As we continue the focus on our youth teams this #YouthDevelopmentWeek, Paul Barker looks back at another season disrupted by Covid-19, but with a cup final to look forward to at the end.The COVID pandemic once again wreaked havoc with the sporting calendar during the 2020/21 season with large portions of the year confined to lockdown.
Initial signs for this new group of U19s were promising with victories over Ossett Utd and Halifax Town setting us up nicely for the upcoming season. A 1-0 away defeat to Knaresborough Town Reserves in our final warm-up game did nothing to dampen the spirits as an excellent all-round display showed a great deal of promise.
Any opening night nerves as the West Riding U23s League kicked off were soon dispelled with a convincing 6-0 win over Stanley Utd in Castleford, a fine way to start the new season. But the following couple of weeks served as a reality check with narrow defeats at Pontefract Collieries and a very good Leeds University First Team.
Following the first three matches, the league was suspended as we first entered the Tier system followed by Lockdown two. At the time I do not think anyone envisaged how long it would be before we got to another game night.
All hope of returning to normal football was quickly dashed after Christmas as Lockdown three put paid to being able to complete a full fixture list, this was confirmed by the FA and the league table and fixtures were null and void for a second season.
Thankfully as April approached the West Riding FA announced a new cup competition to be played between April and June.
With little or no training for three months the first couple of matches saw us struggling to find our feet against good opposition in Ilkley Town and Silsden. A battling point against Tadcaster Albion i2i Gold then followed which proved a turning point in our season. The return fixture against Ilkley saw us lose out by an odd goal in a game we dominated but struggled to finish off the numerous chances. A 3-3 draw away at Silsden and a 3-0 victory at i2i in York rounded off the group stages in good fashion.
When the draw was made for the knockout stages of the cup, we were tasked with an away trip to Frickley Athletic which was then followed by a thumping 6-0 victory over Tadcaster Albion Sky Blues U23s in the semi-final.
So, we have a cup final to look forward to against a very strong Hemsworth Miners Welfare U23s side on Monday 14th June at West Riding FA HQ, Fleet Lane. A great reward for all the players that have stuck together through another disrupted campaign.
“The only team that needs to win trophies is the first team. The youth teams don't need to win, they just need to make their players better.” a quote from Arsenal and Netherlands legend Dennis Bergkamp. While we do have a cup final to play, development is always at the forefront of the U19s. The U23s League is a great challenge for a lot of the Town youngsters, for many it is their first taste of what could be called 'adult' football.
Throughout the season many of the players have linked up with local adult teams as they look to progress not just now but, in the future, turning out for Boroughbridge, Knaresborough Celtic and Harrogate Railway... with more to follow, for sure.
Paul Barker, U19s Manager