Continuing our 'Let's meet' series, we have spoken with Richard Giles, Chairman of Ilkley Town who join the NWCFL in Division One North for the 2021-22 season. We spoke with Richard on a day where he had been acting as car park marshall on a day where 300 Kids, parents and match officials at a local tournament hosted by the club - proving that being a Chairman isn't all glamour!
Playing at the MPM Stadium in the town, the club, known as the Baht ‘atters are centrally located and are at the gates of Ilkley Moor, a place where the natural beauty will form a stunning backdrop for games.
Founded in 1995 as Ilkley, the club initially plyed its trade in the Harrogate and District Football League, remaing there for nearly a decade before joining the West Yorkshire League in 2004 adding the 'Town' suffix a year later. The Ben Rhydding Sports Club added a 4G facility in 2017 which proved a catalyst for the club which continued to improve until recently when an application was made to join Step Six of the National League system. The Club were placed by The FA into the NWCFL Division One North in the recent re-organisation to backfill one of the two vacancies.
We started by asking Richard to tell us about Ilkley Town FC in his own words! "Well, to begin with we are a community club, we initially were a stronger presence in the junior ranks but continued to develop all of the players over the years building the firsts and linking that structure up with Under 23 and Under 21 teams. We have over 650 players with us ranging from Under 6 to Veterans, we have Womens teams and Inclusive sides. In a town of 14,000 people a lot of people have a tie to the club directly or indirectly."
Were you always planning to apply to Step 6 in recent seasons?
"Well, getting a 4G pitch in to the ground four years ago was a big thing for us, we didn't start too well in the first season but we improved quickly on it and were starting to really challenge in the disrupted seasons. We have always had strong players as we have a traditionally good catchment area but have always punched above our weight a bit when it comes to managers and coaching staff. We had a feeling that we were capable to go for it."
Were you surprised to end up in the North West Counties Football league rather than perhaps the Northern Counties East League?
"I felt the writing was on the wall a bit to be honest. Both are good leagues but the NWCFL is really developing and we saw a strong presence of the NWCFL in the grading visits that we had. They also had two vacancies in the North Division and we had a feeling that if we were to get in, it would be to The NWCFL. In all fairness we are actually quite pleased at the outcome, it's slightly less travelling for us and we have a couple of really appealling derbies on the doorstep with come great fixtures all round."
When the allocation was announced a few were surprised at the location, however you mention there about less travelling, is the travelling a major headache or something that you can live with?
"Ask me in six months time!!! At the moment we are just happy to be in the NWCFL Division One North and excited about the chellenges ahead. Most of the clubs we are travelling to are an hour to two hours travelling and that's largely the standard in many of the Step six divisions and thats manageable for us. Our players generally make their own way to away games, like a number of clubs already in the NWCFL do now but we will be putting on a minibus this season for the first time so that our players can travel together."
Have you managed to do any homework about the NWCFL, about the teams, the protocols etc?
"Little bits, we have spoken to the League's Management Committee who have been very helpful to us and we are learning fast! We have taken advice fromthe likes of Silsden and Colne who are close geographically to us and who we have a good relationship with. We know Roy Mason at Steeton as well, we had a friendly with them not so long ago and we have tapped Roy on the shoulder as well as Danny Forrest at Silsden who speaks very highly of the league."
Tell us about your management team....
"Simon Armstrong is the first team Manager and he calls the shots. He has been with the club for 7-8 years and has played to a good standard at semi-pro level. He is committed to the long-term vision of the club and is UEFA B qualified. He reads the game well and studies opposition to adapt the sides each game rather than having a set system. Dave Houlston is Head Coach, he was our manager in the late 90's and has massive experience, works well alongside Simon. He is UEFA A Qualified and isnt afraid to give the hairdryer treatmen, i remember that well from my own playing days!."
What is an Ilkley Town Matchday Experience going to be like for visiting fans?
"Well, we are in the most beautiful part of the Dales with very scenic views of Ilkley Moor. We have a clubhouse with a good selection of beer and a refreshment hut at the side of the pitch and folk are very welcome to join us in the bar before and after a game. For visting fans and groundhoppers you can buy a printed programme and a pin badge and you can reach us easily because we are right next to a railway station. You will get a warm welcome in very nice surroundings and value for your money."
Are there any clubs that you are looking forward to visiting?
"Bury for sure as that's right up there. Steeton for us as our derby game and South Liverpool, we have had great chats with the people from South Liverpool as they have a similar facility to us and we have shared some ideas and hopes for the coming season."
Are you keen to get going or will you still be preparing at the last minute?
"We'll still be going at the last minute! There is a lot to do between now and the big kick off but we have a good group of people involved with the club and we are all aware of what needs to be done to be ready. We are organised and ready to put on a NWCFL matchday, we are also in the FA Vase this season and the draw for that is soon as well. It's a great time for us, a lot of work will come to fruition when that first ball is kicked but we can't wait to get going."
A big thank you to Richard Giles for his time and we wish everyone at Ilkley Town the best of luck for the new season.
Photo from "Tom Pearson Photo" via the Ilkley Town Website.