Ossett: A town united

Ossett is a proud town in West Yorkshire which has proudly been the host of two football clubs since the formation of Ossett Albion in 1944.

Albion have a proud history with youth players, the likes of Shane Killock and Dave Syers starting their careers at Queen’s Terrace as well as being one round off the FA Cup proper on three occasions, whereas Town boast the highest league position in the town, finishing tenth in the Northern Premier League in the 2006/07 season, as well as hosting Manchester United in a friendly in Sir Alex Ferguson’s earlier days.

However, the long history of both clubs is set to come to an emotional end, with both clubs ceasing to exist, as the people of West Yorkshire and beyond have known them.

Chairman John Chidlaw was quoted in The Wakefield Express saying: “We all come together with a clear vision for the future – to provide the highest level of football possible for Ossett”.

The word ‘united’ seems apt for such a move. Two long-standing rivals have merged together to become one. The merger has been largely successful in its planning stage – epitomised by the coming together of the chairman of the two clubs, the aforementioned Chidlaw, chairman of Albion and James Rogers, chairman of Town.

Such a move cannot be done without a degree of criticism and scepticism, not least from the supporters of the two clubs.

Speaking to Rogers, he agrees with this view saying: ”I’m pretty confident most (80%) of people will be supportive and see the merger as being a very positive and sensible move”.

There’s no doubt that the merge of the two clubs will surely eliminate potential financial issues, not least due to two sets of supporters becoming one in a town which reportedly inhabits over 20,000 people.

Rogers also acknowledges that the merger isn’t without its drawbacks saying: ”10-20% of people will/are seeing it as lost heritage” as alluded to above. He also asserts that without it: ”big challenges lie ahead for both clubs”.

He ends the quote saying: ”Stronger Together, is never a truer strap line.” And it never is, the fact is year on year non-league clubs struggle to make ends meet, largely due to the dwindling interest in non-league football for younger fans, who would prefer to watch the game in the comfort of their own home.

This view is echoed by soon-to-be Ossett United fan, Craig Biddlestone, who says: ‘’These are exciting times for football in Ossett, it allowed the new club to be able to have a stronger vision in the future in terms of where they can compete’’.

Only recently have Chester and Hartlepool United experiences tumultuous financial difficulties which has put the future of both clubs in serious jeopardy, and it appears the relevant parties have taken steps to avoid this happening in Ossett.

The vision is clear and the aim is realistic, the new club isn’t a ‘flash in the pan’ idea, with little to no planning involved. A statement on the Ossett Town’s current website outlines this talking up the prospect of a 3G state-of-the-art pitch, also announcing their intention to improve facilities to make the club fit for promotions for new and existing fans.

The board have also being signalling the intent to house junior teams at the home of Ossett Albion, as well as the recent announcement of a ladies team.

For the minute, the two clubs remains separate – and this is how it will remain until the end of the season, but a smart initiative will allow fans of either club to attend the home games of the other using their season ticket for their respective team – perhaps an attempt to unite the town and something that could help finances with the small boost in attendance from now until the final league game.

The issue of potential ‘favouritism’ towards a particular club by the board has been carefully managed by the board – the badge isn’t reminiscent of either side and the colour of the kit isn’t either – this could be an attraction to any new generation fans as it is a ‘new’ club to get behind, perhaps reasoning behind the whole idea.

Speaking to Neil Spofforth, a former member of the Ossett Town committee, who said he pushed for idea years ago, but it was not the right time.

Now though, he feels otherwise. The Town supporter holds the board in high regard saying: ‘’the new board and CEO are all strong people who want the best for the area. It is sad that two club names don’t continue but neither will be forgotten’’.

He asserts the idea of sustainability by saying that: ‘’United will begin at the highest level Town or Albion can sustain individually’’, thus citing the aim, and possibility of promotion. Spofforth touched upon this and mentioned the idea of National League football, with his view being that: ‘’If support grows as early indications show then the new club should believe National League football can be achieved and sustained’’, which should be a positive in terms of the future of football in the town.

On a more light-hearted note, Spofforth compared the merger to that of a parent wanting better for their children, Town and Albion representing the parents and United representing the child.

Despite the drawbacks, it can be agreed that the proposition of National League Football is an attractive proposition for the people of Ossett, and the levels of support and exposure as a result in the move, surely suggests that there is more bad than good as a town, once divided, unites.

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