Last Saturday afternoon I was in a sensible mood. I threw on some comfortable shoes and walked the three miles across the city to catch the York League Cup match between Dringhouses and fellow Premier Division side F1 Racing. This round was being played over two legs and following a tight 3-2 victory for F1 in the first match, the chance to progress was more than achievable for both of these evenly matched sides. Seven days later we were heading along to the second leg, keen to see this competitive cup tie through to it’s conclusion.
Away from the football, it had been a surreal 24 hours. Prince Philip had passed away the previous morning at the ripe old age of 99. Those listening to Radio 1 Xtra’s dance show with Charlie Hedges had their morning drum and bass session interrupted when the opening notes to the national anthem were cleverly mixed into the track that was being played. It left listeners bemused.
Meanwhile, over on ITV, Tyrone from Coronation Street was in the middle of discussing his fractured relationship with on-screen partner, Fizz before he was rudely cut off mid-sentence to bring us the news from Windsor Castle. Loose Women was cancelled and even more cruelly, so was the MasterChef final.
The nation was split. On one side were those whose initial thoughts were to mourn alongside the Royal Family; the other side consisted of those who quickly questioned if this qualified us for an extra bank holiday. My thoughts were elsewhere. I naturally became quite worried that the match between F1 Racing and Dringhouses may join Loose Women and MasterChef on the ever growing cancellation list. After all, the Duke was a huge fan of the York League Senior Cup.
The morning started off by me cooking breakfast for Ben, Corker and Dan as we made the most of being able to legally sit in a back garden in a group of less than six. With coronavirus rates plummeting, the trio were now more at risk of contracting something from my cooking than they were from the virus. Some jagerbombs were downed in amongst cans of IPA before we embarked upon the walk up to New Earswick with 45 minutes to go until the big kick-off.
New Earswick is described online as, ‘a unique model village.’ It was a revolutionary idea when its first few houses were built in 1902 thanks to the funding and vision of local businessman, Joseph Rowntree. He was a second generation member of the Rowntree family who became a success through the manufacturing of chocolate in the city of York back in 1862. By 1889, production was increasing rapidly as the Rowntrees name began to cement itself as a commercial brand in Victorian life.
It was at this point that they acquired a 20 acre site on Haxby Road in the north of the city. The premises are still operational now, having been bought by Nestlé in 1988. A distinctive cocoa odour emanates through the cities streets on a daily basis as popular products such as Kit Kats and Yorkies are churned out in their millions just a stone’s throw from my house. So, while the sale of the family business to Nestlé meant that the Rowntree name is not as prominent now as it once was, the lasting impression the family left on this corner of York can be seen and felt by many on a daily basis. This includes those at the local Sports Club – who recently benefited from a Joseph Rowntree Foundation grant to improve facilities.
The village of New Earswick, which sits a couple of miles to the north of the city centre, has grown in size since those first few houses were built at the start of the 20th century. It is now home to a population of just under 3,000. When the village was built, the housing was designed for both workers and managers who could live together in a mixed setting.
Each family was provided with a green space, where they were encouraged to grow their own food. This was in sharp contrast to the poor living conditions which most were experiencing, not only in York but in cities up and down the country. It’s a way of life which still remains in the village in the 21st Century, with a vast number of allotments being tended to by locals on a daily basis.
A quirk of New Earswick is that because it was founded by Rowntree, who was a Quaker, he didn’t permit any public houses to be built within the village, making this the only area of York not to have a pub. The only places permitted to serve alcohol in the area are the Folk Hall and the Sports Club, which were both granted a licence. Not that it made any difference to us, with Britain still 48 aganosing hours away from the beer gardens being allowed to reopen.
Our walk took us northwards, following the course of the River Foss. It was a nice and calm journey to the football on what started out as a sunny Spring morning, before a flurry of snow then hit us by the mid-afternoon.
Back in later 2015, if we had tried to walk down this stretch of the river we would have been submerged. Quite dramatically, the area flooded following the failure of the flood barrier further downstream where the Foss meets the River Ouse. Water gushed back up the Foss, flooding hundreds of properties and businesses. Despite the risks associated with living here, as the sun shone down on back gardens where the river lapped upon the grass verge, you would snap up one of these houses in a heartbeat.
Having emerged on to the main road, we entered New Earswick, which welcomed passing visitors with carefully planned daffodil lined streets. On the left, we passed the Folk Hall, which is the focal point of the village having undergone a £1 million refurbishment in 2018. It was originally built in 1906 and was extended in 1935, allowing it to host larger events and proving itself as a real hub in the heart of the community. It’s halcyon days were in the 1960’s when in evenings, the place would come alive with small gigs and club nights.
The most mysterious and exciting night at the Folk Hall is said to have happened in October 1967 when an up and coming band named Pink Floyd performed at the New Earswick Folk Hall – but details are quite sketchy. Having read some fantastic research conducted by local resident Tom Ray, it seems more than plausible that Pink Floyd did indeed play here on that night. On top of that, the support act is recorded as being Scarborough based band, The Mandrakes, who featured a young Robert Palmer as lead singer.
With kick-off approaching, we turned the corner up White Rose Avenue, passing row after row of quieter suburban housing which curved around in an arc until we took a left and reached the Sports Club. With dark clouds building on the horizon, the weather started to turn slightly chillier, sending me comfortably numb.
I was in familiar surroundings though, having actually been to the New Earswick Sports Club a few years ago, when Zach and I fell foul of an overnight deluge and turned up at York RI FC to find a waterlogged pitch. A quick skim through Twitter and we saw that F1 Racing were still playing and we quickly hopped in a taxi from Acomb, making it to their Premier Division match against Dunnington with just a few minutes gone.
F1, at the time were in only their second campaign in the York League Premier Division, having gone on a remarkable run which saw them win the Division Three, Division Two and Division One titles in successive seasons. They would go on to put five goals past Dunnington, playing at the far end of the club. New Earswick All Blacks rugby club, the main tenants of the facility, contested a well attended game on the neighbouring pitch in front of a large crowd. (Photos of that day below)
Since then, F1 haven’t perhaps continued to build on their successes as much as they would have liked, due mainly to the fact they were subjected to a period of instability, through no real fault of their own. They, very unfairly, fell foul to the York League choosing to be overzealous with their implementation of ground grading regulations.
In early 2018, the club were informed by the league that the changing rooms for match officials at the Sports Club were deemed to be “too small” following a complaint from a match referee. This was an issue which had been entirely constructed by the authorities when they demanded that all clubs had to create separate changing facilities for female officials.
Of course, this was a welcome move towards equality within the game but the lack of support – both in time and finances – given to clubs to find the required extra space was yet another example of how out of touch the FA is with the grassroots and semi-professional game.
F1 Racing were no strangers to leading a nomadic existence though, having played their home matches at various venues around the city down the years. In their Sunday league days, they played at the Railway Institute in Acomb and even benefitted from playing at the Ryedale Stadium (later known as the Huntington Stadium) for a season, due to their manager at the time having some handy connections. It meant that they managed to host some of their Sunday League fixtures under the lights at Huntington on a Wednesday night, which would have been a great experience for any club at that level.
The decision to ban F1 Racing from using the facilities at New Earswick at the end of the 2017/18 campaign – having been given just four months notice to remedy the issue – stunted many years of growth for the club. Bizarrely, nobody stood to gain anything from the situation.
Well before this chapter of turmoil, the club were originally founded as a Sunday League side in 1993 by a group of friends who worked on the railways. They started out life as Regional Railways North East FC and changed their name on a couple of occasions during the 1990’s depending on which franchise the players were working for at the time. Spells under the guises of Northern Spirit FC and Railtrack FC also followed.
In 2003, with the founding members of the club now retired from working on the railways and playing, the decision was made to rename the club. Ian Yeowart, who was a founding member as a player continued with the team, eventually becoming manager and secretary, continuing his involvement to the present day. He used the name of his family business, F1 Racing, which is now known as York Motorsport Village at Monks Cross. The football team even switched their kits, playing in chequered shirts, similar to Boavista, to reflect their new name.
Ten years after joining the York League in 2009 – and having played in Heslington and at Dunnington – before moving to New Earswick in 2014 – they were forced to move again. Despite their best efforts, as they were only at tenants at New Earswick the required alterations couldn’t be made to the facilities. At the end of the end of the 2017/18 campaign, F1 had to find a new ground or they would be demoted from the Premier Division, after working so hard to get there.
To add insult to injury, less than a year later, the league decided to host their own League Cup final on the very same pitch which they had banned F1 Racing from playing on the previous season, seemingly forgetting that the venue wasn’t apparently fit for use.
For the next two seasons, F1 had to play their football just down the road at York St John University, which first team manager Neil Yeowart explained wasn’t ideal. “We had been training down the road at York St John and managed to put an agreement in place where we ‘booked’ our home games with them on the 3G.”
“It was a novelty at first but it was costing an absolute fortune and we lost any sort of home comforts. We’d sometimes not have a changing room as YSJ was too busy with other sports and teams playing on the day.”
“A few of the players struggled playing so regularly at a high level on the surface with their joints. It also made away games a lot more difficult than they should have been due to not playing on grass as often as we should. The players got a little bit too accustomed to a perfect surface with no bobbles… and that’s not really the real world of grassroots!“
Neil really is passionate about this club, joking that he could write a couple of books about his 25 years involvement. Maybe he isn’t joking. The way he talks about his beloved F1 Racing is admirable. As with so many others involved in this level of football, he juggles various roles at the club but what interested me as an outsider is how Racing have consistently set standards far greater than the level they are playing at.
Each match is videod, and has been for years. Highlights are published within a couple of days of the match on a professional looking Twitter account. In turn, that social media account has the type of graphics you would see in the Football League. Their kit looks professional, as do the players when they turn up with their club branded bags.
I know first hand just how challenging, yet rewarding it can be running the social media for a football club having done it at Atherton Collieries for many years. Neil, like myself, loves the documentation of memories, as he explains. “I’ve always had an interest in documenting everything the club do as it’s a family-run football club, just my Dad and me (and our long-time sponsor Jonathan at JMD Developments) and it’s as much for our own memories as anything else.”
“We’ve had some fantastic times (and occasional low points) but it’s pretty awesome to share these moments together and which we can always look back on.”
As for the professionalism at this level, Neil admitted that it didn’t always go down well with others in the York League. “We’ve had stick for years, from having initials on our tracksuits, having a website, filming goals, the name of the club… they all sound trivial and passe now but at the time of ‘invention’ these were unique things for Sunday Morning Division 5 or Saturday Afternoon Division 4.”
“In more modern times, it’s been online trolls which is a big current issue at the moment in general. It shouldn’t be ‘part and parcel’ of having a presence on social media that you have to take abuse, particularly if you only ever post positive stuff. “
“Who wouldn’t want their goals, pics with mates etc captured forever? I really wish all my 377 goals were on camera so I do remind our forwards how lucky they are to have their finishes on video rather than just in the memory bank!”
Neil’s passion for the club is mirrored by Ian, his father, who has an impressive CV both in the game and out of it. He was stood alongside his son on the sideline this afternoon, as he usually is. They are a true ‘father and son’ duo, managing the entire club between themselves.
It was in 1995, Ian’s last season before hanging up his boots, when he convinced his son to come down and join the team when they were short on numbers one morning. Roped in, he played as a ‘ringer’ and continued to turn out for the side for the next 25 years, scoring those 377 goals in the process before recently joining his father on the sidelines.
Yeowart snr was on linesman duties this morning, as he was the previous weekend. He has a calm demeanour and a wise head on him, which works wonders at this level of football. He is experienced though. At the turn of the century, he had a spell as chairman at Chesterfield FC for a few years. Away from the game, his background is even more impressive, using his years of work on the railways to found Grand Central Railways in 1999, the train company which offers cheap fares between Sunderland and London.
In 2014, when F1 moved to the facilities at New Earswick, it seemed a romantic fit, with the club now playing yards away from a railway line which was represented both on their club crest and in their formation.
After an absence of two years, F1 were back at New Earswick in June 2020 and it was mainly down to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who awarded the Sports Club a grant which allowed them to improve infrastructure to the facilities. With the changing rooms improved, it opened the door to Racing for a return.
However, they were faced with a further stumbling block when it transpired Strensall Tigers FC – who were also in action on the afternoon of this visit – were now playing on the two football pitches there. They, bizarrely, were allowed to do so as they were one division lower than F1 and the same ground regulations didn’t apply to them.
So, it was on an abandoned rugby pitch at the back of the pavilion where F1 found their new home, and what a home it now is too. The vast patch of land has been fashioned into a railed football pitch which threatens to challenge Tockwith FC’s pitch for the title of best one in the area.
A crowd of around 40 had turned up for this eagerly anticipated second leg. Neil, who has benefited from coaching with FC Dallas alongside completing his UEFA B licence since moving into the dugout, had given his side some final words of encouragement. He was nervously strutting up and down the touchline in his eye catching retro Adidas jacket, which he had fashioned into an F1 Racing coat.
I spoke to him briefly before kick-off and he asked if he could have a pint from the many beers we had brought along with us for this afternoon’s entertainment. He was nervous. After last weekend, he knew this would be another tight game against last season’s league leaders.
It was a close encounter, it was always going to be, with both sides knocking the ball around quickly but struggling to find clear cut chances on goal. Dringhouses, once again, were perhaps guilty of letting their poor temperament get the better of them and they were reduced to ten men on 34 minutes, when one of their players was sin binned for mouthing off at the referee.
The match official was in the unenviable position where he was being assessed, meaning every decision he made had to be by the book if he wanted to climb up a level and officiate in the glitz and the glamour of the Northern Counties East Football League.
No sooner had Dringhouses been reduced to ten men – for ten minutes – they actually found themselves a goal to the good when George Brown burst through and coolly slotted past the Racing goalkeeper. Some ‘Dringy’ players celebrated exuberantly in front of the F1 bench, only managing to antagonise them into playing better.
Two minutes before half time, I saw the best goal I had seen in a long time… but we were unsure if it was just by sheer luck that Adam Tiffany managed to unconventionally flick the ball on to the back post where Max Tweddle was on hand to volley into the bottom corner.
On the stroke of half time, F1 themselves were reduced to ten men when their centre half was sin binned for complaining to the referee. “I don’t care how shit he is. Just don’t even speak to him!” came the wise instructions from an invested spectator.
Half time arrived and in the far distance, the grey clouds which had formed before the game had now turned a darker, more morose shade. They had taken on the shape of a long, draping curtain which slowly hovered towards the Minster.
Shivering, having only put on two layers and eyeing up the Strensall Tigers match which was on straight after this, I admitted defeat and phoned Chloe who kindly nipped up to the match in her car and dropped me off a thick, winter coat. She tutted, as the winter wear had only been packed away into the wardrobe that morning after a number of warm days.
With F1 narrowly ahead in the tie, leading 4-3 on aggregate a huge 45 minutes of football followed. Jonah Tomlin-Kent was a stand out performer in midfield for F1 in the second half, weaving in and out of Dringhouses defenders like an unkempt Yorkshire version of Lionel Messi.
On 84 minutes, Racing secured their place in the next round when Alex Clark was rewarded for his persistence over the two legs by grabbing a goal. There were great scenes of celebration on the F1 side of the pitch as they knew that they had overcome extremely tough and physical opposition in Dringhouses.
What has happened to F1 Racing over the past few years is a true story of grit and determination. It would have been really simple to let the ground graders and officials who run the league, win. However, thanks to a combination of the perseverance and perhaps stubborness of the Yeowart family and the financial support of the Rowntrees family, who set this village up 120 years ago, they have ensured that this football club carries on for at least a few more chapters of Neil’s book.
After the match, I asked him what would happen if either him or his Dad decided they couldn’t commit the time to F1 Racing any more. Looking around the perimeter fencing, there didn’t appear to be a huge number of willing volunteers who could take over should the need one day arrive. “It would be problematic,” he conceded without any hesitation.
“More so in my Dad’s case as he does so much, from the mountains of admin right the way through to helping the grounds people with the new pitch and helping turn it from a rarely used rugby pitch into what it is now after only 10 months.”
“He works tirelessly along with our long term sponsor of 12 years, Jonathan at JMD Developments to provide us all with the best possible playing and social experience.”
“My role is easier to replace from a purely football point of view as he could step in again and resume managing or we could look at the likes of current or former players to learn the ropes and uphold the standards although we have tried that in the past, with a few guys not realising the amount of work that goes into it all and deciding it wasn’t for them.”
“We’d love to finish our part in this journey by winning the Premier Division and establish a junior setup too, to help provide more future players. We are currently in talks with interested parties about adding a U15 and U19 section to the football club for 2021/22 season.”
It’s just a shame that some of those who run the league don’t appear to share my positive opinion of F1 Racing. On top of the battle over the ground grading, there also appears to be a strange boycott occuring on social media.
The York League twitter account, which I would love to get hold of one day, now refuses to share any content put out by F1 Racing. Instead, they can often be found retweeting mounts of unnecessary information from clubs who aren’t even – sometimes – under their jurisdiction. To me, it seems a petty way of punishing a club who fought the league and won.
Depending on how far they choose to go, those people sat in offices may one day stipulate that the club can’t be named F1 Racing anymore, as the title doesn’t include a geographical location. There have been ample opportunities to move away from the F1 moniker but as Neil further explains, it is more deep rooted than that now.
“When we have moved to the various locations we’ve played at, there have been talks about us changing the name to match the village or area we are playing in. We have resisted this as best we can as I feel we are known now for our fairly unique name and it would dilute 18 years of history associated with it if we had become, for example, Shipton FC or New Earswick FC.”
I agree, knowing that my original intrigue into the club arrived when I saw their peculiar name on a fixture list and all these years later, having now watched them play four times, I can safely say I will keep heading back to watch them whenever I can. They play football the right way and have a lot of fun while doing so. If more clubs were like F1 Racing, the York League would be thriving.