Shaw Lane Aquaforce owner Craig Wood has revealed he is battling testicular cancer but says a very difficult time in his life has been made brighter by the Ducks sealing promotion this week.
The Cawthorne man, 41, has built his plumbing business of the same name into one of the most successful companies in the area and, after starting in the Barnsley Sunday League, wants to make Aquaforce the town's best ever non-league club.
Wood found out he had cancer in December and has missed most of the games in the second half of this season. He is five weeks through a nine-week course of chemotherapy at Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield.
Wood told the Chronicle: "We caught it quite late but I am hoping to get the all-clear at the end of this round of chemo. If I don't, then I will deal with that then. I am staying positive. I have always set myself challenges in life and to beat this illness is just another one.
"It's come at the worst possible time because I have two twin daughters who are now seven months old. To juggle a young family, a business and a football club is very, very difficult. It's been a tough time for me. But everyone at Shaw Lane has been brilliant. It's a real family club.
"I'm gutted I missed the promotion run-in but I saw the last game on Thursday and it is a fantastic achievement to get promoted. It's nice to have some positive news after a tough time."
Wood made a rare trip to Shaw Lane on April 24 to give a speech to the players before their match against Knaresborough in which they had to avoid defeat to secure promotion for the third season in a row.
"What Craig said to us was very inspirational," said top-scorer Danny Frost, who got both goals in the 2-2 draw.
"A lot of the lads said afterwards that they had lumps in their throats and I had to go and wash my face before the match because I was welling up. He talked to us a bit about his illness and reminded us that football is not a matter of life and death. It took the pressure off us but it also geed us up because we wanted to get promotion for him. Craig is Aquaforce. We wouldn't be where we are without him."
Knaresborough took the lead just after half-time but the Ducks were 2-1 ahead ten minutes later thanks to Frost's 29th and 30th goals of the season. Victory would have secured promotion mathematically but the visitors levelled in the last minute which meant third-placed Bottesford would have had to win by 20 goals against Grimsby Borough on Saturday to catch the Ducks.
Bottesford lost 3-0 which means Force came second behind Cleethorpes. Wood says Aquaforce – who will battle with Athersley Recreation for the honour of being Barnsley's top non-league team next season– have faced a lot of criticism because they pay their players.
He said: "We are not the only club to do that. About half a dozen clubs in Division One pay their players and even more in the Premier Division. Some clubs have been really good to us but there has been a bit of hostility from others which I think comes from jealousy. Most of the clubs in our league have just been surviving for years and they are not used to seeing someone with the ambition and the finances to progress up the football pyramid.
"Every club has wanted to beat us more than they want to beat anyone else so it has added a bit of extra spice to games. We've had to overcome that. As we go up the leagues, we will see that less and less because most of the teams will pay a lot of money out."
In order to move up to the Evo-Stick League, one division below the Conference North, the Ducks will have to make changes to their Shaw Lane ground – which they share with Barnsley Rugby Union Club – and finish top of the NCEL Premier League.
Wood and manager Craig Elliott – who has picked up 27 points from 13 games since he replaced the sacked Simon Houghton in February – will meet this weekend to discuss the club's future and are set to release a 'five-year plan' next week.
The owner admits it may be a long process but added: "If I can leave Aquaforce, and hopefully that is later rather than sooner, as Barnsley's most successful non-league club, maybe as high as the Conference North, with a thriving junior section and as a place where people can come and get together and watch football, then I will be very happy. I just want to create something for the town and the community. I'm not getting anything out of it financially but it does make me feel good when I drive up to watch matches and I see young lads wearing Shaw Lane Aquaforce scarves. That's what it's all about, not just trophies and promotions." 쇓