As Abbey Hulton take the field at Daisy Hill on Saturday for their opening fixture in the Hallmark Security League, it will be a special day in particular for one man who will make the trip up the M6 from Staffordshire.
Abbey Hulton Club Secretary John Wightman has been Secretary for a number of years now, but his association with the club goes back an astonishing 63 years – having seen his first game aged just four years old back in 1954.
“My father started the club in 1947”, explained John, “and I was born in 1950. When I was four years old, he began taking me down to games, and I have been involved and watching games ever since.
“I played for the club from age of 18 up to the age of 42, and then became manager, and managed the team when we won the Staffordshire County League North and then having stepped up, the Staffordshire Senior League in 1992-93.
“We used to just have two senior teams, but then people running a junior side suggested we link up with them, and the club just grew from there in recent years.
“The new people who joined the committee decided that we would aim for promotion from the Staffordshire Senior League, even though we knew there was a lot of work to be done”.
John admits that he had reservations initially as to whether the club would be able to find the money and resources to develop their ground in Birches Head Road in Abbey Hulton, but he says that the effort put in by Chairman Lee Savage and a team of volunteers and committee members has made it all happen.
“The work that these people have done on the ground is unbelievable. Many of them are parents with young children, and everything that they have done in their spare time is amazing.
“Without them we couldn’t have come up to this league, as there is no way that we could have afforded to spend money on doing all the work they have done.
“It’s hard to put a figure on it, but I’m sure it has saved us £15,000 at least. Whenever there has been work needed doing, Lee has sent a message out to everyone on social media, saying what needed doing and when, and people have turned up to help.
“As many of them are parents who have children in the junior teams, I like to think that they have been investing in their children’s future, as one day they will have hopefully have the chance to play for the first team”.
John is also hoping that the local community will rally round and that the people of Abbey Hulton will come out in numbers to support the town team, which incidentally takes its name from the former Hulton Abbey, which was located about half a mile from Milton, on the east side of the road from Stoke to Leek, close to the ground on Birches Hall Lane.
“We are a community focussed club, and we do everything we can to encourage people to come down.
“For example, we hold a bonfire and fireworks display every year, but we only charge a small amount as admission, as we want people to come down and support the club.
“I’m not sure what level of travelling support we will have in the coming season, as people tend to come to down to our ground and support whatever team is playing there, either the first team or second team. It might be that some will travel to away games in midweek”.
Looking ahead to the coming season, John admits to being a little bit apprehensive as the club is entering unknown territory to a large extent, but he says that the players and management team can’t wait to get started.
“We will be looking all the time to improve, both on and off the field. I am a bit of stickler for getting things right, and I really hate being fined for anything – I just see that as a real waste of money.
“In one respect, coming into a higher league worries me a little bit, as you wonder whether or not we will be strong enough to hold our own. But we’ve had people down from Hanley Town and Eccleshall watching us, and they have said we are good enough, so that was encouraging.
“As far as the players are concerned, they are really looking forward to it. Pretty much all of them are stepping up from the Staffordshire Senior League, there is hardly anyone in the squad that has played at a higher level. For that reason, they are all really looking forward to it.
“They have big expectations and are will be going all out to be looking at making their mark in a higher league”.