Emley AFC under 23s have had quite the first year – winning the West Riding County FA Cup and getting promoted. 

Manager Sam Sutton is proud of what’s been achieved this season. However the 25-year-old insists there is more to come. 

He said: “For us to get to the final and win it in our first season as an under 23s team, is an excellent achievement. It’s testament to all the players and backroom staff’s resilience in dealing with all the setbacks. I believe in this team and now we can push forward.”

Sutton looked back and said: “Like everyone else we have had a stop start season. We started with our trials back in July last year, we then had an uninterrupted pre-season and won our first three league games. We were then plunged into two lockdowns. 

“We have had a bit of success at the club recently with the first team being promoted and I’m happy for them. We in the under 23s have also gained a promotion.

“Due to our strong start to the season and our good showing in the tournament we have been promoted from the Championship to the Premier Division in Yorkshire.

From left to right Jackson O’Sullivan (Academy Sports Therapist), Ashley Booth (Secretary & Admin), Peter Walker (Assistant Coach), Sam Sutton (Academy Manager), Alex Overton (Assistant Coach), Chris Helliwell (Secretary & Admin)

“With us being a new team we had to start in the Championship but the aim was always to get promoted and have our second season in the Premier Division.” 

Emley will be facing some bigger and more established teams next year, taking on the likes of Harrogate Town and Ossett United’s academy teams. 

Sutton isn’t daunted and said: “I am confident we have what it takes to compete in that Premier Division next year.”

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As with any academy, the primary focus is getting the young players into the first team set up. This is no different at Emley, and Sutton has already been able to build a strong relationship with first team boss Richard Tracey. 

On the process of moving players up to the first team, Sutton said: “One of the best things is that 11 of our players will be going and training with the first team from next week, which is brilliant for our first season.

“A lot of them have played for the first team when we have played behind closed doors games during the lockdowns.

Emley AFC u23 West Riding County FA Cup winners. Pic: Mark Parsons

“The big objective is to always provide the first team with players, the second objective was to get the team into the Premier Division and then because we won this cup that just gave everyone so much confidence going into the next campaign. 

“Ever since I came into the club back in February, Richard has been really supportive. He’s given me access to come and watch training and then sit on the bench for games so I can watch how he and his staff operate. He has come to our games and told me what he thinks about certain players. 

“Richard’s plan is to keep a lean first team squad and retain most of his promotion winning squad. He then will use some of our lads. The great thing about Richard is that he doesn’t want to block a young person’s path. 

“We are really confident in our lads that they can make the step up. They are still young and so they are learning but we have lots of confidence in them. 

“We have people in the first team who have played a lot of games at a much higher level. The younger lads need to respect why they are behind these people. However if they have the talent and drive and good attitude they can succeed.”

Emley u23 team warm up

Sutton has a history of winning things in youth football and despite not playing at a high level he is cutting his teeth well as a manager. 

He said: “I never played at a high level, just grassroots stuff. I knew from the age of 13/14 I wanted to get into coaching. I’ve been coaching for ten years.

“In my day job I work in the community section at Barnsley FC in the academy where I run a scheme called Shadow Scholarship which I’ve done for six years. 

“I work with 16-19 year olds who have been let go by different teams and I help them try and get back into the pro or semi-pro game.

“I won the league and cup double with the youth team at Huddersfield YMCA in 2018. I then became the first team boss where we had a team just full of under 20s players bar one or two. We got to a few semi-finals, finals and nearly gained promotion.”

So if Sutton’s record is anything to go by it could be an exciting year ahead for Emley AFC under 23s.