SHAW LANE AFC, FA Cup first-round debutants tomorrow, have packed more into their short life than most clubs manage in a quarter of a century.
The five promotions that have taken the Barnsley minnows to the Evo-Stik Premier League, where they sit second, tell only a fraction of a remarkable adventure that began just seven years ago.
Along the way there has been an enforced name change that unexpectedly upset the local professional club, a trip to the Football Association’s headquarters at Wembley to overturn a denied promotion and now the tantalising prospect of a live date with BT Sport in the world’s oldest knockout competition.
There has also been heartache, with Daniel Wilkinson passing away at the age of just 24 after collapsing on the pitch during a game in 2016.
Wilkinson will very much be in the thoughts of those behind Shaw Lane’s rise when Mansfield Town head to Sheerien Park for a lunchtime tie that is the epitome of the magic that makes the Cup so special.
Craig Wood, the founder and chairman of the Ducks, admits tomorrow will be an emotional day for everyone at the club.
“Our first ambition when we started was just to be competitive,” the 45-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “We started right at the bottom and that was our only target, to be competitive.
“This changed gradually and it was only when we reached the Northern Counties East League that we set out a five-year plan.
“By then end of it, we wanted to be knocking on the door of the Conference and to have played a Football League side at home in the FA Cup. Both are happening and we are only in the fourth year of that plan.”
Shaw Lane Aquaforce, named after the plumbing solutions firm Wood set up in 2003, seemed a club in a hurry from the very beginning.
Starting life in the South Yorkshire Amateur League, the Ducks’ first season brought a merger with Worsbrough Common that saw the Shaw Lane first team take over the latter’s fixtures in a higher division.
“We went from the bottom of the division to being promoted and won the League Cup,” recalls Wood. “We were on our way.”
Four further promotions have followed, including one to the Northern Counties East in 2013 that had initially been blocked over concerns about the club’s ground only to be overturned on appeal by the FA.
Shaw Lane would again show up on the FA’s radar following promotion to the Northern Premier League, a level at which the governing body forbid sponsors being included in club names. The inclusion of the word ‘Aquaforce’ had to end.
“We got together among ourselves and thought,‘We are all from Barnsley and it would be good to reflect that’,” said Wood. “So, we came up with Barnsley Town and eventually I told the press.
“Almost straight away, I got a call from the then Barnsley FC chief executive saying we couldn’t do it. I was a bit surprised at their attitude, but what can you do?
“Being in their shadow like we are I didn’t want to rock the boat so we stepped away from it. We weren’t trying to muscle in on them or anything like that, we just wanted to have Barnsley in our name.
“The name is something we might revisit. We don’t play at Shaw Lane any more or have any connection with them, but we are in the FA Cup first round under that name, which has really raised our profile. It is a difficult one.”
Shaw Lane AFC was the eventual choice and, come the end of last season, the new name was sitting proudly atop the Evo-Stik-sponsored Division One South with 102 points.
Amid the celebrations, however, there was also sadness following the untimely death of former Hull City junior Wilkinson the previous September in a League Cup tie at Brighouse Town.
“I remember it like yesterday,” said an emotional Wood, who is a trustee of the Dan Wilkinson Foundation set up in the footballer’s memory to raise funds to screen players for heart problems.
“The game was into the second half and we were 2-0 up, and playing really well. They were on the attack, but we cleared the ball. Like everyone else, I followed play and it was only when I turned back towards our half that I saw Dan was on the floor.
“The game was abandoned and we all followed the ambulance to the hospital in our own cars. We were all sitting around when the doctors told us he had passed away. It is one of those horrible moments in life you will never forget.”
Wilkinson’s parents, Gillian and Barry, plan to be at tomorrow’s match as Craig Elliott’s side look to spring a major upset against Steve Evans’s League Two side.
“It is going to be a culture shock for Mansfield,” said Wood, whose financial backing has helped bring former professionals David Norris, Neil Austin and Nicky Walker to Shaw Lane.
“The changing rooms are basically temporary buildings and a bit cramped. If they turn up with loads of boxes and equipment, it could be a bit of a squeeze in there.
“This is what the FA Cup is all about, a fairytale and dreams hopefully coming true. One thing for sure is Mansfield will know they are in a cup tie.”