Lions going strong three decades on

Jonathan Howson, pictured in his back garden with all his trophies won whilst playing for the Churwell Lions and other teams.
Jonathan Howson, pictured in his back garden with all his trophies won whilst playing for the Churwell Lions and other teams.

WHEN Sonny Sweeney helped form a junior football club in 1982 few could have envisaged that they would still be thriving three decades later.

But having provided football for thousands of local children and produced a number of players who have gone onto play in the professional ranks, the Lions are now celebrating their 30th anniversary.

It is a fantastic achievement in an area which has countless other football and rugby clubs but with Sonny still heavily involved at the Lions and thanks to the help of countless volunteers over the years, football in Churwell is as strong as ever.

When Churwell Lions started in 1982 they had just two junior teams but now they start coaching youngsters at Under-6 and go right the way through to the two open age sides.

Former Leeds United player Sonny, who now scouts for the Elland Road outfit, said: “It is a good club but every good club needs some good people to help run it and there have been some smashing people involved at Churwell over the years.

“It is great to see a young boy you have coached coming back to the club when he’s married and brings his own boy along to play for Churwell.

“Lee Mullins is now secretary but I coached him and things have turned full circle as he has brought his son to play at Churwell.”

Former Leeds United and current Norwich City midfielder Jonny Howson began his career at Churwell as a nine year old, while professionals Richard Naylor and Richard Graham also donned Lions shirts as juniors.

Churwell held a gala dinner at Elland Road to celebrate their 30th anniversary in October when over 200 former players and volunteers attended.

The great Sid Waddell was heavily involved in Churwell after taking his son, Daniel, to play there.

Indeed the children’s book and television programme Jossy’s Giants was based on Churwell Lions.

Sonny recalled: “Sid became involved after bringing his son down to play.

“He based Jossy on myself and the team around Churwell. When they made it into a programme, the BBC producer took all the boys on a coach and Churwell were the opposition in the first episode of Jossy’s Giants.

“We showed clips of that episode at our dinner, which was great as the boys were only 14 then but are in their 40s now.”

Having retired from playing, Richard Naylor is now a coach at the Leeds United academy, with two of the current crop of Churwell Under-16s currently on the books at Elland Road.

Sonny said: “Jonny Howson and Gavin Rothery started here as nine and 10 year olds and Richard Graham played for our Under-10s when he was only seven. You are able to see the quality players from a young age.”

As well as providing football to thousands of local footballers, Churwell Lions have a great social side too and recently returned to their original base at Churwell WMC.

Sonny added: “We started at the club and have now gone back there. We are giving something back to the village and as there are people going into the club on weekends, as well as holding functions there, we have helped them out too.

“The main aim is to help provide enjoyment for the children. It’s no good them playing if they don’t enjoy it, which is why we ask parents not to get involved from the touchline.”

Churwell have won countless trophies and competitions over the years but Sonny recalls one of the great Lions sides from 1986.

He explained: “People talk about youngsters playing too much football but we had some of our side on the books at Leeds United.

“Those lads loved playing football and would play for Churwell on a Saturday morning and then go off with Leeds in the afternoon.

“We ended up winning the Leeds League and Cup and the Garforth League, so we proved a lot of people wrong.”

While some of the older members at Churwell remember the class of 1986, last season was another successful one for the Lions as the Under-10s, Under-11s and Under-14s age groups all won their respective Garforth League titles, while the Sunday Open Age side won the Leeds Combination League title.

In the past Churwell have played matches, home and abroad, against teams from Siegen - the twin town of Morley in Germany - and this is something Sonny is looking to resurrect.

Another project sees the Lions, along with Gildersome Spurs, local rugby league club Churwell Chiefs and Bruntcliffe School, involved in bringing a state of the art 3G pitch to the area which will benefit the whole community.

This is something nobody could have envisaged 30 years ago when the Lions were formed but there is no sign of them fading yet as they continue to provide football and enjoyment to the youngsters in the area.