Work is well underway at Abbey Hulton United to ensure that the club’s facilities meet the required ground grading standard for entry into our league next season.
Having submitted their application to the FA by the required deadline, the club’s committee and a team of volunteers from all the different teams affiliated to the club are now working their way through the list of requirements, after having had a ground grading visit on Saturday 21st January.
The area of Abbey Hulton is a suburb of Stoke-on-Trent, and the football club was formed in 1947. Their ground on Birches Head Road lies just over a mile from Hanley Town’s home on Abbey Lane, and Alsager Town’s Woodland Court ground lies about 10 miles to the north.
Abbey Hulton United have seven teams affiliated to the club starting at under 14’s Girls and under 15’s boys teams up to first team level, with the senior first team playing in the Step 7 Staffordshire County Senior League, which they joined in 1998.
Now, after 19 years, club officials have decided that they are ready for the next step up, and are working against the clock to ensure that the ground is up to the standard required for Hallmark Security League football.
Abbey Hulton United Chairman Lee Savage is the man heading up the planning and organising of the work being carried out at the ground. Lee joined the club four seasons ago, when he took his already established under 13’s team which he had managed since the age of under 8’s and affiliated them as an Abbey Hulton United team.
He still manages the team and they are currently playing in the local under 16’s league.
Lee was a committee member at the club and could see the passion and ambition that people had for the club to progress, so in August 2016 he put his name forward to become chairman and was voted in by the committee. It was at this point the big drive for promotion really kicked in, with everyone at the club stepping up to the challenge ahead.
“We have an established team that manager Dave Riley has built up over the last five seasons and the players are now ready for it so we needed to go for it”, said Lee.
“Otherwise we could have potentially lost players who wanted to play at a higher level.
“Also, it was pointless having youth teams with players who had nowhere to go, they needed something to aspire to, and by having a first team playing at Hallmark Security League level they would have that.
“We spoke to people at Hanley Town and Eccleshall about the league, as we were a bit worried about the extra travelling involved and the extra costs we would encounter, but they put us at ease by telling us how good the league is to play in.
“They told us about how professionally run it is, that the hospitality from clubs is brilliant, and they had nothing negative to say at all. They said we’d love it.
“Everyone at the club, involved in the teams at all the age levels, has bought into the idea and we are now focussed on getting all the work done on the ground.
“Our Secretary and groundsman John Wightman’s father founded the club in 1947, and he is really keen to see us progressing and it will be especially nice for him to see the work getting done on the ground and, hopefully, playing at a higher level next season”.
Lee admits that the extent of the work they had to do before 31st March was greater than they had expected, but once they knew there was a deadline to meet, they set about the job in hand.
“We hadn’t realised we needed hard standing round the ground and covered accommodation to get into the league, we thought we had a bit of time to get it done once we had been promoted.
“But once we realised what we had to do, myself and Sharon Franklin, who is the secretary of the youth teams, met with everyone involved in all the other teams and told them we’re all in this together, and had to all pull together to meet the target.
“We managed to raise the funding to cover the materials, but all labour costs needed to be free. So whenever there is work to be done we put the word out, and usually we have had around 20 people turn up every time to do all the jobs that have needed doing”.
Although work only started in earnest a couple of weeks ago, progress has been rapid and Lee is now aiming at an end of February date for getting everything in place, with all the key jobs already well underway or planned in.
“The building work for the hard standing began on the 19th January with the digger driver down at the ground to prepare the area, and already we are well on with the work. By next Sunday all the hardcore will be down, and after that it’s just the tarmac and concreting to be done.
“We have also put two bases in for the stands. The first stand has been ordered and will be delivered in about 4 weeks and then the other base is all ready for the following season when we need the second stand.
“At the moment, our dugouts are on opposite sides of the field, so we need to get those put together on the same side. Unfortunately we can’t just keep one and put another alongside it because of where they are located, so we need to lift one out and move it a few yards, and then put the other in place.
“The planning application has been approved for floodlights and the grant application has been submitted, but we can’t actually progress with that until we know for sure that we will be playing in the league next season. But we know they need to be up and working by the end of September 2017 and we have a plan in place to make sure we achieve this.
“We are planning to have all the necessary work done by the end of February and we have asked League Ground Grading Chairman Geoff Wilkinson to come down in the first week in March to have a look at what has been done. That way, we still have a few weeks in hand to put anything in place that hasn’t been done”.
“The way the club has pulled together has been phenomenal, and myself and the rest of the committee are very proud of everyone associated with the club who has given their precious time up to make this project happen”.
So, with the work on the ground scheduled to be completed, it’s just down to the first team to make sure that they maintain their position at the top of the Staffordshire County Senior League to ensure automatic promotion.
“We’re seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand, so it’s for us to throw away”, said Lee.
“We know that we don’t necessarily have to finish top to be promoted, but we want to go up as champions of the league and then move onto our club’s next chapter and become an established team playing in the Hallmark Security League”.