The Making of Ilkley Town as a Semi-Pro Team - Part One

This week we will delve into the history of Ilkley Town AFC a bit more and talk about how Ilkley’s former manager, Simon Armstrong, managed to transform them from Sunday-league football to a semi-pro football club, writes Evan Seaman.

While he oversaw the Baht’atters, Armstrong implemented a player progression structure with an under 23’s team and full academy setup. This turned out to be hugely successful, as they won the Wharfedale cup three times under his leadership whilst also gaining promotion from step eight to step six which meant he became their first ever manager to represent them in non-league football.

Armstrong talks about this progression in more detail:

“I managed the first team for a decade from Step 8 through to step 6 and played a part alongside several volunteers who were very committed to moving the club forward. This saw a big growth and development in regards facilities, infrastructure, and membership.”

Prior to managing Ilkley, he managed Leeds Met Carnegie, where he also achieved promotion to step six with the university, and created partnerships with over 60 schools. At Ilkley, he created a similar pathway for players via a partnership with St Mary’s Academy in Menston.

However, his success did not come without its challenges, one which was COVID, which delayed their period of progression.

“My priority was obviously the first team and the promotion to step 6 wasn’t without its challenges as COVID hit and literally cost us the best part of two seasons,” he says.

But Armstrong and his Ilkley side finally got their reward at the start of the 2021/22 campaign when they were admitted into the North-West Counties Division One North for the first time in the club’s history. He tells of his relief after all his hard work at the club paid off: “We were finally accepted for the 21/22 season where consolidation was key.”

Armstrong found the start of that season in the new league somewhat difficult, losing the first 5 games of the season. However, his side recovered well and picked up some impressive wins including the 6-0 rout at home to Darwen which helped to lift them out of the relegation zone.

While he was manager he worked alongside assistant Sam Dexter, who previously managed the u23’s side and played for the club, and Dave Houlston as coach, who was manager before Armstrong took over.

After 10 years in charge of Ilkley, Armstrong took the decision to hand over his duties to Dexter midway through the 21/22 season. Dexter achieved safety from relegation at step six for the first time and is currently occupying a play-off position this campaign. Armstrong discusses the job his successor is doing at the club and ambitions for the end of the season:

“This season Sam Dexter has done a phenomenal job in not only carrying on the great work from before, but also putting his own stamp on it and driving it to the next level. Needless to say, everyone is behind him and the team in order to help them achieve a deserved play off place.”

But that is not it. Make sure you grab a copy of next week’s programme as well because I will be handing over to my colleague Matthew Lambe who will be covering part two of the piece and talking about the managerial transition from Armstrong to Sam Dexter and aspirations for next season.