Ken Gaunt, former football reporter for the Press Association, reports on the rise of Runcorn Linnets and the hard work of the club's trust and its award-winning Chairman...
From the school room to the boot room is not a journey for the faint-hearted. Derek Greenwood, though, is viewed by many as a class act.
The former Deputy Head at a Yorkshire comprehensive is top man at Runcorn Linnets where he is Chairman of the Supporters' Trust, who run the North West Counties League club.
It is a labour of love for Greenwood (below right), 64, who was born in the town and has supported the team in different guises all his life after following in his father’s footsteps.
“I am not in it to win trophies, “ he says modestly. “But it was a great honour for the club and I am lucky to have good people around me.”
Not suprisingly he is refusing to rest on his laurels and this Saturday (12th October 2013) is another milestone in Linnets’ seven-year history following Runcorn Halton’s demise.
Under manager Joey Dunn the team - on travel expenses only - have progressed to the FA Cup third qualifying round for the first time.
They face a daunting trip to Humberside and North Ferriby United who play three tiers above them in the Conference North with the winners collecting £7,500 in prize money.
Linnets have already beaten two higher grade teams in Cammel Laird and Osset Albion in the competition. “This is far and away the quickest way for a club like ours to raise a significant amount of cash,” says Greenwood.
“However we are the underdogs and have absolutely nothing to lose. Whatever the outcome we have enjoyed the journey. The FA Cup does have a kind of magic to people of my generation.”
Between 160-170 supporters are members of the Linnets Trust, which is about half their current fan base as crowds average around 330. Adults pay just £5 and kids get in free.
That solid fan base would sustain Linnets two levels up, according to Greenwood, who believes the Football Association should offer two promotion places in the North West Counties League Premier Division rather than one, or at least introduce play-offs.
Greenwood chuckles at the memory of that initial phone call to the league. “We told them we would like to come in but we have no ground, no team and no manager.
“The league were hugely helpful. We got players from Liverpool Sunday leagues and Witton Albion offered us the hand of friendship. Remarkably we won promotion in our first season.
“When Runcorn Halton went into the abyss the supporters were left with a dilemma. Do we let the history go or do something about the situation. That’s when we got in touch with Supporters Direct and they gave us sound advice.”
The club’s current base at Murdishaw, after they aquired a plot of land from Halton Council, is a stately home compared to the old Canal Street ground with its sloping pitch, basic facilities and fans in your ear.
Greenwood loves Runcorn, warts and all, and adds: “To think from a starting point of nothing in 2006 to seven years later with our own stadium, the first team doing well and a development team underway is nothing short of amazing.
“All our income is re-invested into the whole club. Our whole philosophy is we stay in the black and remain debt-free. We wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Thanks to Supporters Direct for the image used in this blog.