University lecturer and sports historian PETER DAVIES looks into a local soccer club with a rich and varied history
MELTHAM Athletic FC are a wonderful case study in the development of local sport.
Like many other community institutions, the club was founded in the immediate aftermath of the Great War, in 1919.
A well attended meeting was staged at Meltham Mills – with local soccer enthusiast Marshall Woodhouse a key influence in establishing the new club.
This was a period of great hope and expectation, and with thousands of young men returning from the trenches there was a plentiful supply of would-be sportsmen.
In terms of their home base and official title, the club have had a rich and varied history.
In the early days they played their home games at Meltham Mills.
Then in the mid-1920s the club switched to Suncroft Midway and, later, Banana Park.
In the 1960s they relocated to the Broadlands recreation ground in the village and used the adjacent cricket pavilion as their changing rooms.
Now of course they utilise the Meltham Sports and Community Centre – a “fantastic facility” in the words of a club spokesman.
Over the years the club has also boasted three different names.
It was originally known as Meltham Mills AFC on account of its first home.
In the middle years of the twentieth century the club became simply Meltham FC – and later, Meltham Athletic FC.
The club has also done the rounds in terms of the local competitions, alternating between the Huddersfield and District League and the West Riding County Amateur League.
Further, it has been heavily committed to junior football and has had many teams in the Red Triangle League, BUPA League and now the RCD League.
In terms of on-field performances, the inter-war era was probably the club’s heyday.
In the 1921-22 season the club won Division 1 of the Huddersfield & District League.
And a decade later, in 1930-31, it started a remarkable run of successes in the District Challenge Cup, appearing in the final on 11 occasions in 13 years and winning the trophy eight times.
In 1932 the club secured entry into the West Riding County Amateur League – a prestigious switch.
The standard was higher then previously encountered and the nearest the club came to success was twice being runners-up in the league and twice being losing league cup finalists.
Over the years the club has tasted success in other competitions too: the Barlow Cup, Gee Cup, Richardson Cup and Groom Cup.
In recent times the highlight was 2003-04 when Athletic did the coveted ‘Treble’ – claiming the Huddersfield & District League championship, the Barlow Cup and Challenge Cup in the same epic year.
Incredibly, too, the knockout trophies were bagged on successive nights at what was then the McAlpine Stadium.
The club admits that it encountered “serious managerial problems” at the back end of the 1990s and could easily have gone out of business.
But it weathered the storm and today it is part of a flourishing local league scene, with many intense derby rivalries.
At Broadlands it is Honley FC who are the main local foes.
This is an on-the-field rivalry – and also one that has recently flared up in cyberspace.
Internet message boards are full of claim and counter-claim regarding the merits of the two clubs.
In 2005 a self-proclaimed ‘Neutral Observer’ had to step in to bring calm to the debate raging on one site: “The Meltham/Honley rivalry thing has been done many times before (since the earliest of school days in fact).
“For years, Honley and Meltham have tried to out-achieve each other, both having their successes and failures. Meltham are currently on a high, but nothing’s gained by slogging it out on a forum.
“Legends have been and gone. Those players are now written into folklore as past and present players reminisce in a back-hole pub over a pint after watching their team on a Saturday afternoon.”
In 2007, athletic are a busy and thriving club, with a solid base of players, supporters, volunteer helpers and local sponsors.
The club states: “We have a team in the West Riding County Amateur League Premier Division and at senior level there are also teams in the Huddersfield and District Football League Division One, Reserve Division One and Reserve Division Three.”
There is also a buoyant youth set-up at Broadlands.
“The club is happy to see players from the club’s junior ranks progressing to open-age soccer,” it says.
“Players wanting a challenge and to progress are most welcome.
“We currently have teams of boys from under-6s to under-18s in the Huddersfield Junior League.
“And football for girls is the next step and under our girls coach we have regular training, but have yet to progress in the local girls leagues.”