ATHERTON LR 1956 - 2008
The roots of the club began in the streets of Atherton with a group of young lads aged between 10 and 12 on a local council estate playing football in the street. One of the older boys answered a letter in a football magazine to play a friendly match at Swinton, around five miles away. Although these lads had no proper kit, no adult with them and not even a team name, they travelled unaccompanied to the match. No doubt it was an exciting adventure for these youngsters.
One of the lads was Frank Riley, younger brother of Joe, and not being happy about the youngsters travelling so far alone, Joe suggested they put a team together and entered a local league where travelling would be limited. A number of the lads showed an interest in the idea, but not being sure how to go about it, they asked Joe to manage them. Joe had footballing experience, having played up till 1953 when he broke his leg and then played a few games for Atherton Central until late 1955. Joe had not long been married and moved to a house next to the Park Hotel in the Valley area of Atherton. One of the original players was Ralph Hodgkinson, son of the landlord of the Park Hotel, Sammy Hodgkinson, and Sammy was to prove an important person in the foundation of Laburnum Rovers, a name chosen by the lads in a meeting at Joe’s house. Sponsorship was unheard of at the time and Sammy allowed the new team to raise funds by holding money draws for 1d a ticket in his establishment, the profits of which averaged at £2 10s, and parties at Christmas time.
Together with perhaps four or five of the lads who had played football in the street, training began behind the pub on a council field – Laburnum Playing Fields – hence the clubs name. The ground was also convenient for Joe, being just 100 yards from his house. Although being given permission by Atherton Council to use the playing fields, the club were told that other teams such as the Scouts, also had permission to use the site and they might use the ground in the mornings. The playing fields were behind the Park Hotel and in between was an allotment owned by Sammy Hodgkinson. He allowed the new team to erect a small shed on the allotment as a meeting place and a changing room, lit by a Tilley lamp. Only one team at a time could get changed in it, but it got them started.
Joe attended a meeting of the Atherton Junior League (also known as the Briarcroft Junior League) at the Briarcroft Youth Club, to enter the team into the League. They were accepted into the League half way through the season as a couple of clubs had dropped out of the League and there were an odd number of teams. A set of yellow and black quartered shirts were bought from Albert Wards of Bolton for over £6 10s-d and a regular at the Park Hotel, local bookmaker Harry Heathcote, helped by buying the new team a case ball. A case ball was made of leather and a bladder inserted which was then inflated. The leather was then drawn tight and laced up. When the team finally bought their own case ball at a later date, it set them back £4 13s-d.
After playing a couple of friendly games, the club had its first competitive match on 5th January 1957 when they played a League Cup game at home against eventual League Champions Marsh Players ‘A’, going down 10-0.
The club struggled in early games, with the lads younger than many of their opposition players and having had no previous footballing experience, and despite a number of new players coming along to training sessions, things didn’t improve until the arrival of big lad who played up front. In his first match for Laburnum Rovers, against Astley & Tyldesley Juniors, this new player, Paddy Mulcahy, scored twice to give Laburnum Rovers their first ever win. Paddy was to go on to play for the club for many years before taking on virtually every role at one time or another behind the scenes. The first ever final table for Laburnum Rovers doesn't include the goals for and against because they were not taken into account by the League. Briarcroft 'A' and Marsh Players 'A' were declared joint champions and shared the trophy for six months each.
BRIARCROFT JUNIOR LEAGUE 1956/57
Briarcroft Rovers 23 19 1 3 39
Marsh Players A 23 19 1 3 39
Bank Street Rovers 23 17 1 5 35
Hope Park 23 14 2 7 30
Nomads 23 15 0 8 30
Marsland Green ** 23 15 2 6 30
Bedford Rangers 23 5 6 12 16
St Richards 23 6 4 13 16
Briarcroft 23 5 4 14 14
Atherton Wanderers 23 4 3 16 11
Marsh Players B 23 4 3 16 11
Hindsford Athletic 23 4 1 18 9
LABURNUM ROVERS 23 3 0 20 6
Astley & Tyldesley Juniors 23 1 0 22 2
For the club to progress, changes had to be made and unfortunately that meant that some of the lads who had helped start the team fell along the wayside. The team improved and after finishing as runners up, the following season they completed an impressive triple, winning the League, Holt Cup and Brown Cup. Such was the strength of the Laburnum Rovers side, that an Atherton Junior League side playing in an inter-league competition featured eight Laburnums players.
As the lads grew too old to play in the Junior League, the club applied to join the Farnworth Under 17’s League but the league folded before the season got under way, so a late application was made to the Leigh & District League and they were accepted, starting the season late. They left the Atherton Junior League as Champions in their final season.
In 1960 the club moved to a new pitch on Norfolk Road where they remained until 1965. The pitches were not very good and the poor drainage meant in bad weather they were usually flooded.
In the summer of 1961 a second team was formed, the “first” team joining the Bolton Combination and the second remaining in the Leigh & District League. After the great success of the team and the progress they were making there was a lot of local interest and scores of lads from the surrounding district were attracted to the club. Part of the entry requirements to the Bolton Combination were that goal nets had to be used and an enclosed playing field. Nets were bought and the pitch enclosed by rope on match days.
The club was looking to progress but its facilities meant that promotion to Division One of the Bolton Combination was denied them. A decision was taken that a new ground was needed and after searching the area a council owned farmers field was found which was considered a likely venue. An application was made to the local council to use the ground as a football pitch, with the club doing all the work to transform a field with footpaths and a pond into a useable pitch and after visiting the site, the club were granted permission in June 1966 with a rent of £2.2s-d. The low cost of the rent reflected that all the work on the site would be done by the club. With the club having won both the Division Two title and the Division Two trophy at the end of 1965/66, promotion was theirs if they could get the new pitch ready in time for the start of 1966/67 season, so it was all hands to the pumps and a lot of hard work. Over the summer of 1966 player Keith Sumner (who was to take over as secretary from Joe in 1970) along with Bernard Higgins, spent their time surrounding the playing area with steel rope supported by railway sleepers. The clubs President, Jack Sumner - father of Keith, worked with ex-professional Mike Connely and persuaded him to become the clubs first Manager.
Jack Crilly succeeded Joe as Chairman and worked tirelessly for the club, supervising the E******N of new changing rooms (an improvement on the old air-raid shelter they had been using) and a small social club. Jack died suddenly in 1980 and as a tribute to the work he did for the club, the ground was renamed Crilly Park. Joe remained at the club as secretary until the end of the 1969/70 season.
In 1980 the club joined the non-league pyramid when their application to join the Cheshire County League was accepted. A stipulation of the League was that the town had to be in the clubs name, so links with the past were retained with the new name of Atherton Laburnum Rovers. In 1982 the club became founder members of the North West Counties League, being placed in Division Two where they remained until the League was reorganised in 1987 when their facilities saw them placed in Division One. Ground improvements continued, including the E******N of floodlights in 1989, allowing the club to enter the FA Cup for the first time and in 1991 the changing rooms and clubhouse were completely rebuilt.
In 1992/93 the team won the League title with 106 points from 42 games and had a run of 39 consecutive games unbeaten in the League. They also won the NWCL Championship Trophy. However, there was disappointment as promotion to the UniBond League was denied them because of grading requirements. Undaunted, the team repeated their double the following season and this time were promoted. Also in 1993/94 Atherton LR reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase where they lost in a replay to Diss Town.
Two good seasons in the UniBond League saw the club make steady progress, but then financial trouble struck and the club were relegated for the first time in their history. A change of regime at the club seemed to offer hope for the future, but following a tip-off from the officials of Haslingden football club, LR's ex-officials found that bills hadn't been paid and the bank was on the verge of closing the club down. Fortunately the previous Directors shares had not yet been bought so they were able to retake control of the club and after much hard work in co-operation with the bank and various creditors, managed to keep the club afloat while the debts were paid.
With large debts to clear there was very little money to spend on the team, securing the entire future of the club was absolute priority and two seasons of struggle followed on the pitch which culminated in the clubs second relegation, this time to the NWCL Division Two. However, the appointment of Alan Lord as manager in November 2000 brought about a remarkable transformation and after nine straight victories, they won promotion back to Division One in their final game of the season. In November 2002 Tom Foster and Denis Haslem took over as joint managers and set about rebuilding the team as all but three first team players left the club within two weeks. After three months of struggle, the new team ended the season unbeaten in their final eight games to earn a mid-table position. Denis Haslem moved on in the summer of 2003 to take over the helm at West Lancs side Stoneclough and the experienced Ian Street joined the club as assistant manager.
2003/04 season saw LR finish in a comfortable mid-table position without a relegation fight for the first time in a while and the club picked up two pieces of silverware. At Bolton Wanderers Reebok Stadium, in front of a crowd of 2,400, LR won the Goldline Trophy and a few weeks later they won the Bolton Hospital Cup also at the Reebok Stadium. Added to that, LR won the Wirral Programme Award for Best In League for a record 5th time and Ben Obong was named the NWCL Division One Player of the Year. Off the pitch ground improvements saw new seating in the main stand and a brand new perimeter wall.
2004/05 saw LR finish in a comfortable mid-table position. An excellent start to the season was followed by a poor second half, although the team did become the first club to successfully retain the Goldline Trophy in April. The club realised that they were again spending more than was coming in, so to avoid a repetition of the problems encountered in the late 90's, a number of savings had to be made. Both Tom Foster and Ian Street felt that they were unable to take the club forwards as they would have liked with the new restrictions on their budget and they left the club.
2005/06 was to prove a traumatic season. Initially Andy Nelson and ex-LR player Stuart Humphreys were appointed the new managers, but only stayed a few weeks before deciding to move to Leigh RMI. This left the club with no managers with the new season rapidly approaching. Mike Lester and Darren Ford were quickly appointed and began the difficult task of building an almost completely new team on a limited budget. Steady progress was made by a very young team, but in February 2006 Lester and Ford announced their resignations following a disagreement with the club and reserve team managers Brad Wright and Lee Spratt were made caretaker managers until the end of the season. There was to be yet another twist though as Wright resigned after just two games in charge and Scott Westwood was appointed caretaker until the end of the season and was forced to build a side from scratch to see the season out.
For the clubs 50th anniversary season Mark Cox was appointed first team manager and he brought in David Tulloch as his assistant. Mark has a vast knowledge of football at this level and the new management team set about building a strong squad. Tulloch left before Christmas as matters away from football was taking up his time and after acting as a temporary Assistant Manager, Roy Sweeney was officially appointed in that role in February 2007. However, on 1st March 2007 Cox announced his resignation and Sweeney was promoted to Manager, bringing in team captain Rob Hope as his assistant. After a short settling in period, performances improved as Sweeney and Hope strengthened the side. After 29 games the club had 21 points, but in the last 13 matches they doubled their total with another 21 points gained despite a growing injury list. With the management and players all promising to remain at the club for 2007/08 season, things looked promising for the following season.
However, results in 2007/08 didn't match up to expectations and with matters away from football taking up much of Sweeney's time, he resigned at the beginning of December. Reserve Team Manager Malcolm Anderton took over control of the first team as caretaker manager, assisted by Rob Hope and while the team played attractive football at times, results still didn't go their way. On 10th March ex-LR player Stuart Humphreys was appointed for the second time with the remit of saving the club from relegation. A point in their final match of the season against Abbey Hey was enough to avoid bottom place and with changes elsewhere in the pyramid, their Division One status was retained. Unfortunately the club lost the services of long standing Chairman Alan Grundy. Alan had joined the club as a player in the early 60's and after more than 45 years, health issues and a desire to have more free time meant he decided to have a break. Secretary Christine Rowlands also decided to move on.
Not wanting to leave things too long, on 12th May 2008, the club appointed ex-Ashton Town manager Dave Hughes as the new first team boss to give him as much time as possible to prepare for the new season. Dave immediately set about building a strong backroom team and bringing a number of new young faces into the team.
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