Saddleworth Strikers score as they expand to six teams

SADDLEWORTH Strikers, which recently celebrated their fifth birthday, continues to score.

The club has registered a record six teams in the East Manchester Junior Football League for the 2020-21 season.

The teams are: Under-8 (division seven, train Friday), U9 (division eight, train Wednesday), U9 Reds (division five, train Wednesday), U11 (division eight, train Friday), U12 (division four, train Tuesday) and U12 Reds (division seven, train Thursday).

With all those teams, as well as a soccer school, Strikers are in the process of registering more than 70 players for the upcoming season.

Preparations are now well underway as the season starts on the weekend of September 5-6, and all teams are busy arranging pre-season friendlies.

When lockdown started in March, the club gave children challenges online and the coaches enjoyed seeing their videos of practicing skills at home, as well as catchups on Zoom.

Once the FA’s rules changed which allowed them to start training again, they began in groups of five plus one coach and practice games did not involve tackling and everyone kept two metres apart. As you can imagine this was a challenge, but all the children engaged fitness work and ball skills.

The club welcomed the re-introduction of contact training which was approved by the Football Association and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Saturday, July 18.

They have put measures in place to protect the players, parents/guardians and coaches. All training equipment is sprayed with disinfectant before and after each session, and they keep a register of who has attended training, hand sanitiser is used routinely throughout while training venues and times are subject to change as sports facilities are beginning to reopen.

Although ending abruptly, last season saw a level of success for all four squads in the EMJFL.

The U8s, in their debut season, went from strength to strength and were promoted twice.

The U9s went unbeaten in the second half of the campaign and the two U11s both enjoyed an in-season promotion which demonstrated their progress.

The U11s and U8s also earned their way to cup finals, which unfortunately never took place due to 2019-20 season’s premature closure.

Looking ahead, it is anticipated the 2021-22 season will see a first-ever 11-a-side team at U13s as they look to develop many more teams in the higher age group levels as well as continuing to bring through players at the younger end of the age spectrum.

To celebrate the club’s fifth birthday, they ran a trip to the Football Association’s headquarters at St George’s Park earlier this year when the club also achieved its FA Charter Standard status.

Apart from its six teams, the club also runs a soccer school each Saturday between 9am and 10am at Saddleworth School’s Astroturf pitch during school term time, and which they are keen to expand.

The soccer school is for children aged between four and seven and is a great way for them to learn the basics of football in an enjoyable, relaxed way.

And the club has been really pleased with the fact that for the last two seasons they have had new groups that originated in the soccer school forming league teams now in the EMJFL.

The soccer school is also a way for parents and guardians of young children to start to get involved in coaching junior football.

The club offers each new coach the chance to take the FA Level 1 coaching course free of charge.

Strikers is an inclusive club and three of the six teams have both boys and girls playing in them.

They recognise and welcome the growth of women’s football, and if there are any budding or experienced coaches out there who are keen to start an all-girls team at any junior age group, they would love to hear from them.

The benefits of young players joining Strikers are that they have coaches with a breadth of experience from FA Level 1 up to UEFA B standard, each player receives a club jacket upon joining, and kit is provided for league teams.

The coaches are: U12: Jon Marshall, Geoff Donnelly; U12 Reds, Lee Tupman, Paul Walker, Mike Leyland, Barry Wearing, U11s: Mick Davies, Jay West; U9: Mike Leyland pending appointment of a new coach; U9 Reds: Lee Tupman, Paul Walker, Barry Wearing; U8: Dan Moss, Steven Gifford-Dixon, Mick Harrison.

While the club is competitive, it believes above all the game is about having fun. They are always keen to hear from new players who can email

The club recently launched a website and they can be found on Facebook and Instagram

They have a club shop which is popular with their children and parents, especially at Christmas. It can be accessed here

Club sponsors are: DD Resin; Stoneswood Construction; In Touch Fire and Security; Manchester Cabins; Hare and Hounds, Uppermill; Albion Tap, Uppermill; The Greenfield Design Partnership; Dobcross Post Office and Village Store.

The club was formed in 2015 by a group of parents who were looking for a club for their children.
The founding volunteers/coaches, led by Matt Cocking, also comprised Mick Davies, Geoff Donnelly, Damian Flood, Steve Sidgwick and Rob Whetham.

They felt there was an opportunity to develop a junior football club with a modern, child-friendly approach to youth football supported by passionate parents who want to instil in the children the positive attributes of football to ensure that they had fun and enjoyed themselves while playing.

Secretary Mike Leyland said: “By working together as a team with a proactive attitude, we feel that we can help develop a positive learning environment for young people that puts their needs first.

“We promote that football should be about fun, respect, making new friends, learning new skills and teamwork.”

Matt, Damian, Steve and Rob have now left the club, as their children grew up and their teams did not continue.

Geoff took over as chairman from Matt, Mike replaced Rob as secretary and Alex Leach became welfare officer succeeding Steve, all in early 2019. They also rely on many other coaches and parent volunteers who are the lifeblood of the club.

Mike said: “We have tried to gain more of a presence in the area in the last two years, because we know from the regular stream of enquiries we get on our Facebook page that there’s constant demand from parents looking for football clubs for their children.

“Like many of the other more well-established clubs, it is our mission to create opportunities for young children to move from learning the basics of the game to ultimately playing league football.

“We believe the feedback we regularly receive from parents and children proves that there is a place for us in Saddleworth, and that drives us to progressing the club so it continues to grow in the years to come.”

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