After a 30-year absence Prestwich Heys return to the Hallmark Security League, opening the campaign with a game at home to Widnes on Saturday August 6th.
The club were founder members of the North West Counties Football League in 1982 but lost their place in 1986 after four seasons, due to ground grading problems at their former Grimshaws ground on Heys Road.
The North West Counties League came about from a merger between the Lancashire Combination and the Cheshire League and started off with three divisions, based on the ground grading and performances over previous years.
Heys were placed in Division Three. The glory days of the sixties and early 70’s when Heys were one of the country’s top Amateur clubs were a fading memory. The introduction of semi-professionalism had seen them left behind, unable to compete financially with bigger clubs. From the mid 70’s onwards Heys had bounced about the lower reaches of the Cheshire League.
The new League offered a fresh start and Heys under then Chairman, Textile Merchant Benny Sternberg, indicated they were up for the challenge.
A new Manager, the enigmatic Robin Cormack, often seen walking around the ground sporting a trilby and with a briefcase in hand, was appointed, supported by Player Coach Billy Hughes.
The latter was a real statement of intent. Heys made the back page of the Manchester Evening News after paying Mossley £800 for his services. Hughes was a prominent figure in local football, also managing the all-conquering Sunday league side, Moss Side based ASTRO.
It was no surprise that many of those players then made their way across the city to Prestwich. The league started on 14th August with Heys winning 4-1 at Oldham Dew (latterly Oldham Town and Boro) but a measure of the quality they were up against came in the opening home fixture with a 3-1 defeat to Warrington Town. The Yellows, Clitheroe and millionaire backed Colne Dynamoes soon emerged as the front runners.
However, Heys showed they were up for the challenge collecting 18 points out of the first 12 games (in those days it was two points for a win). They also enjoyed a run in the League Cup reaching wins over Newton, Salford and Burscough before losing at Darwen in the last eight.
By the turn of the year Heys were in the mix and wins at Warrington and Colne in January gave impetus to their challenge. However, they faced a fixture back log and a spell of seven games in 19 days, including 3 in 4 days over Easter, which yielded only 8 points saw them lose ground.
Ultimately Heys finished fourth, seven points off promotion, Colne Dynamoes winning the league with Warrington joining them in going up.
The challenge had come at an unsustainable cost and during the summer there was a complete turnaround.
Management and every single player was replaced by John Torkington, manager of the highly successful Salford Sunday League side, Wellington, who brought with him a completely new squad of players which included former Manchester City striker Barney Daniels.
The season started superbly, the first four games were won and 18 points were collected from the first 12 games. There was also an FA Cup run with wins at St. Helens and Droylsden before a 1-0 home defeat to Southport ended their hopes of further progress.
Remarkably though, a season of promise turned rapidly sour as a run of 18 games yielded only seven points as Heys plummeted down the table. Heys finished a hugely disappointing 10th with Clitheroe emerging as Champions and Padiham also promoted.
Torkington stayed in place but the poor results continued into the following season with only six points taken from the first 18 games. Torkington stepped down to be replaced by Derek Partridge but despite some initial improvement, he could not stop Heys from finishing bottom with a miserable 16 points from 34 games.
It was another fresh start at the beginning of 1985-86 with former player Steve Braithwaite taking charge. They were amongst the early pacesetters and unearthed a new talent in striker Tony Ellis who was to play in the Football League, most notably for Blackpool.
However, by mid-September Braithwaite was strangely relieved of his duties, replaced by Gordon Clayton, a former Busby Babe, but he could not maintain the bright start and inconsistent results saw Heys in the bottom half. He was to be gone himself before the season was over, to be replaced by Alan Kershaw.
His unearthing of striker Leroy Dove, who went onto serve Southport for many years, was the only bright spot in an increasingly dark season.
The on field instability was reflected off it with Heys struggling to meet the ground grading with their crumbling stand and the inability, due to their lease, to enclose the ground.
At the end of March, Heys were told they had failed the grading and were out of the League. Finshing fifth from bottom they played their last game at Bolton St. Thomas on 17th May 1986, losing 5-2.
In the 30 years since, Heys have endured a rollercoaster existence.
In 1991, they were forced to leave Grimshaws, and for a year they led a nomadic existence as they prepared to move to their present base at Sandgate Road, playing all their games away.
The club somehow survived but in 1995, they were relegated to the Manchester League 1st Division. With only £26 in the Bank, Heys looked doomed.
The committee dug deep, kept the club afloat, and the next season saw them bounce back to the Premier Division as runaway Champions, taking 83 points out of a possible 90.
Heys stayed in the top tier from then on, and between 2005-2007 won the Premier Division title three years running, under the mercurial leadership of former player Adie Moran. With improvements to the ground, it seemed only a matter of time before Heys moved up.
However, on the eve of the 2007-08 season, tragedy struck when Moran died in a holiday accident. It stunned the football community and left Heys reeling.
Indeed, the following four years were marked by decline and successive relegation battles before, in 2011, Heys turned to former player Jon Lyons, who had played under Moran, to resurrect their fortunes.
From a bottom of the table position, they collected 25 points from the last fifteen games to again stave off relegation.
Heys have since made steady progress on and off the pitch, re-establishing themselves amongst the area’s leading clubs, culminating in last seasons’ glorious record breaking season which sees Lyons lead his team back into the Hallmark Security League, and everyone at the club is now hoping for better fortunes than those they experienced in the first foray at this level.