Tom Greaves hit his 20-goal mark for the current campaign in the New Year, and at Ossett United, the seasoned scorer is finally just about local again. FC United’s all-time leading marksman (with 103), the West Yorkshireman hung up the parka (so to speak…) last season, as the adopted Manc bid farewell to the North West (after a spell at nearby Hyde United) to join Ossett in their inaugural season since the Albion/Town merger.
Hemsworth Miners Welfare boss Wayne Benn took the managerial reins in November, and while the club’s off-field difficulties were publicised late last year, United’s players are simply set on climbing clear of a third-bottom position they feel isn’t representative of their capabilities.
Among the frontrunners in this season’s BetVictor North West Division scoring charts, Greaves talks in detail in this interview. His admiration for FC shines through, though the knock-on effects of trying to player-manage a club he’d become devoted to were considerable. A couple of years on, and despite outside interest, he is extremely content at Ossett. Here’s a varied one-on-one with a non-league striking stalwart still going strong…
Plenty of goals but how have you enjoyed it overall so far this season, and how fresh have you felt as it’s progressed?
To be honest, I’ve felt alright. I’ve done a lot of charity challenges this year with my business, so I’ve run a few marathons, some half-marathons, done Tough Mudder and things like that. So the legs have been a little bit tired, but to be fair, I’ve coped with it quite well and I’ve been getting my goals. It’s not so much the 90 minutes of football now, it’s the recovery time after, so as long as I try and recover right – eat the right things and get my ice baths, things like that – I’m doing alright. Don’t get me wrong, the last couple of months I’ve been probably out of form a little bit, not getting as many goals, but I’m working hard to try and get that form back and try to prepare right really.
With the off-field difficulty and being lower down the table, how much have you as a team been able to enjoy it?
For the lads that are still about, we’re still enjoying ourselves, still believe that we’re in a little bit of a false position. It’s been a difficult season, like you say with the off-field things going on at the club, it’s been hit by numerous things that have made the club struggle a bit, but they’re dealing with those things. We’ve got to deal with the things on the pitch, and like I said, we’re still enjoying it, we still believe that we’ve got players to get us out of trouble. With a couple of additions, we’ll be alright, I think.
How local is the club to you?
I’m in Bradford, lived in Bradford all my life, so it’s half an hour/35 minutes on a good day. So as local as I’ve been for many years!
You’ve been around your fair share of not-so-shrinking violets in football! Who are some of the examples of the lively characters who come to mind?
James Knowles, who’s at Ossett now (joint-caretaker manager with Tom earlier in the season), he’s like the general of organising nights out. I’ve been at a few clubs with him and he’s the man to organise anything like that. Daft characters, I played with Liam Dickinson at FC United, and Brad Barnes. I mean it was a short time in that pre-season and start of the season but they were absolutely bonkers. Jerome Wright from FC United, we just clicked straight away when I joined FC and we’ve been close friends ever since. There’s a few, to be fair! I could go on and on if I think back. Stephen Oleksewycz from my first spell at Bradford Park Avenue, he was forever pranking everyone; from hiding lads’ cars to cutting their socks or putting deep heat in their boxers. He was a constant pain in the arse! Last season at Ossett, Aidan Chippendale used to perform ‘the greyhound’* after pretty much every game, win, lose or draw. The lads now that I travel in with, Marco Bašić and Jack Stockdill, we always have a good laugh on the way to training or games.
*Involves running around the changing room. Parental permission required for further details…
For on and off the pitch, the whole picture, what’s the happiest time you’ve had in football? FC United’s the obvious that stands out, so maybe a more specific time spell within that, if that’s the case.
Yeah, I’ve never not enjoyed my football; I’ve always been around good people, good managers. I enjoyed my time at Bridlington Town, Garforth Town. Bradford Park Avenue I was there for 200-odd games, so that’s a club close to my heart, but I can’t not say FC United, especially the season where we won the (Evo-Stik Premier) league. We came close a couple of times in my first couple of seasons, and then 2015 we managed to win the league, so I’d have to say that, because the feeling that we got when we actually crossed the line and we knew that we’d won it, oh it was unbelievable. The pitch invasion, and obviously the fanbase there is just ridiculous, so every time I scored for FC United it felt like it was the first time I scored for them. It’s just crazy, it’s just a different world.
— Steven Irwin (@steirwin) December 4, 2017
What sort of approach from a manager do you think works best for you personally?
There’s a lot of players that need a bit of an arm around them. Managers have really got to know the players. Some react well to a bit of a bollocking, some will go in their shell and hide and it’s no good for them, so the managers have really got to know their players. To be honest, I’ve never been one to massively need an arm around me, and I don’t mind a bit of a bollocking; I know that if I’m not doing my job then I deserve that. I’ve kind of made it easy for managers really, I’m very approachable. They’ve spoke to me properly and had respect for me off the pitch, but then when I’ve needed the kick up the arse, they’ve given me it. I feel like I do react well to either/or really.
We mentioned the league win with FC, but again, from your time in football overall, is there a coach trip back from an away game, a night out etc. that sticks in the mind for a great atmosphere and a brilliant time together as a team?
You seem to spend a lot of time away from your friends and family when you play non-league football and the away trips really make you gel with your teammates. The coach journeys are always good fun, the new lads will always have a singalong and things like that, but again, FC United, it was like we were all best mates. Literally every away trip was crazy, but Torquay away, we played them in the FA Trophy, and obviously that’s a long, long trip, so that got a little bit messy. There were people sleeping under the coach and throwing up everywhere and things like that. We got beat in the game but we’d had a really good season, the quarter-finals it was, and we just had a right laugh all the way back, even though we’d been beat. It was just a great atmosphere.
What about the most gutted you’ve been after a game? One that seemed to stay with you that bit longer perhaps.
FC came close in the play-offs a few times; I was one of the reasons for that when I scored against them for Park Avenue back in 2012. I think it was one of my first seasons, we lost to Ashton in the semi-final I think it was, and we’d had a couple of injuries; I think myself, Mike Norton and Jerome (Wright) had come off in the game late on. We were winning 1-0 and they scored in the last minute of normal time – I think it was Dale Johnson who scored, who later signed for FC, and again, became really good friends with him – and then they scored the last minute of extra-time as well. So we were so close in the 90 minutes, and then so close to going on to the lottery of a penalty shootout. It was like ‘oh my word, what has just happened there?’ Yeah, that was a mega-difficult one to take.
Taking on the manager’s job at FC in 2017, was there anything about management that you didn’t realise the true scale of until you were in it?
Yeah, definitely. It was my phone, it literally never stopped. I mean I know FC’s a high-profile club, but even when I did the short stint with Ossett, just for three games when Andy Welsh left, your phone never stops. Your players, players that wanna come in, players that might wanna go out, agents for players, even parents of players. It’s literally crazy, and that was one thing that really got to me when I was at FC. Even the time I was trying to spend at home with my family, I wasn’t there. My missus used to say to me ‘look, you’re here, but you’re not here.’ I was just stuck to my phone and trying to sort things out. That was a massive factor in why I left FC in the first place. It was a really difficult time, it was constant. Even though I was still only going in on a Tuesday and a Thursday, it was just so time-consuming, so much to sort. Hats off to everybody who’s done it for so long, because it is a very, very difficult job, especially in non-league.
The obvious question but how much desire is there to manage again? Are you taking a step back for a while with the intention of going again after playing, or has it put you off for life?!
No, I definitely wouldn’t have said I’d help Ossett out earlier in the season if it had put me off for life. I feel like I’ve learned a lot of lessons and went through quite a lot with FC in the nine months that I was there. I’ve taken a lot more on from managers I’ve played for since, like TY (Dave McGurk) and Daz Kelly at Hyde, Welshy (Andy Welsh) and Quinny (Paul Quinn) when I came to Ossett, and now Benno (Wayne Benn) and Chick (Andy Hayward) at Ossett. Now that I’m older and I’ve kind of tapped into that a bit, I’m taking more and more things from these people, whereas when I was a little bit younger, it was literally turn up, work my socks off, try and get a goal, try and get a win, and that was it, I’d go home. I’m trying to take more on board now for when I eventually do step back in. I would like to have a go at it again, I feel like I could do a good job, feel like I’ve got enough contacts around. Again, I was kind of thrown in the deep end at FC. I was addicted to the club so I was never gonna turn the opportunity down when it came along, but it just turned out for me that it was a little bit too big of a step probably, when I did have that burning desire still to play rather than manage.
What have you seen about Ossett as a club that stand out as real plus points to take forward, into what’s hopefully a long future?
It’s just a nice club. It’s got great fans; we get 3/400 fans watching a home game even though we’ve been struggling this season. Even though I’ve been used to playing in front of 2/3,000 at FC on good days, it still feels like it’s home. I’ve had chance to move on this season a few times, a few clubs have put seven days in for me, offered me more money, but I’ve never been motivated by money. I know that I’m not gonna be a millionaire out of playing non-league football, so first and foremost for me is enjoying my football and the surroundings. For me and my family, it works so well for me to just be at Ossett. I’ve had offers and things like that but I’ve not really been tempted to leave. I enjoy the club, it’s a nice family club, my little boy loves it there, so it’s a no-brainer for me really.
— Tom Greaves (@tomgreaves85) May 21, 2019
One singer/band/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist
My favourite tune to motivate me for football is Stone Roses ‘This is the One’. My Yorkshire (CONIFA team) teammates will give me a bit of grief for that, saying it’s a Man United song and I’ve been tainted as a Leeds fan! But I love the tune, it just gets me motivated. My brother once got me a DVD for my birthday and it was a DVD of like a season of my goals, and it had that tune in the background, so ever since then it’s been like my favourite football song!
And have you ever had to sing for initiation anywhere you’ve gone?
That’s part of the reason why I stay at clubs so long, I can’t stand it! I stayed at Park Avenue for that many years, stayed at FC for that many years, but I had to do one when I left FC and signed for Hyde. I did George Ezra ‘Shotgun’ for Hyde and Ossett. I had to do one when I started playing for Yorkshire; I did Shaggy ‘Angel’.
Finally, alongside playing, your coaching work, what else tends to fill your time?
I’m constant at the minute. My work’s busy, I’m sports co-ordinator at a primary school, so I juggle that around my business as well. I run a business called Fisical Sports with my brother, so I do lots of coaching with toddlers, 2-4-year-olds, and then we move on to like academy teams. There’s a warehouse in Baildon that’s got a 5-a-side pitch in it. I’m coaching non-stop, and then when I get home and I can switch off, it’s my little boy. He’s five this month, so I just spend as much time with him and my missus as I can.
Interview by @chris_brookes