The North West Counties Football League
Published 30th April 2012
....Winsford United at the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium on Saturday.
In front of an impressive attendance of 546, any pre-match nerves in the home camp were soon settled by a goal from Lee Gaskell with less than 2 minutes on the clock, and a cross-cum-shot from Grant Spencer 3 minutes later and a thumping header from Ian Flannery on 17 minutes set the Rams on the road to victory.
Jamie Henders’ cracking shot from the edge of the box gave Winsford a glimmer of hope, but two goals either side of half-time by Jon Robinson put Rammy in the driving seat, although Daley Woods pulled a goal back for Winsford to complete the scoring.
As the celebrations began, one man stood quietly in the background looking on. Ramsbottom chairman Harry Williams founded the club in 1966 and has been there ever since the club began its rise from the Bury Amateur League. He was, not surprisingly, a happy man after the game.
“When I started the club I never expected we would end up like this, from playing on a park pitch forty-six years ago and now we are in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League next season. From a personal point of view and from the club’s point of view I’m absolutely delighted. It’s always been my aim to get the club to the highest standard we can, but from a personal point of view I’m sad to be leaving the league.
“I have to give a lot of credit to everyone in the North West Counties League, there are a lot of nice people in this league and I’ve enjoyed my time in it. But the club has to push on and I will try my best to do keep pushing to do the best we can, while working within our budget, which is something I’ve always done”.
Williams also paid tribute to his joint-management team of Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, who were given their first managerial opportunity in the summer of 2009.
“When I appointed our management team, there were people who said ‘what are you doing’, appointing two 26-year-old lads who had never managed before. Everyone thought I was taking a risk. They aren’t the quietest of people, they are strong characters, but the main thing for me was that they knew a lot of players.
“I’ve had ex-pros managing the club, but they didn’t know the right sort of players, and these two lads do. It’s about getting the mix right, getting some local lads in and mixing it with some from outside the area and they have done that. The quality of player that they have brought in is excellent, Evo-Stik League standard, and although we had one or two bad results during the season, overall we’ve done very well.
“It was good to see so many people down to support the team today, we had a good crowd down of over 500, so it’s been a good day all round. We’ve already started planning for next season, there’s a new stand going up behind one goal, and we have the Evo-Stik League to look forward now, and as long as we enjoy ourselves there as much as we have in the North West Counties League I’ll be happy.”
Johnson and Morley were naturally delighted at how events turned out, and shared their thoughts on the season once the on-pitch celebrations had died down.
Johnson said: “When we were given the job three years ago, because of our age, we were laughed at by a lot of people so we had to make a bold statement about what we were going to do. In our first season we said we were aiming for top five and we finished fourth, and that was with quite a few players that were there the previous season.
“Last season it was all about building on that, and although we lost out to New Mills who were a good side and deservedly won the league, we knew we had a good set of lads and that with a few tweaks we knew we could be up there challenging and have a good go this season.
“Winning the league was something we really set out to do, because if we hadn’t won it after three seasons and the statement we had made, we would probably have walked away. That’s not being arrogant or anything like that, we had made that statement and we had to back that up.
“At the start of the season we looked at the teams in the league, and we felt then that any side that won it could lose maybe seven or eight games. So we set out to win games, rather than draw them, as we felt we could afford to lose a few because teams near the top would be taking points off each other.
“Look at Bootle, before Saturday they had only lost four games and weren’t even second in the league, there can’t be many times a team that lost as few as that didn’t win the league. We didn’t beat them and Runcorn Town didn’t beat them, they are a quality side. But we did well against the sides around us and that was important.
“We had a bit of a dip in February, when we lost to Runcorn Town and AFC Liverpool and drew with Bootle, and we said to the lads that really to win the league from that point, we had to win every game, and apart from the draw at home to Bootle we have done. And that target wasn’t counting on the run that Runcorn Town have had. Before today they had won sixteen out of seventeen games, and you don’t see many sides doing that in the run in to the end of the season.
“So to keep pace with them, and their run of form, shows how well we have done. If they had dropped a few points it might have taken the pressure off a bit, but every week we looked at the results and they were there, having won again. Fair play to them, they have pushed us right to the wire. They beat us here and really in another year they could have won the league, but thankfully we have managed to do it.
“Looking ahead to next season, obviously Bernard and me have played at that level, so we know the league and a lot of the managers, and a lot of our players have dropped from that level. Our team is equipped to play at that standard, and you only have to look at the history to see that generally the team that gets promoted from the North West Counties goes on and does well.
“With only one going up, the team that goes has to be a strong side. Usually, it has taken clubs so long to get out of this league, that they are geared and ready to make the step up. We’re confident we can go there and compete and not just make up the numbers.”
Morley added: “It’s mission accomplished for us. When we took the job over we knew it would be difficult, but we gave ourselves a target of three years to get promotion and we’ve done it. We’ve had some ups and downs this season, and it would have been nice to have had it sealed a few weeks ago, but that is this league for you, it’s such a competitive league.
“I’ve played at higher levels and one of the differences is that in this league, teams aren’t full of players just turning up to pick up money, they are travelling sometimes long distances to play a game of football, and once they’ve made that trip they want to win it.
“Maybe next season we’ll be competing against some big spending clubs, but the players there won’t have the same heart as you get with players at this level. When you go away from home on a wet Tuesday night, you are up against teams that are going to win, and that is why teams promoted from this league go on and do well.
“It’s been good for the league this season that no one has run away with it, there’s been nobody who you say has been at the top of league because they were spending big money. I do think the best team this season has won the league, although I genuinely feel for Runcorn Town. The run they have been on deserves to win a league, and they will be looking at that record and wondering why they haven’t done it.
“The league doesn’t lie, if you finish second in this league after being promoted the previous season, you are doing something right and you have to respect them for that. But I think that’s why you have to give us credit, we kept up with them and kept winning to keep up with them, and I think it’s been a good league for the North West Counties this season.
“I don’t really think the problem with the Bootle game and a possible replay made any difference. If we had lost on Saturday and Runcorn and won, we would have had to replay the game against Bootle less one point and would have had to beat Bootle by maybe three or four goals and Bootle don’t concede goals like that. So if people had looked into it more closely, they would have seen that wouldn’t have done us much good anyway.
“But I’m made up for everyone here, especially Harry, after forty-six years here finally it’s happened for him that we’ve moved up and now we have to make sure we have a go next season.”