Community side looking to come out of their Shell(ey)s in the NWCFL

Tue 8th August 2023 | Shelley Community
By Jay Cooper

When the teams for the NWCFL First Division North in 2023/24 were initially announced in May this year, it was anticipated to be an 18-team league, just as it had been the previous year. The new sides to join the division were expected to be Yorkshire-based Route One Rovers and Manchester side Droylsden. By the opening day, things were slightly different.

NWCFL fans of a few years will recognise the name of Shelley Community FC. They were a part of our pyramid as recently as 2020, when they unfortunately had to resign from the league at the height of the pandemic that shall not be named. Since then, they’ve been plying their trade in the West Yorkshire League, where they managed a runners-up finish in the 2021/22 Division One campaign, before a strong fifth-placed finish in the Premier Division table in 2022/23.

Interestingly, that is a promotion place from the West Yorkshire Prem, which one would naturally assume means back-to-back promotions. However, their progress up the leagues was halted by the first published league allocations. Upon an appeal against the initial decision to keep Shelley in the West Yorkshire League, it was agreed that their promotion would stand, and thus, the HD8 side were granted an unforeseen 19th spot in the NWCFL First Division North, joining fellow former West Yorkshire League side Ilkley Town.

So how was the league team imbalance solved? Well, Uttoxeter Town, initially pegged for the First Division South received a reprieve back to the Midlands league and were replaced by Droylsden, originally pegged for the North. Then Winsford United accepted voluntary relegation as a means to avoid being laterally moved to the Midlands League, and they would wind up replacing Ellesmere Rangers in the First Division South, when the Meresiders resigned from the NWCFL. Lovely - right back where we started, at 18 teams in both the North and South.

So, with all the admin out of the way, Shelley are here, and coming off two consecutive promotions (even if the second one was a bit stunted), you’d be expecting them to come into the league with venom for continuing their climb up the English football pyramid. In a conversation with first team manager Howard Cartledge last week, he did acknowledge that “you’d hope to get in the play-offs, but I think that that’s not realistic at this moment in time. I think we’re in a transitional period. If we can finish mid-table, that is a tremendous season for us. Staying up was the goal to start with, as well as developing our community club and bringing more people on board.”

A transitional period? After successive promotions? Yes, as Howard further elaborated that, in the off-season, “things have been quite difficult, actually. We weren’t sure for a while whether we were going to be in the league or not, but we got in, and then had to get players in quickly. We’ve only been at it for about 5-weeks (in pre-season). We’ve played teams from leagues above us – we’ve had two 2-0 wins; lost 1-0 to Golcar United from the NCEL; and we also lost 3-0 to Eccleshill. I think there was a bit of naivety (in those games), but I think that were in transition at the moment - from a team that played a lot of long ball football to actually playing possession football and trying to open up teams and create chances. And it will take a while for that.”

This idea was somewhat on display in Shelley’s first match of the new NWCFL First Division North season. They were given the unenviable task to travelling to Euxton Villa, with the Preston-based side coming into the new campaign off the back of a stellar NWCFL debut in 2022/23, where they managed a 5th placed finish and promotion play-off semi-final exit.

The first half of this encounter was one that looked more in Villa’s favour, with Shelley unable to break down a resolute defence. And there were times when a last-ditch challenge in or near the box, or a fine reaction stop from ‘keeper Paul Day, were needed to keep things level, but that parity was sustained until the break.

In the second half, however, Euxton were in no mood to be the better side and come away with nothing. Goals from Rajwinder Uppal, Joshua Briggs and a late exclamation point from Dan Singleton were enough to see the home side seal the win, and for Cartledge’s side to leave the Jim Fowler Memorial Ground with as many points as they had when they arrived.

In correlation with his points about the team being in a transitional period, Cartledge said post-match that, “there was a bit of naivety today, we played it across the back twice and got caught out… …and it’s making those mistakes. At this level, that kind of thing is crucial, and we need to learn and learn quickly if we’re going to do well in this league.” A good point well made about the learning curve for new teams that come to the NWCFL, via both promotion and relegation.

“Playing in the West Yorkshire League last year, there were maybe 4 or 5 really good teams in there that could play at this level but don’t because of facilities. It’s certainly a quicker tempo, and there’s a difference in fitness levels, which we are coming to grips with now. I’ve got a couple of people in to do the coaching: Dom Webster, who’s come in from Emley academy and he’s brilliant with his coaching, as well as Steve Turner, my assistant gaffer, who’s really good as well.”

And, despite a poor result, Cartledge wasn’t shy about the positives he was able to take from what he saw. “We kept working all game, we certainly showed some good character, and even the referee said to us after the game that we were a credit – we never complained or moaned about decisions, we got on with it, and accepted it.”

Shelley’s baptism by fire didn’t stop with their opening day defeat to Euxton Villa, as they succumbed to a second consecutive 3-0 loss against Route One Rovers when playing host to their fellow NWCFL new boys in midweek. However, their most recent match at the time of writing was exactly the break they needed, as Cyrus Rowe bagged the only goal of their away game at AFC Blackpool, in the 85th minute no less, to see them leave the seaside with their first victory of the season.

With the First Division North only 2 to 3 games old at this time, it’s far too early to even think about where Shelley, or any of the teams around them for that matter, might be placed in the table by April 2024. But every team’s season starts somewhere, and an away win over a side who’ve circled the play-off places in the last few years is quite a nice base to build from.

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