The bitter battle between two of Barnsley's top non-league clubs looks to be over after the Football Association made the controversial decision to grant Shaw Lane Aquaforce promotion to the Northern Counties Premier League, despite allegations that they had not completed their ground improvements in time and the fact that the league's member clubs voted against them at the AGM.
The Shaw Laners – whose owner Craig Wood claims other Barnsley clubs have a vendetta against them because of their wealth – appealed and they were granted promotion by the national FA at a hearing at Wembley stadium on Monday.
The decision has left Penistone Church, the club that would have been promoted in Aquaforce's place had they lost the appeal, heartbroken and they believe they have been 'shafted'.
It was the first time in the league's history that a club has not been voted in and it is thought that the members' vote could be scrapped for next season.
Aquaforce won the County Senior League and Penistone came third but any promoted clubs must meet the NCEL's requirements in terms of their ground. Church claim that they did so by the deadline of March 31 and say the Shaw Laners did not.
Penistone secretary Dave Hampshire said: "We can't believe what has happened. How can you get penalised for doing it the right way? I don't blame Aquaforce, I blame the FA. We were told to trust in the integrity of the FA but now we know that counts for nothing. Everyone in Barnsley knows we have been shafted but we're staying positive and we will try to go up again next season."
In order to complete the improvements by the deadline, Church spent an extra £4,500 on top of the £30,000 they have already invested. Hampshire said: "That was money that we now know we didn't need to spend because no one apart from us treated that deadline seriously. We are a small club and that is a lot of money."
Penistone are also concerned that their best players will be taken by NCEL teams because they missed out on promotion. Star striker Mark Crossfield has already left for AFC Emley. There have been rumours that Aquaforce are looking to sign several Church players but the Shaw Laners deny that.
Wealthy Aquaforce are unpopular with many teams in Barnsley and beyond because they pay their players and recruit them from rival clubs. Both Athersley Rec manager Pete Goodlad and Worsbrough Bridge secretary Charlie Wyatt – whose clubs are members of the NCEL – spoke against the Shaw Laners at the AGM and Aquaforce owner Craig Wood believes that 'vendetta' is why the clubs voted against them.
Wood said: "There is a bit of jealousy towards us because we are very ambitious and we have progressed quickly through the leagues. We are a threat to other clubs and our success compromises their positions. But we have not done anything wrong. The promotion is just rewards for all the hard work we have done.
"It never should have come to this (the appeal) but the right decision has been made in the end. The whole process has taken the gloss off winning the league and hampered our preparations for next season. We have a lot of work to do in the next four weeks (before the season starts on August 10) but we'll get it done."