The Early Years
The club was founded in the summer of 2001 by Allan Ware and Chris Burns and was originally named Skyrack F.C. In its short history the club has progressed from the Red Triangle League through to the West Yorkshire League climbing five levels of the F.A. pyramid.
In the club’s inaugural season a six month unbeaten record spanning from November to April resulted in promotion from the Red Triangle Senior Division to the Premier Division. With financial support from sponsors and the club consolidating their position the following season with a 5th place finish, the newly formed committee put plans in place to move the club to the Yorkshire Old Boys league. The request was granted and Old Headingley A.F.C. was placed in the 1st Division. The committee’s hard work was rewarded as the clubs success continued, convincingly winning the league and subsequent promotion to the Senior B Division.
In 2004/05 another credible season saw the club finish in 4th place. Towards the end of this campaign, Manager Chris Burns and the committee was given the opportunity to once again switch leagues. The decision was made to move to the West Yorkshire Association League (WYAFL), a direct feeder into the Northern Counties East League. Realising the step-up in standard the club looked to bolster their squad resulting in the introduction of a Reserve team.
Onwards and Upwards
With both teams tipped to struggle in their first season in the WYAFL, Old Headingley A.F.C. defied the odds to record a further promotion finishing runners up in West Yorkshire Division 2. The reserves competed equally as well securing an impressive 6th place finish in the West Yorkshire Alliance Division 2, with a strong end to the season. Off the pitch in an attempt to negotiate an affiliation with Collingham and Linton Sports Association (CALSA) the club moved grounds from Lawnswood to Collingham.
Arguably the club’s 2006/07 season was their most successful in their short history. Under the guidance of Maciej Wontorowski and Mark Gilligan the Reserve team continued to improve. A 5th place finish in the league was recorded and a famous cup victory was denied as they succumbed to a 1-0 final defeat. With the First team now playing in the highest league in their history the success continued. The club finished a respectable 4th in the West Yorkshire Division 1 as well as recording possibly their most notable achievement winning the Barkston Ash District F.A.Cup. The year was complete when the club was announced as the FA Charter Standard Adult Club of the Year.
One step back, two steps forward
Buoyed by the clubs achievements Old Headingley A.F.C. looked to build on their successes. However in unfortunate circumstances they were evicted from Collingham and homeless as the 2007/08 season approached. Garnering substantial press coverage and support from the local community, Bradford University heard about the campaign and agreed to allow the club to play at Woodhall Lane just days before the club had to concede defeat.
With a new ground secured and the club on a high it was surprising that the next two seasons for both the First Team and Reserves proved frustrating affairs. A combination of inconsistent performances and management uncertainty resulted in mid-table finishes for both teams. Fortunately the committee did not follow suit and within a year of leasing Woodhall lane, a perimeter fence had been installed to ensure league requirements were met. This was funded with the help of the Football Foundation who issued an £8000 grant to assist. The club also managed to win FA Charter Standard Adult Club of the Year for the second time and set a record as the fastest club to achieve Chartership from inception in only 2 years and 11 months.
Keen to move forward, the teams suffered mixed fortunes in 2009/2010. Led by the experienced Rob Notman and Sam Brown, the Reserves not only won promotion but secured the West Yorkshire Alliance Division 2 title with ease. Unfortunately the First team was to suffer a much worse fate. Not even the return of Chris Burns as Manager could prevent the club from a 14th place finish, providing the club with its first competitive set-back and relegation to Division 2.
Off the pitch, Old Headingley A.F.C suffered an arson attack on their beloved clubhouse. Chairman, Sam Brown, told Headingley Today: “We couldn’t believe it when we heard about the fire. We were just getting to the point where we were settled and everything looked rosy for next season. Then this happened and ripped the carpet from under our feet.”
The first Save Old Headingley campaign was launched in 2007 when the club was faced with extinction. Now it was time to reignite the flame. Temporary changing facilities were installed to ensure games could go ahead and discussions were in place with Bradford University to reconstruct the building.
Time to pull together
With the disappointment of relegation put behind them, and star striker Sam Pickup sitting pretty as top scorer in the league, the 2010/11 season saw Old Headingley A.F.C. finish as runners up in Division 2 and regain their Division 1 status. The reserves playing at their highest standard to date finished an excellent 7th against some strong reserve teams. Off the pitch the club was in a healthy position, with the committee discussing important development plans.
The 2011/2012 season saw both teams maintain their status in the league and finish mid table. However, it was clear to all that the club needed further development and player recruitment if it was to challenge for either title.
The 2012/2013 season saw a new figure emerge into management with local boy Matt Fryer taking charge of the Reserve team. The 1st team led by Chris Burns, had a successful season finishing an excellent 6th but there real success was in the District Cup reaching the final. Here, they played a strong Salts FC and were unfortunate to lose 1-0. A fantastic achievement however, and something for the club to be proud of and build on for next season. The reserves continued there inconsistent form finishing 10th but for a set up with no feeder club, to remain in the league and continue to challenge the stronger teams is a success story in it’s own.
A season of ups and downs
2013/2014 was a difficult season for all involved. With Chris Burns announcing his retirement, Richard Hamilton took over as 1st Team Manager with Paul Harrington as assistant. The reserves also had a change of management with Matt Fryer stepping down to continue his University studies and unknown Sean Harrison was recruited from Leeds City Old Boys.
The first team, with real belief after some exciting summer signings, started strongly in the league and there was a general feeling that this could be their year. However, progress faltered in the winter months and it was not long before the 1st’s found themselves at home mid table. Chris Burns returned to take over from Hamilton and ensured the team finished a respectable position in the league along with a semi-final appearance in the cup. The reserves had a disastrous start to the season and it was not long before Sean Harrison left by mutual consent. A temporary management team of Sam Brown and Lewis Keogh took charge and with the reserves sitting rock bottom at Christmas without a win, things were not looking good.
A moment of devastation hit Old Headingley A.F.C in November when Lewis Keogh, a friend, a brother, a son and a long serving Old Headingley player passed away. It was an incredibly tough and emotional time for everyone at the club but players and supporters alike held their heads high and got through the next few games like they wanted to prove a point.
The 1st’s remained mid table playing some good football in spells but lacking in consistency. The reserves under leadership of Sam Brown battled relegation throughout and it came down to the final game where the club could finally let out a sigh of relief as the reserves secured the victory they needed to retain their league status.
The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Blue and White
As long standing 1st team manager Chris Burns steps down for the umpteenth time and Sam Brown focusses on his playing career it’s all change for the forthcoming season. Elliott Sheeran, former manager of Boroughbridge Reserves, has been appointed as 1st team manager and the returning Matt Fryer and injury stricken Tony Angell will be teaming up to progress the reserves forward.
With a name change being approved to Headingley A.F.C, an exciting new link with the University of Leeds and a change of home pitch, where for the first time they will be playing in their beloved Headingley, the future looks very bright for the club and there is an air of excitement surrounding all involved.