As you approach York from the A1 and journey across via the A64, you pass an ornate-looking brewery at Tadcaster. It’s a classic Yorkshire name, Tadcaster, and the brewery is better known as John Smith’s. They’ve got a football club and it started life as the brewery team, but since 1923, it’s been known as Tadcaster Albion. If all goes well, they will be raising a glass of the local brew to celebrate the success of the “Brewers” come the end of the season.
For Tadcaster are not only top of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League, but they have reached the last eight of the FA Vase. What’s more, they are averaging more than 300 people at their home ground, and given this is a step five club, that’s not bad going at all – especially when you have York City on your doorstep.
Tadcaster also demonstrated they can live with more illustrious opponents, as witnessed in their recent narrow defeat at the hands of Bradford Park Avenue in the West Riding Cup semi-final. They lost 2-3 at their i2i Stadium, which is tucked just behind the brewery that dominates the market town of 7,000 people. In fact, Tadcaster has three breweries and once had four!
This season is Tadcaster Albion’s fifth in the Northern Counties East Premier. Last season, they finished third with 93 points, eight behind winners Brighouse Town. They scored 116 goals and conceded just 48, the best total in the division.
On the pitch this season, that momentum has continued. Tadcaster have been leading the way since the start and have lost four of their 28 league games. They are currently six points ahead of Worksop Town, but their rivals have two games in hand, and Shaw Lane Aquaforce (who have completed the double over Tadcaster) in fourth have four games less than Tadcaster and trail by eight points. Cleethorpes are another form team. So pretty soon, Paul Marshall’s side may feel the hot breath on the back of their necks.
In the FA Vase, “The Brewers” started their run back in November, winning 3-2 away at Winsford Town in round one. The next hurdle was a home tie with Morpeth Town and Tadcaster sneaked through by 2-1 thanks to an added time winner from midfielder Liam Ormsby.
Round three sent them on the road again, winning 4-2 at St. Helens Town. Tadcaster raced into a four-goal lead, including two from Josh Greening, before two late consolation goals put a respectable sheen on the final score for the home side.
The fourth round saw a classic game, with Tadcaster winning through 3-2 against Brocton. Both sides had a man sent off, but the biggest eye-opener was the crowd of 637 – the public were starting to recognise what was going on at the little football ground by the brewery. In the last 16, Tadcaster went to ambitious AFC Mansfield and won 3-0 in front of another 600-plus crowd.
The quarter final draw paired Tadcaster with Hellenic League Highworth United. It’s a long trip for Marshall’s side, but they are sure to be backed by a big following. He told the local media: “It’s a shame we have another away draw, because it would be good for the fans to have a home tie. But we took 300 to Mansfield and we will take more than 200 down to Wiltshire.”
Marshall, an experienced manager, has been with Tadcaster since 2008. After going close last season (and further hampered by a four point deduction), he set to strengthen his side in the summer. Josh Greening, brother of Jonathan, was signed from Pickering Town and made a spectacular start to his career with his new club, scoring three consecutive hat-tricks by the end of September. Also signed in the close season were Andy Milne, a centre half who was once with Leeds United, and ex-Barnsley midfielder Lee Ormsby, son of former Aston Villa defender Brendan.
While Marshall and his charges are getting it right on the pitch, off the field, the club seem to be very adept at marketing themselves. This season’s average gate is 317, a substantial hike on last year’s 186 and 300% up on 2012-13’s 106. They are clearly doing something right.
It could just be that Tadcaster have some very astute people behind them. They are “controlled” by i2i Sports, who describe themselves as a “professional player management company which provides support and expertise in the development of footballers, coaches, managers and clubs.” This may sound like they are dipping their toes into the somewhat murky world of football agents, but i2i appear to have a refreshing approach. They have already installed a new football academy in York, in partnership with York St. John (university).
Stephen Chandler of i2i, told the media: “Some football agents, notoriously, have a bad reputation for exploiting players and being in it for the money. We wanted to base our business on the principles of our other areas of interest and offer something different.” They also talk about developing relationships of trust with young players and their parents and also putting money back into the game. It does sound that this can only benefit Tadcaster Albion – judging by the activity on a Sunday morning around the club on the adjacent playing fields, the club is already committed to youth football.
A lot of clubs have flirted with “ambition” at non-league level only to find that they don’t have the backing or potential to build on what they have. Tadcaster have trebled their audience in two years, but you have to wonder how much further they can take it. Certainly if they can get into the Northern Premier League, there is some upside and at the moment, they are getting bigger crowds than 18 of the 22 teams from the NPL Division One North and 21 of 22 in Division One South.
The coming weeks promise to be exciting for the small town outside York. All roads off the A64 could well lead to the i2i Stadium come April.