Breath of fresh Aire in the Yorkshire Trophy

At first sight, the tournament has the look of the Magic Weekend, rugby league’s artificial made-for-TV event, where testy-looking derbies are transplanted to the no-mans land of Edinburgh or Newcastle. But as a tasty filler between seasons, the five team Yorkshire Trophy – renamed after the online choice of ‘Covid Cup’ was wisely rejected –  scheduled for 17th-31st May is different in scale and context, providing non-League fans with a tempting hors d’oeuvre before the main course in August. Teams will play each other once with the top two contesting the final.

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Organised by Northern Premier League club Brighouse Town and including Liversedge, Golcar United, Penistone Church and Wakefield – the competition was delayed to enable fans to attend, and is fairly parochial. Four of the five entrants are from the West Riding, with Northern Counties (East) Penistone the sole interlopers from South Yorkshire. The tournament is also a handy yardstick for North West Counties League Golcar United, the Huddersfield side whose debut season at that level was curtailed by Covid.

The slimmed-down Yorkshire Trophy coincides with the return of fans, and had been scheduled for April, before withdrawals reduced the entry from the original twelve. As a result, the Aire Valley derby between Steeton and Silsden – the first for 18 years – as well as the collisions of Bradford trio Campion, Thackley and Eccleshill – will now not take place.

Clubs have welcomed the competition. “We’ve entered the tournament so we have a focus and something to plan towards that has a competitive edge, rather than just playing friendlies,” says Golcar spokesman Lee Morris. “We also see it as a great opportunity to test ourselves against some higher level opposition. We have a squad of 18-19 players that will all feature.  This is a competitive tournament and we’ll treat it as such.”

The Yorkshire Trophy is also a taster for newcomers Wakefield AFC of the Sheffield and Hallamshire League. Formed pre-pandemic by a consortium including ex-Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Turner, Wakefield have Football League ambitions (yes, really) and represent football’s latest assault on the rugby stronghold, albeit from seven miles away at Featherstone Rovers’ Millenium Stadium. With tournament crowds restricted to 4,000 or half a stadium’s capacity (whichever is lower), the venue – holding 6,954 – should comfortably accommodate curious locals and groundhoppers alike.

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Original entrants Emley AFC have since withdrawn citing pitch maintenance issues, though Chairman Andrew Painten is optimistic about next season; “Going back to April last year I was really worried about football at this level and how it would survive,  but everyone deserves real credit. It does look like we’ll get playing again with very few clubs going to the wall.”  Government grants have helped, with £10 million available at clubs at steps 3 to 6 of the pyramid, including those in this competition.

Across the Pennines is the Spring Football Festival, a similar eight team tournament organised by Clitheroe FC. With gates closed due to covid, matches are being streamed live by Ribble FM between 10th April and 1st May. ‘Virtual’ tickets are £10 or free to Clitheroe season ticket holders. There’s a democracy to the setup that sees East Lancs Leaguers Rimington face Stockport County on 24th April and villagers Hurst Green take on League one Fleetwood Town the following day. As a reminder of how things change, Fleetwood’s winner versus Stockport ten years ago in the National League came from Jamie Vardy.

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More information on the Yorkshire Trophy.

The Author

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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