Life in Football – Rachel O’Connor

This is the fifth in a series of ‘Life in Football’ articles which looks at the people behind the scenes at GAFC and their careers outside of the club.

This article first appeared in the Guiseley AFC Matchday Programme, for more exclusive content be sure to pick one up from our sellers before games at Nethermoor.

Rachel O’Connor has had a variety of jobs at Guiseley AFC including a long stint as Reserve Team Secretary and Programme Editor.

She is also the club’s Press Officer and helps out in hospitality on a match day.

How did it all start?

Rachel explains: “I only came here to do match reports for the local paper and I am still here over 30 years later!

“There is no escape once you get involved at Guiseley AFC. It tugs at the heart strings and has been a special place for many people involved, past and present.

“Lot’s of past players say it is the club they will never forget, the club they were happiest at.

“I don’t think it takes long to feel that special bond but it has been tested somewhat this season.

Rachel’s interest and love of football started at a very early age growing up in nearby Burley-in-Wharfedale with two older cousins next door and an older brother.

“There was no fence between our houses, the garden was a football pitch in winter and a cricket pitch in summer.

“Endless hours were spent out there as soon as you could walk!

“It was a tough learning curve but when as a two year-old you are faced with big lads armed with a proper cricket ball you soon learn!”

“It was all football and cricket, apart from the boxing my dad taught us all.

“He and my grandad both loved watching football in the winter.

Grandad was a pal of Bill Shankly and got free entrance to Huddersfield Town games but his first love in winter was Bradford City, where he also seemed to get free access for some reason.

“And so it was that aged five I was indoctrinated into football, one week at Leeds United with my dad, the other at Bradford City with grandad, the latter also taking me to every Yorkshire and England cricket match played in the county.

“Leeds were my team of choice watching the likes of John Charles, George Meek and Wilbur Cush and seeing Billy Bremner and Stan Matthews posing for a special photo at Elland Road as the youngest and oldest players in the league at that time.

“Leeds United moved on to glory days under Don Revie and I was there through it all never missing a game, home or away, in 15 years.

“Great times, great memories and now some of those people who travelled with me on the local Granges coach to matches far and wide are here at Nethermoor supporting Guiseley.”

Rachel loved and participated in a number of sports in her younger days including badminton, tennis, table tennis, cricket, football and hockey.

She said: “Unfortunately there wasn’t as much opportunity to play the two sports I loved best – football and cricket, it was more or less restricted to friendlies and charity games.

“I once bowled the actor Frazer Hines out here at Guiseley first ball and I don’t think he liked it!,” said Rachel.

She added: “I would have loved to have been born a bit later with all the opportunities there are now for girls to play football and cricket.”

At the age of 17 Rachel took her first steps into football management with a youth team she and fellow members of her youth club set up in Burley-in-Wharfedale – Burley Rovers.

“We ended up with two teams because of the numbers interested and we entered the local

U-18 league at a time when the two Guiseley teams Fieldhead and Kelcliffe dominated.

“I was proud that seven of my players got into the Wharfedale FA representative squad including Terry Rockett, who went on to become a Guiseley player, and my captain Keith Urquhart, who has done so much at Otley Town AFC.

“One of my goalkeepers was David Ross, much better known at that time as a blossoming cricketer having played for England at Under-15 level.

“David is a regular here at Nethermoor along with his son Simon, who has been a match sponsor and great help to the club,” said Rachel.

Rachel admits that she wasn’t a Guiseley supporter before she came to Nethermoor in her role as Sports Editor of the local paper, saying: “On the local scene I had been more of an Otley D P and E supporter as one of my cousins from next door – George Fordham – played for them.”

However, once caught up in the 1980s Guiseley Rachel sat in the rickety wooden stand and for most of the time was the only person in the then Press Box.

In later years a young David Bridson, brother of the more famous Adam, was keen on being a sports writer and Rachel allowed him to sit alongside her in the Press box and write match reports.

Rachel remembers: “He was only a very young lad but was keen. I used to print his version of the game alongside my own in the Wharfedale Observer as a child’s perspective on the game.”

There were great days to come for Guiseley with Rachel travelling to both Wembley FA Vase finals.

“The first time I went in the Wembley Press Box as I had never been in there but the second I took my nephews and sat among the crowd. The first game against Gresley will always stay in the mind as will the re-play at Bramall Lane when we actually lifted the trophy.

“I also travelled with the team when we had that great trip to play Luton Town in the FA Cup. My nephew Ben Thackway was in the Guiseley squad at that time but due to injury was not called on.

He later went on to climb Everest.

Rachel then found that slowly, slowly she was getting involved in the club and was asked to follow Ken Grogan as secretary of the Reserve team, a job she carried out for almost 20 years.

“I loved working with characters like Brett Ferriday and Vinnie Brockie, we had some great times and some great lads played for us over the years.

Perhaps one of the best days was winning the Wharfedale FA Cup.”

Rachel, the first woman to be elected to the Wharfedale FA, on which she still serves as a Vice President, ran the Wharfedale U-17 team in the County Minor Cup for a number of seasons and particularly enjoyed them lifting the County Cup.

In 2007, when Guiseley Reserves played in the Lancashire League and she was on the League Management Committee, she was awarded the league’s Outstanding Service Award.

Recognised by the West Riding County FA for her long service to football she was also the Wharfedale FA’s Club Secretary of the Year.

Within Guiseley AFC she has been recognised as the Club’s Volunteer of the Year and the Guiseley Ladies FC Club Person of the Year.

Rachel was secretary of Yeadon Cricket Club in the Bradford League for 20 years and at one time organised all the junior cricket there as well as being Cricket Chairman at one stage.

Rachel added: “Richard Illingworth, an umpire in the recent Aussie Cheating Row, was one of our players and went on to play for Worcestershire. We had some great players including Geoff Cope and the late, great Pete Graham. Happy times.”

18/19 Affordable Season Tickets are out now – just £7 a game for adults and 47p for children!

The club are on a mission to bring #GuiseleyTogether by asking new and existing fans to back the lower priced model with a commitment to making football in Guiseley affordable for all the family. Adult season tickets are priced at only £150 compared to £240 last season, order yours online here.