FROM two perennial strugglers to one promotion chaser. From two clubs scraping three-figure attendances to one club with an average of over 450. Ossett United was a merger that made footballing sense, and so far it has been quite the success.
The union of two such long-standing rivals as Ossett Albion and Ossett Town in 2018 could have been a disaster, but over the past 12 months the club has truly united the town.
On the field, the first season has been a hit too. United reached the play-offs with an exciting team and put the first trophy in their cabinet to boot with a West Riding County Cup triumph.
Although their promotion push didn’t translate into play-off success, the strides made on and off the field mean that manager Andy Welsh, a former Premier League player with Sunderland, was able to reflect on year one of the project with some satisfaction.
“To win a cup in your first season and give the fans something to cheer about, I think was fantastic,” he said.
“It hurts me to say that we got beat in the play-offs but we put that to the side now.”
Ahead of year two, not everything is as positive. Three of the six directors have left after the club reported considerable losses in its first year, with chairman John Chidlaw standing down along with Emma Chidlaw and Lee Summerscales, the three chiefs from the old Albion club.
If year one brought promises of riches, year two will see realism. More financial prudence will be key with Welsh having a smaller playing budget to work with as a result.
Some of last season’s standout performers have moved on. Star wingers Aidan Chippendale and Adam Priestley, the latter a Gibraltar international, have gone alongside captain Alex McQuade and the likes of forwards Tom Corner, Shiraz Khan and Adam Porritt.
The spine of the team, however, remains: Brett Souter between the posts, James Burke and new skipper James Knowles at the back, Chris Chantler bombing down the left flank, experienced general Andy Monkhouse in midfield alongside Corey Gregory, and prolific non-league marksman Tom Greaves up top.
Added to that for the new campaign is a sprinkling of promising talents. Greaves is joined in attack by Nick Guest, who has signed from Pontefract Collieries to come to Ossett for a third time after two previous spells at Ossett Town.
Jordan Coduri comes highly rated from Penistone Church and will look to replace some of the pace and skill that Priestley and Chippendale provided, while Luke Porritt and Damian Reeves, signed from Hyde United and Gainsborough Trinity respectively, can also strengthen the attacking arsenal.
In the middle, Monkhouse’s 16 years of Football League experience is contrasted with exciting young talent Elliott Harrison, who has been snapped up from Mossley. Stuart Mott, who had spells last season at Pickering Town and Morpeth Town, can fill the right-back spot in an otherwise settled defence.
Perhaps most crucially there has been no change in the dugout, where the double act of Welsh and assistant Paul Quinn, the former Brighouse Town and Shaw Lane boss, proved to be one of the club’s most valuable assets last season.
“We knew what we wanted to do. We knew the areas that we wanted to strengthen in,” said Welsh of the club’s recruitment over the summer.
“We have lost a few players but we want players who want to play for the football club more than ever now, because we need players now that understand the club and want to fight for it.
“Things financially aren’t as strong as they were last year, but myself and Quinny weren’t going to turn our backs and nobody else has turned their backs. We’ve all said we want to stand up and be counted and push the club forward.”
Welsh refuses to be drawn on how the squad shapes up compared to last year’s vintage and isn’t revealing any aspirations, but insists that it will be “competitive”.
He said: “I’m not going to get drawn into saying it’s going to be stronger or weaker, we’re going to be this or do that.
“If we focus on ourselves and we have the right mindset every single game, I’d like to think that we’ll be competitive in each game that we go into.”
One other change this year is the league itself: a shift in the boundaries, which seem to be ever-changing in non-league, for the two northern leagues in the eighth tier of the football pyramid mean that Ossett are now playing in a north/west division instead of an east league.
“Again the league has changed so there’s going to be different hurdles for us to overcome,” said Welsh. “For us I think once we’ve played everyone once we’ll see where we’re at, see where everyone else is levelled up in the league.
“I have always felt that the north-west side has been a lot more competitive than the other leagues that I’ve seen, and I will expect a very tough season this year. We’ve got to have the right mindset and the right competitive edge.”
Whether the team will be capable of challenging for promotion again remains to be seen, but the emphasis is on continuing the work done in the first year with everyone pulling in the same direction and living up to the club motto: ‘stronger together’.