Bygones: Farsley Celtic see the light decade on from dark days at Throstle Nest

Looking to the future: Farsley Celtic football club chairman John Palmer, pictured in 2010. Picture: Tony JohnsonLooking to the future: Farsley Celtic football club chairman John Palmer, pictured in 2010. Picture: Tony Johnson
Looking to the future: Farsley Celtic football club chairman John Palmer, pictured in 2010. Picture: Tony Johnson
A DECADE ago, the storm clouds were gathering at Farsley Celtic '“ as John Palmer can recall only too well.

A fraught 2008-09 campaign ended with the Villagers finishing fourth from bottom in the Conference North – the year after their sole season in the Conference Premier, which ended in relegation.

But events on the pitch only told part of the story.

Ongoing financial difficulties saw administrators Mazars appointed in June, 2009 with the club’s results expunged in March, 2010 when the administrator prohibited the club from fulfilling its Conference North fixtures.

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But thanks to the sterling work of the likes of Palmer, a non-league footballing presence continued in Farsley, who reformed in 2010 as Farsley AFC and the rest, as they say, is history.

Farsley eventually returned to their previous name of Farsley Celtic in 2015 and today are well placed in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, firmly in the mix for promotion to the National League North.

It would represent quite a story should that be achieved and would square the circle somewhat.

For Farsley stalwart and club chairman Palmer, who is in his early 80s after first being brought to the club by a friend in the Seventies, the sight of a club in rude health again is the most important thing and a source of immense pride – following those harrowing days of the late Noughties.

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Farsley Celtic: The last team photo taken in August, 2008 before the administrators moved in.Farsley Celtic: The last team photo taken in August, 2008 before the administrators moved in.
Farsley Celtic: The last team photo taken in August, 2008 before the administrators moved in.

Palmer famously hosted a World Cup party in the summer of 2010 to celebrate the resurrection of Farsley.

This came after a deal was sealed when Leeds City Council bought back Throstle Nest from the administrators and immediately sold on the main part of the football club to FC2010, the company set up by the Palmer-Farrell consortium led by Palmer and family friends Dorothy and John Farrell, who fought tooth and nail to keep the Leeds village on the non-league footballing map.

But the memories of the dark times before will never go away.

On the pain and heartache of a decade ago – and the labour of love to keep Farsley going, which was far from straightforward, Palmer told The Yorkshire Post: “It is always difficult, but most commitments are – whether it is marriage, family or business.

“Things that are worth something do not come easy.

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“We fought really hard to keep it and there were people putting obstacles in our way. There were people who wanted to buy it, just for the property and land, which is worth quite a lot of money.

“We fought and fought and fought.

“It was heartbreaking. We tried to keep it going without a break and my wife and myself paid the wages for a long time, just to keep it going and the lads together. There was a great spirit.

“Leeds City Council helped us tremendously. They bought the club and sold it to us as the local councillors persuaded the council that we were the people to have it and not others who wanted it for their own reasons.”

Farsley’s rise to the Conference Premier may have proved one of the most enduring of stories in Yorkshire non-league footballing circles, but the club’s one season there in 2007-08 was bitter-sweet in the view of Palmer.

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Breaking bread with several well-established league clubs may have put the Villagers on the map, but problems were bubbling below the surface.

Palmer recalled: “Going to the Conference was a very exciting thing. But without the money, small teams cannot compete with Conference wages and travelling and so on.

“I remember having Weymouth away called off on a Tuesday night because of rain and having to go again. But I also remember we had the likes of Torquay and Oxford, where Jim Smith invited us into the boardroom and we had a meal with them.”

After those hard times of a decade ago, thankfully there is a happy end to the Farsley story, with the club having clawed back their pride and seemingly destined to look forward to the future with confidence.

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Back in 2010, the re-formed club were put in the Northern Counties East Premier Division for their first season which turned out to be highly successful with a league and cup double under the management of an esteemed figure in club folklore in Neil Parsley.

Many former players stayed loyal and top spot was held for much of 2010-11, with the title confirmed on the penultimate weekend of the season.

The club reached two cup finals, losing out in NCEL President’s Cup showpiece to Tadcaster Albion before ending the season on a positive note with a League Cup triumph despite Farsley having to play the majority of the final with 10 men.

The 2011-12 season was similarly eventful, with a top-five spot being secured ensuring qualification for the play-offs in the UniBond First Division North, which saw Farsley bow out to Witton Albion.

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Promotion was eventually achieved through the play-off route in 2016-17 when Farsley got the better of Yorkshire rivals Ossett Town in a 4-2 verdict.

Progress continued at apace last term, culminating in another appearance in the end-of-season lottery when the Throstle Nest outfit reached the UniBond Premier play-offs, only to be edged out by Ashton United.

Clearly on a mission, Farsley, under the command of a talented young manager in Adam Lakeland, are not going away, with Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Basford United consolidating their third-placed position in the table, with the side having games in hand on the two sides above them in Nantwich Town and Scarborough Athletic.

The future looks unquestionably bright for the West Leeds-based outfit again.

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Palmer said: “We have always had a good band of volunteers, although they do get less as time goes on. I am talking like an old man, but younger people have other things to do – but we still have good people there.

“But that is not why we are in it, we were here to keep football going. Good days in football make it all worthwhile.

“People talk about there being no loyalty in football. But, usually, the players who want to play for Farsley, play for Farsley. It is not for money, but the club.

“We have had some very good managers and real characters, such as Denis Metcalf, who loved the club and still does. We had some great times and disappointing times.

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“I still go to every game and I am there every day, although not as much at night-time now. I can only manage a couple of pints now.

“I think we are very well placed to be promoted and have as good a chance as anybody and promotion to Conference North would be very good.

“Although I do not think I would like to take them a lot further than that.”

Some famous Farsley Celtic moments ...

The old Farsley club – the name Celtic being added later – initially competed in the Leeds Amateur League and first played at Throstle Nest in 1948.

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Throughout the Fifties and Sixties, Celtic established themselves in the Yorkshire League and were champions in 1959-60 and 1968-69.

Celts reached the first round of the FA Cup in 1974-75 and lost 2-0 to a Steve Coppell-inspired Tranmere Rovers in front of 11,000 at Elland Road – the club’s largest crowd.

Farsley began in Division One North in 1982 following the merger of the Yorkshire and Midland Leagues. The club were later invited into the Northern Premier League.

In 2004-05, the club, under the management of Lee Sinnott, won the Unibond League Premier Division, only to have points deducted as the result of Spennymoor Town going out of business and its results being expunged.

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Celts controversially entered the play-offs and lost on penalties against Workington in the final.

Promotion was secured the following season after a play-off final win against North Ferriby and in 2006-07 – the club’s first in Conference North – they reached the first round of the FA Cup, losing in a replay to MK Dons and secured promotion to the Conference National after a famous 4-3 victory over Hinckley United at Burton.