green’s clearances just came straight back
Leech’s replacement Ryan Pleasants played a major role in Emley’s first goal
Slybert Stewart scored twice for Emley
Doran Jordan (left) scored the winner for Emley with three minutes to go

The rain started falling and the gale-force wind began to control proceedings. Shaw Lane were suddenly facing their biggest battle yet of their short history.  

Injured Leech’s replacement Ryan Pleasants, the future Worsbrough Bridge striker who came on near the hour mark, was instrumental in the comeback as he injured himself charging down a Green clearance which allowed Stewart to pull one back.

The conditions were totally against Aquaforce at this point.

“You had Jamie Green in the nets and he could ping a ball for fun,” Houghton says.

“He could ping it as good as any ‘keeper I’ve ever seen. But as the weather changed, he was hitting it and it was coming back and landing on the edge of the 18-yard-box.

“We just couldn’t get out. It was unbelievable, that wind. It wasn’t a cross field wind, it was straight from end-to-end.

“Once it went 2-2, I knew we’d lose it. We were down to ten men and I also think there were one or two on the field with the wrong attitude.”

Emley midfielder Josh Ingham, now a stalwart at the club, provided the pass for Stewart to equalise.

Visibility was deteriorating for the players, never mind the spectators and Houghton agrees he should have asked for proceedings to be brought to a temporary halt.

“To be honest I should have used my experience and pulled the linesman and said ‘this game needs to be stopped for ten minutes to let the weather calm down’,” he says.

“But I didn’t. I should have been more vocal because from the dugout you couldn’t even see the game. I should have ‘come on mate, we can’t see ourselves so how can these lads’.

“It might have calmed down and we might have been able to re-group and see it out.”

Shaw Lane did have two late major chances when the match was tied at 2-2. Kane Reece, still a kid that year, was denied by Lawlor, and substitute Barlow saw a goal-bound effort blocked by a defender.

But the conditions worsened and in the last few minutes, Green and his defence’s clearances were literally coming straight back and that’s how the winner was scored by Jordan.

“I went off injured from that tackle after the red card and I was out for a couple of weeks, but the red card and the weather were the turning points,” Leech says.

“They were down to ten men and when I went off we went to three at the back. Ryan Pleasants went on and we battered them for the rest of the game. The change in the weather was a massive factor. It must have been the worst conditions ever for those lads who played in the last 30 minutes, but you can’t take the credit away from the Emley team. We didn’t care about the weather.

“It is one of the best games I have ever played in and watched. There was a big crowd there and I think most of the ground wanted us to win. The ground was electric when Doran Jordan scored the winner.”

Words were exchanged as the teams left the field and Emley celebrated in an exuberant manner. Leech even admits Hepworth was more triumphant than usual.

“There was a kerfuffle as we were going in and we maybe over-celebrated,” he says. 

“I had come off injured, but I still went onto the pitch to celebrate. We also made sure we were nice and loud when we got in the home changing room

“Daz was going crazy with his celebrations. I think he threw all the kit in the air and let it drop on the floor. It is saying something for Daz, but I think it was one of the most animated I ever saw him when we won a game.”

The victory spurred Emley onto have a strong finish to the season. Hepworth’s men lost just once in their final 13 fixtures, winning eight of them to finish eighth.

Shaw Lane won promotion – the first notable one of their journey up the pyramid – after a dramatic final week of the season. Craig Elliott was their manager by the time they got over the finish line. 

Houghton was sacked eight days after the Emley loss. The 1-0 defeat at Dinnington Town – who had star striker Liam Cartledge in goal – the following week was his final match in charge of Shaw Lane. 

“I knew after we lost at Emley that it could be my last game,” Houghton says.

“But I took charge of the Dinnington Town game and you should have seen the conditions that day! The Shaw Lane job was probably a year too late for me. If it had been a year earlier it would have been perfect. As I’ve said before, there was a lot going on in my personal life and Shaw Lane was the right club, but at the wrong time.”

If you have enjoyed this article and the Non League Journey interview series, please watch the video at the bottom of the page and consider making a donation to the not-for-profit organisation NLY Community Sport which provides sport for children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. CLICK HERE to visit the JustGiving page.

NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams so when the green light to return is given, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.

We have six teams, a mixture of Junior and Adult teams – Nostell MW DFC, Pontefract Pirates, Selby Disability Football Club and the South Yorkshire Superheroes (Barnsley) – across Yorkshire.

Like most organisations, we have been affected financially by the Coronavirus and we have incurred losses which we cannot recover. We have not been hit as badly as other organisations, but we do need raise £2000 to put us back at the level we were at in mid-March and enable us to make a difference once again to our players’ lives in the future, without having financial worries. As each day goes on, a substantial number of our players become further isolated so we need to be ‘ready for action’ when restrictions are lifted.

Any amount raised above £2000 will be put towards new projects (when the world returns to normal) designed to further benefit people with disabilities and learning difficulties. You can learn more about the organisation HERE and on our Facebook page.

Watch the video below to see highlights from our three years as an organisation. The video was produced for our players at the end of March to remind them of good memories from the last three years.

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