Denaby are back

by Paul Caulfield
Keen students of the non-league game will see a familiar name this season. Denaby United, last heard of ten years ago after losing their ground, are quietly climbing the leagues, with senior football the eventual aim.

A park pitch off Market Street in Doncaster saw the latest stage of Denaby’s revival. A 5-2 win over Highwayman FC last May brought the championship of the Doncaster and District Senior League Division One to the former mining village team, and the best possible end to their first season since 2002.

It was a good start for a club which reformed last year. In May 2011, club Secretary Steve Pugh responded to an invitation from Doncaster Council for sports clubs to use the Old Road ground in Conisbrough, a mile from Denaby’s original home. Pugh teamed up with local boxing coach – now club Chairman – Paul Neilson to revive the club, which entered the Doncaster League with immediate success

With promotion should come smarter surroundings. Highwayman’s ground has no pitch side dressing rooms and a definite bow in one crossbar – possibly a climbing frame for Sunday morning Neville Southalls. As usual on a football field, colourful language towards the referee was common. Less expected was abuse from a linesman, who, remarkably, escaped censure. By contrast, Denaby’s conduct at the final whistle – the players swapping their away colours for the regular red and black to receive the trophy – was a dignified gesture worthy of a higher level of football

The eventual aim is to restore the club’s original status. Denaby United played in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division before losing their ground in 2002. The club’s eviction after 90 years at Tickhill Square still divides opinion. Ground owners, Denaby and Cadeby Miners’ Welfare, showed Denaby the door, allegedly over the payment of players. The Welfare maintains that payments were banned, though former club secretary Barrie Dalby insists that since Denaby had been semi-professional since their Midland League days (“expenses were paid to players before World War One”), the Welfare’s reasoning was suspect at best.

Mick Russon heads for goal at Highwayman FC

The Welfare’s actions called time on a club that was a centre for the community. United took their name from the pit village of Denaby Main, built in the 1860s. With the mine came funding for football, bowls and cricket, which ceased on closure. The club survived the Miners’ Strike – players deferred their wages for most of that season – and won the Northern Counties East League Premier Division and League Cup in the late Nineties. But in 1997 ground-grading cost Denaby a Northern Premier League place; a blow matched by eviction five years later.

 Denaby’s demise was a sad end for a club which saw some momentous games – 5,200 witnessed the FA Cup tie with Southport in 1927, while 3,800 saw the tussle with Oldham Athletic 31 years later. The club’s final programme for the home game with Arnold Town – a bitterly angry document – recalled these games, and the players who ran out at Tickhill Square, among them Denaby’s Keith Burkinshaw, who signed for Liverpool in 1953, and goalkeeper Harry Gregg during his time at Doncaster Rovers.

Tickhill Square still stages football, and will be home to Denaby Main FC this season. Sunday morning side Denaby Juniors FC, run by local businessman Steve Phillips, also play there.On the face of it, Phillips’ youth setup was the perfect complement to United’s senior team, but the legacy of the old club’s demise lives on. “We don’t want any involvement with the organisation that evicted the club,” says Steve Pugh. Apart from which, United’s new HQ offers a better playing surface and more potential. “We are negotiating a 15 year lease from the local council so we can apply for funding to make improvements.” This could be crucial in the next ten years, with the Sheffield County Senior and Central Midlands Leagues the target.

They might need local supremacy to do it. In what Harold MacMillan might have described as a ‘little local difficulty’, the Miners Welfare will field their own Saturday side, Denaby Main, a division below United in the Doncaster League. Competition for players will be fierce, particularly as United themselves will have an under 16 team. Mergers at Hinckley, Sudbury and Aylesbury have deprived non-League football of keenly contested derbies, but developments at Denaby promise some feisty encounters a few years down the line.

Author Info

Paul Caulfield

Freelance football writer with 25 years experience of preview and feature writing for listings magazines City Limits and Time Out, as well as 90 Minutes, Backpass and several non-League publications. I have focussed mainly on the non-League game in my magazine work, with online articles covering professional and international football. I also have experience as a club official with Clapton FC (of the Essex League), and learned the realities of running a club at that level.

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