The history of Silsden AFC 1904 to the present date courtesy of Rob Grillo.
The first ever Silsden AFC was formed at a meeting at Silsden Liberal Club in September 1904. They adopted the blue & white playing kit that had been used by the recently defunct village rugby club, and a field adjacent to the original rugby field on Keighley Road was hired. It is amazing that the same field is used to this day with our brilliant new facilities and football ground. One of the prime movers behind the original Silsden club was Irish GP Dr. John Purcell. In their first season they won the prestigious Keighley Charity Cup at their first attempt and then went on to play in the Keighley & District League, which they first won in 1909, before joining the Bradford & District League for a short while. In the 1913-14 season they won the Charity Cup for the second time with a 3-2 success over Cullingworth. War disrupted the 1914-15 season, but Silsden lifted the Keighley League title again. 1921-22 was to prove a highly successful season for Silsden sides. Silsden FC started the season by absorbing Silsden White Star (they absorbed lots of other local sides around this period) won the Charity Cup again after a 3-0 victory over Skipton Christ Church. They then won it again the next year. Silsden were at this time among a number of local clubs wanting a higher grade of football in which to play and so became founder members of the West Riding County Amateur League. In 1922-23 they also entered the FA Amateur Cup for the first time, before moving on to the South Craven and then Airedale & Craven League. In all, they won the Charity Cup nine times, in 1904-5, 1913-4, 1921-2, 1923-4, 1931-2, 1933-4, 1934-5, 1935-6, 1939-40. Their league record was great, with championship wins in the Keighley & District League (1908-09, 1914-15, 1939-40) and Airedale & Craven League in 1931-32. In the 1933-34 season, Silsden beat Sutton to regain the Charity Cup. They also won the league cup (defeating Barnoldswick 5-2 in the final) and, for the first time, the Keighley & District FA Cup – Cullingworth YMCA were thrashed 6-1 in the final at Lawkholme Lane.
At the end of the 1933-34 season, Silsden resigned from the Airedale & Craven League to join the senior division of the Bradford Amateur League, the reason being a desired increase in support and revenue. They were pipped for the title but at least the Charity Cup was won again, Sutton United defeated 3-2 Silsden returned to the Keighley League for the 1937-38 season. The gloomy economic climate at the time had seen many clubs go to the wall, and there is no doubt that Silsden were also feeling the pinch. Despite this the District Cup was won for only the second time, holders Guardhouse defeated 3-2. Silsden re-emerged in the Craven League following the war and then decided to step up again to the stronger Bradford Amateur League again. The 1951-52 season saw Silsden try their luck in the Wharfedale (Saturday) League. Eight years were spent in this league. Their switch to the Wharfedale League in 1951 was the start of a sustained period of success, although a league title would elude them for a little longer. A new dressing block at the Keighley Road ground was built, constructed from an old air raid shelter, with bathing accommodation added. This was described by one club official as ‘undoubtedly the finest in the district’ (not Pete Hanson). The 1951-52 campaign also saw the Keighley Cup return to Silsden, Sutton United defeated by a solitary Arthur Tillotson header in a tight final. The 1954-55 season at last proved successful, with the league title accompanying the Keighley Cup to Keighley Road – and for the time being Silsden AFC were undoubtedly the top team in town.
Silsden’s 1955-56 campaign proved to be highly successful. Guiseley were the only side to lower their colours in the league, but Silsden had the last laugh in the league cup final 7 days later – winning 6-1. Steeton were the next to follow – defeated 5-3 in the Keighley Cup final. Silsden then endured another lean period, the side replaced their own reserves in the increasingly popular Craven League in 1959, although 1962 saw the introduction of a Sunday team. Silsden’s return to glory came during the 1963-64 season with a Craven League and Cup double and they were elected straight into the West Riding County Amateur League’s top division for the 1964-65 campaign. They then ended Keighley Central’s fine winning run in the District Cup, with a fine 3-1. The remaining years of the 1960s saw Silsden struggle badly in the County Amateur League. One notable end-of-season feature around this time was a Six-a-Side Tournament promoted by the club at Keighley Road. The most notable winners of this popular event were Colne Dynamoes in 1967. Things would change dramatically within a few years, and Silsden were about to embark on not only another highly successful era, but one which would prove to be the most controversial of any local team in history! When Keighley Cup holders Keighley Shamrocks withdrew from local football due to problems with their ground in the summer of 1969, the club’s players moved ‘en-masse’ down the road to Silsden. Over the next decade the side would win the Keighley FA Cup seven times, and lift both West Riding County Amateur and West Yorkshire League titles. Yet, despite their immense success, events would transpire that would lead them to a self-inflicted downfall by the end of the 1970s. 1970-71 saw them defeat champions Luddendenfoot in the league cup final and then Keighley Central in the district final. The following season proved even more successful. Cowling were hammered 4-0 in the Keighley Cup final, and Silsden became the first side from the district to win the County Amateur League title, made even more pleasing by the fact that the reserve side had wrapped up their championship for the second successive season. The reserves also won their league cup competition, but the main talking point from their camp was a 7-1 thrashing of nearest challengers Liversedge in January, when Derek Hobson scored all seven! Silsden made a poor start to the defense of their County Amateur League title and had to settle for second place behind Luddendenfoot at the end of the 1972-73 season. Unfortunately this heralded the start of the club’s problems as they were then expelled from the league and fined £10 for refusing to play a league cup final against Lower Hopton on the specified date. Silsden claimed that they were unable to play due to injuries, and the fact that six members of the team were due to travel to Wembley to watch the Leeds United/Sunderland FA Cup final – leaving the club with only seven players available.
The club was therefore forced to find another league in which to play. It was hoped that a step up to the Yorkshire League might be possible, but instead a place was found in the West Yorkshire League – albeit one step below the premier, in division one. Silsden proved too strong for their opponents in their new league. Silsden wrapped up their league and cup double. Another double came Silsden’s way when Westfield Rovers (Shipley) were defeated 5-2 in the District Cup final, and Steeton Reserves were thrashed 8-1 in the Keighley Supplementary Cup final. Silsden were not invited to join the premier division so they had to play in division 1 for a further season. As expected, they shot straight to the top of the league again at the start of the 1974-75 season. Their 49 match unbeaten league run ended when Ansons Sports defeated them at the end of March, but by then the title was already a formality. The Keighley Cup, as expected, was retained – Westfield Rovers going down 5-0 to the favourites. Another successful campaign was made even sweeter when the West Yorkshire League at last allowed them access to their premier division. The 1975-76 campaign did not signal the end of Silsden’s success. With former Welsh International Trevor Hockey assisting Ian Patrickson with coaching duties, the side carried on where they left off. They won their third successive league title, their fourth in five seasons, and their first (and ultimately last) West Yorkshire Premier League title. To cap this, Silsden Reserves also won their league and Bingley Juniors were defeated in the Keighley & District FA Cup final. However, history was to repeat itself. Following incidents between Silsden and Fryston players at the league’s end of season presentation evening, Silsden were expelled from the West Yorkshire League! Silsden were again left without a league to play in. Following a successful application to the West Riding County Amateur League, they were forgiven for their past sins and accepted back into that league – albeit a step backwards again as a place in division one, and not the premier division. So Silsden began the 1976-77 campaign at square one again. Phoenix Park pipped them for the first division title, although Silsden did at least lift the division one league cup, as well as the Keighley Cup, with victory over Crosshills in the final. With both Trevor and Alan Hockey in fine form, Silsden made no mistake the following year as they swept to the County Amateur League’s first division championship, and retained their league cup and District Cup titles. Silsden’s reserves also wrapped up their second successive County Amateur reserve division section, but storm clouds were gathering.
Despite having been officially promoted to the premier division of the County Amateur League, Silsden were once again thrown out of the league at a later management meeting for ‘violent and abusive conduct by players and officials both on and off the field’. As if a third expulsion in six years, and such damning accusations against the club were not enough, the club then saw their facilities taken from them by the trustees of the ground. So Sunday team Silsden United were installed as tenants and they became the new Silsden AFC. Silsden AFC reformed their Saturday team in time for the 1980-81 season. They were accepted into the first division of the Craven League, gaining promotion at the first attempt, and their 1981-82 campaign almost brought them the premier division championship. They were prevented from lifting the title on goal-difference. They were re-admitted to the County Amateur League for the 1983-84 campaign and were elected to division one. Twelve months later, the name of Silsden was back on the Keighley Cup, defeating Crosshills 3-1 in the final.
Although they had just become the first side to win both Keighley Saturday and Sunday Cups in the same season, Silsden were denied promotion to the County Amateur’s premier division for just a little while longer following their third place at the end of the 1984-85 season. At least they had managed to avoid controversy. Silsden achieved promotion to the premier division at the end of the 1985-86 campaign, but they struggled at the foot of the table during the 1987-88 season, eventually finishing second from bottom. The loss of Andy Geary for part of the season was a telling factor. By Christmas 1988 they had resigned from the league. Rooted to the bottom of the table after having already pulled the plug on their reserve side, the club cited a lack of youngsters coming through as the main cause of their demise. The ‘new’ Silsden had lasted only a decade, during which time they had risen to the same level at which their predecessors had achieved considerable success. During the intervening seven years, and despite considerable success on Sundays, Silsden was again without a senior Saturday team. However, Silsden Juniors, fielding teams at all age groups in local junior leagues was building in strength, and when its under 16 team decided to stay together rather than join other local clubs, the time was right to start a new chapter in the history of Silsden AFC. When Silsden AFC re-joined the Craven & District League at the start of the 1996-97 season there were high hopes that past glories could be equalled. Only one team in history from Keighley had ever won the County Cup – Keighley Central in 1968, but that was about to change! Since 1996 it is fair to say that Silsden AFC have rewritten the record books. The amazing run of success enjoyed by the club has far outstripped that enjoyed by previous ‘great’ Silsden sides, and at the point of the centenary there was no doubt that Silsden AFC were far and away the top amateur club in the county. Andy Geary as manager took the side to new heights, ably backed by assistant Mick Hook and the strong committee which formed, behind the team.
Commencement of development of new ground at Keighley Road, Silsden started in July 2010 and was finished in August 2010. We were privileged to play host to Fleetwood Town (2015) which drew in a crowd of over 300 and Bradford City (2011) in our first pre-season friendly before 1,125 spectators! That league season saw us get off to a slow start, despite playing the first seven league games all at HOME! We eventually got a settled side after Christmas and finished a creditable 12th position, with 57 points and a zero goal difference (59-59). After a very good season in 2014-15 when we finished 10th with 56 points from 40 games. The 2015-16 season was very disappointing. After a very poor first half to the season, James Gill and Danny Forrest took over and despite being fairly successful we were relegated. Last season we started well then slumped and after Danny Forrest took over we finished very strongly. 2016-17 was a season of consolidation. Bringing in players both young and experienced to stablilise things and prepare for a successful 2017-18 season. So on to the 2017-18 season, and what a great record breaking season it was!! We started like a house on fire with 18 victories in the first 18 games! A league record. We finished off by winning the Division by four clear points. We accumulated a record 103 points and also scored the most goals ever by a team winning the league – 110. The 2018-19 season saw us start very well and were top of the Premier Division late September. We then had a spell of injuries which left us short of experienced players and the team were greatly affected by this. We slumped to below half way but made a very good recovery and finished a creditable 9th position. The 2019-20 season saw us move laterally to the North Counties East Football League. While we still had some long travels we also had numerous local fixtures against the likes of Thackley, Eccleshill, Knaresborough, Liversedge, Garforth, Yorkshire Amateur and Albion Sports to name but a few! Unfortunately the season was halted late February due to the dreaded Covid-19 and continued into last season!! The lockdown has seen us working very hard off the field and sees us with absolutely brilliant new facilities with a new stand, pay/ticket office and a hospitality suite! On the field we are hoping to be in the top six by the conclusion!
Silsden United – A New Club Born By Alan Whitaker – Founded 1965
During 1965 a few friends and I decided to form a football team to play friendlies against local teams, Morton was the first I remember. After enjoying a friendly season we decided to apply to join the Keighley Sunday Football Alliance. First we needed a pitch to play on and I enquired to Andrew Cathey’s dad, local postmaster and more importantly local councilor, if we could apply for permission to play in the Playing Fields. He was very helpful and arranged for four of us, Mick Steptoe, Andrew Mackwell, Geoff Foster and myself, to go to a council meeting where we put our case. We were granted permission to use the pitch and changing facilities in the Playing Fields for a small weekly rent. Next we applied to join the Keighley Sunday Alliance and we received help from Jack Holmes who worked with David Andrews at the printers on Elliott Street and our first meeting was at the Vaults Pub in Keighley at which we were accepted to the League. We needed a base and so we used the Bridge Hotel on top of the Canal Bridge in Silsden. We formed a small committee and I became the secretary and treasurer for a while and all the Thomas boys’ came on board to help. Stephen was the expert at money raising and used to sell pontoon cards and bingo tickets. Next we needed a kit to play in so we set up an account at Willis Walkers in Keighley and purchased a royal blue kit and the goal nets we needed along with other essentials. So we were all was set for our first league match and on the morning of the match we all got to the ground early to put the nets up and mark out the pitch, in the years that followed the new Brad Met dealt with that. The first match in the history of Silsden United was against a team from Bradford area who included Charlie Atkinson, an ex-Bradford Park Avenue captain. We gave a good account of our selves but lost 4-3 (David (Ted) Andrews scored two and Rodger Smith one). The rest of the squad on the day as far as I can remember was as follows: Colin Smithson, Graham Smith, Bob Thomas, Mick Steptoe, Andrew Mackwell, Geoff Foster, Harry Rose, Stuart Coe, David Andrews, Pat Daley, Duncan Robertson and myself. This had been a good start with a large crowd watching, even though we lost but the next match we won away from home and we finished third in the league in our first season. The season after, we reached the final of a Challenge Cup to be played at Silsden AFC ground. We lost to a more experienced side called Pile Bar from Bradford but never mind, this was to be the first silverware we ever competed in a final for. After a few years we changed our base to The Kings Arms (better beer) and at this time we decided to put a second team in The Wharfedale Sunday League; also we made our committee larger and I stood down as secretary for the first team but carried on being secretary of the second team. We needed to raise more money so we had regular dances in the upstairs room of the Kings Arms and at the town hall with often a local group from Silsden with Lloyd Hanson and Noel Coupland – called the Toasted Growl. The King’s landlord was Tony Cullen and he jumped through hoops to do whatever he could to help us to raise funds. He was one of the most genuine businessmen I think we ever encountered. We also had more in-put from our other halves who organised parties in the room above the King. At this time our wives and girlfriends started up two netball teams and our club grew stronger. As well as team mates we were all very good friends and we had some wonderful social events over the years. Yearly trips to Blackpool for the day, Bloomfield Road in the afternoon, on the town at night and a coach home at midnight for those who made it to the pick up point. Lots didn’t, and you know who you are … We also had yearly dinner dances organised by Barry Thomas who was, and looks like still is a master organisation and money raising as I believe he spearheaded raising over £100k for the move from Cougar Park.
Members of the first real committees as far as I can remember were Richard Wilson (First Team captain & coach), Steve Thomas, David Harper, Andy MacDonald, Bob Thomas, Barry Thomas, Mick Steptoe, Douglas Rodger Smith, David Dimmock, Andrew Phillips and I’m sure more I have forgotten. I can remember training twice a week in the playing fields with Willis (Richard Wilson) putting us through a tough schedule for a couple of hours which included running backwards up the hill by the old bandstand – we must have been one of the fittest teams in the League. Not long after our formation we reached the Keighley Alliance Supplementary Cup Final to be played at Marley Stadium against a team from Keighley called Stells. We won the game 1-0 with one of Rodger Smiths trademark goals but our celebration was short lived. Stells complained that the referee did not play the full 90 minutes, it was actually 88 minutes, and we had to replay the game which we lost, 5-0. Eventually we did the league and cup double in season 1973/74 by taking the Keighley Sunday Alliance Third Division title and also beating a team from Crosshills in the final of The Kelly Cup at Marley Stadium. At present this is as much as my mind can remember. I believe our first full kit cost us around about £120 and the cost of the rent for playing on the playing fields was £2.50 per match. Here is a list of players who I can remember playing for Silsden United: Goalkeepers – Colin Smithson, Richard Jolly, Stephen Boast, Toddy, Roy Sutcliffe, Dave Cooper, Kevin Knappy, Douglas Rodger Smith. Defenders – Graham Smith, Brian Iveson, David Harper, Mick Steptoe, Stewart Hanson, Duncan Robertson, David Harry Scott, Stuart Coe, Kevin Jowitt, Andrew Philips, Richard Wilson, Fred Pickles, Barry Thomas, David Dimmock, Les Newby, Alan Newby, Alan Hughes, Michael O’Regan, Dennis O’Regan, Anthony Ruffe, Kevin Smith, Tim Knappy, Stewart Tillotson, David Ackroyd, Tom Tillotson. Midfield – Harry Rose, Alan Mitchell, Mick Tillotson, David Andrews, Colin Storton, David Smithson, Malc Smithson, Alan Dickinson, Mick Donahoe, Pete Hanson, Arthur Woolacot, Barry Newby, Alan Bealey, Steven Ingham, Alan Whitaker. Forwards – Rodger Smith, Andrew Mackwell, Geoff Foster, Bob Thomas, Stephen Thomas, Martin Shuttleworth, Pat Daley, Kevin Barrett, Clive Dickinson, Roy Groschmidt, Sam Whitaker, Brian Mason, Alan Ackroyd, Peter Kaye, Alan Dean, Donald Ward, David Broadhead, Pat Kennedy.
This at present is all I can remember but I enjoyed every minute of the social aspect and playing and also helping run and start Silsden United. I have played with many good players over my football career but six players stand out for me. Kevin Knappy – I have yet to see a better goalkeeper. David Harper for his 120% effort on and off the pitch. Richard Wilson for his leadership and time he spent making us train very hard. Kevin Jowitt for shear class and calmness under pressure. Rodger Smith for scoring all the goals and Harry Rose for being the best player I have ever had the pleasure to play with – he had everything. All the best for Silsden AFC in the future.
Recollections of Silsden United by Barry Thomas – Chairman 1974–1985
The early June meeting in 1978 appeared to be running like any other summer weekly Thursday meeting. I was Chairman and I think in those days Dave Harper was secretary (to be followed by long serving sec. Peter Ward), Andrew Phillips treasurer, Richard Wilson (Willis) coach, and a committee of, Stephen Thomas, Paul Dinsdale, Doug Smith, Andy McDonald, Peter Kaye, Alan Ackroyd, Sue Grimley, Margaret Kaye, and I’m sure more I cannot re-call. The agenda was being dealt with point by point, not much business as it was now close season and we had no teams to pick, yes, in those days the teams were picked by the committee, where a strict no train no play rule was always enforced even at such a footballing standard. A summer BBQ to be organised in the Kings Arms beer garden, a jumble sale on the pub car park, just a few functions to keep the club’s bank balance at a level so all bills were paid on time.
The functions were also important to the club as we were pretty big on socialising and had regular gatherings, in fact any excuse to get out and be together. Next on the agenda, the secretary’s report, only three letters, the first from the council, an application form for the ground we leased in the local park for the new season, it was duly passed to the treasurer for payment; the second, another quote for the forthcoming season’s team insurance, filed; the last, a letter, “The trustees of Silsden Playing Fields, Keighley Road, Silsden would like to invite Silsden United to a meeting to discuss the tenure of said ground for season 1978–1979, and ongoing” – WHAT!!!! We had obviously heard of the old incumbents being in another spot of bother but did not know till then they had been removed for the ground, maybe a 3 strikes and you are out rule, way ahead of its time. Maybe the writing was on the wall – the season before as a couple of AFC players defected over to us, one of was the late Tom Tillotson, as hard a defender you could ever wish to meet but a gentleman to boot. They did not like the old Silsden’s tactics when we knocked them out of one of the cup games on their ground, enough said. The meetings were attended and at the end of June, I was handed the keys to the Keighley Road changing rooms. It had not been a foregone conclusion that we would move, the stumbling block appeared to be, we could play as Silsden United for the first season alone, as we had already accepted our league positions for the forthcoming season, but for season 1979–80 had to become, “Silsden AFC”. What had we to lose, we knew we were always “Tickers Silsden United” and deep down always would be, so off to Keighley Road we went. As a Sunday side we had until early September before our respective leagues started. We entered into negotiations with the Cricket Club and they agreed to let us use their changing rooms, which we fit out with showers. The stand was our major project, it was built in the 30’s and had probably never had a coat of creosote since. I still visualise four or five up ladders with a brush and a tin of creosote – my wife, 7 months pregnant at the time was one, joining the rest of us in bringing the stand back to life. Some said they could hear the wood slurping the creosote in, and remember then the stand was another quarter its size than it is now. Others made bacon sarnies and pots of coffee for the workforce; again then, no one allocated jobs, we just got on and did it. We had arrived at Keighley Road, the premier ground in the area, but still had a lot of work to do. It was ‘deja vu’ as 30 years later when I was asked to rejoin the Silsden committee that the year after the Cougars had decided to give us notice to quit and we made the decision to come back home to Silsden. The money raising to get us back is well documented but the similarities were as United – all we had to do was turn up in the park and play football, as at Cougar Park. In the late 70’s as United down at our new ground, we not only had to put the nets up, and mark out the pitch but also make sure it was cut regularly. Changing rooms to be cleaned, outside toilet to be unfrozen … I wonder if we will realise and celebrate the fact it will be 50 years since Silsden United was formed in just over 12 months’ time? I feel a party coming on!! Its funny how life’s learning curve almost makes a circle, then goes off at an angle as we learn more, much like the history of Silsden United and now Silsden AFC, always a challenge and a job to do. At least we have no longer got to go outside to the loos to unfreeze and unblock them, well, that’s progress, isn’t it?
A short history of Silsden AFC researched and compiled by Barry Thomas
Silsden AFC was formed in September 1904 by a local man, Doctor John Purcell. They started playing rugby, then handball and ended up playing both Saturday and Sunday football. Like most sporting teams they experienced great successes and disappointing defeats but the dedication of countless volunteer committees kept the club alive. None more so than the present committee of the new Millennium who will leave a legacy for generations to come.
The present Saturday senior team set up was formed with a team playing together since the 1996/97 season after starting life in our local Craven & District Football League Division Two after the team had progressed through the junior section within the club to open age football. They spent three years in the Craven League moving up to the Premier Division and in the last year in that division set a new record of going through the season unbeaten in all competitions. From there they joined the West Riding County Amateur League in Division Two and quickly gained promotion up into the Premier Division where they enjoyed three seasons. In season 2002/2003 Silsden set another record in going through the season unbeaten in all competitions. To add to this they also won the West Riding County Challenge Cup for the third successive season, a feat only achieved by one other club. It was clear that the team was ready for football at a higher level and in season 2004/2005 Silsden joined the North West Counties League. Without floodlights and an enclosed pitch, the Cobbydalers were forced to play their home games at Cougar Park, the home of Keighley Cougars Rugby League Club. The Cobbydalers gained promotion to the top division in their inaugural season, finishing as runners up to league winners Cammell Laird, and had their most successful runs in the FA Cup and FA Vase Competitions. The team who were promoted from the 1st Division that season (now the Premier Division) were Fleetwood Town! The club’s aim was to move back to the Keighley Road ground at the earliest opportunity and the club (football and cricket) embarked on a period of fund raising accruing over £100,000. Finally the development took place, with the help of a £663,453 grant from the Football Foundation, as part of its continuing investment in grass-roots football and an additional Football Foundation grant of £300,000 through the Community Club Development Programme.
In May 2009 the building of a new clubhouse and changing facilities was completed just as the Keighley Cougars gave them notice to quit. The club had completed just as the Keighley Cougars gave them notice to quit. The club had two options, to ground share with a Lancashire club or develop the playing surface and outdoor facilities at the Keighley Road headquarters. They formed a committee and raised £110,000 in 5 months and in August 2010 saw the completion of the ground improvements which meant a return of Silsden AFC to its rightful place … back in Silsden! The Cobbydalers maintained their position in the top division of the NWCFL and in 2015 embark on their 10th season in the division, their best year being in season 2008-09 when they finished ninth with 58 points. The season after saw them relegated to Division One where they spent two seasons rebuilding. In season 2017–2018 they were crowned champions of Division One with a league record of 103 points and a league record of goals scored. A great achievement from everyone involved from managers, players and the hard working committee. Silsden AFC have also a progressive junior set up with age groups running from Under 5s right through to Under 18s. Some age groups run two or three teams making this one of the largest football clubs in the area with some 450+ junior players. There is a prestigious 6-a-side Junior Competition each year running over the second weekend ofJune and in 2018 had over 150 teams competing. The club also have an under 21s team playing in the West Riding FA U21s League and finally completed by two ladies teams playing in the WRCWFL. The club prides itself on being a Friendly Charter Standard Community Club with close links with the Community.