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100 years of football in Runcorn celebrated

Wed 1st November 2017 | Runcorn Linnets
By Dave Bettley

Runcorn Linnets Vice-President Derek Greenwood has written a souvenir booklet covering the story behind both Runcorn Linnets and their predecessor club Runcorn AFC.

Derek, who was Chairman of Linnets from early in their formation until last year, has been a fan for more than 60 years, and is publishing a scrapbook history to mark the centenary of Runcorn AFC’s 1918 formation, and bringing the story up to date as fans’ club Runcorn Linnets keep the sporting heritage alive.

In writing 'Once A Linnet, Always a Linnet', Derek Greenwood recounts the rise and fall of Runcorn AFC and how the Linnets name has lived on through the formation of a new club owned and run by its fans.

The book's launch in November, just ahead of the anniversary year, will kick off a series of events organised by a centenary committee, to celebrate the landmark.

It is well worth celebrating too - as something which would not have been achieved without the determination of the Linnets faithful down the years and particularly in the summer of 2006 when the final whistle could have been blown.

When Runcorn AFC announced that with no permanent home after the sale of its Canal Street home and ill-fated ground shares at Widnes and Prescot, they did not have the funds to continue from the end of the 2005-06 season, it looked to be game over.

But tradition would not be allowed to die and after fans persuaded officials of the North West Counties League that they could not only make a go - but also a success - of a follow-on club under the umbrella of an existing if remodelled Supporters Trust, a new chapter was opened.

Beginning life in Northwich, as tenants of Witton Albion for its first four years, the phoenix club achieved promotion at the first attempt and has, with backing from Halton Borough Council and The Football Foundation, been back in its homeland (in the New Town district of Murdishaw) for the last seven.

A new £1.3 million purpose-built clubhouse is set to be unveiled next month - the existing building, lovingly converted from a one-time recreation club gym, is poised for imminent demolition to make way for a new retail and leisure development.

The Millbank Linnets Stadium is headquarters to a first team with an average attendance of 300+, a title-winning Ladies team and around 400 junior players.

Examining the happenings and events which have shaped or checked the progress of the Linnets, old and new, the 72-page booklet offers a factual, nostalgic and emotional look back at the highs and lows which affect all sporting institutions.

But it is not a sterile retrospective account, based purely on fact as Derek, now one of Runcorn Linnets' five vice-presidents after more than 10 years as its chairman, has brought the triumphs, trials and tribulations to life.

With photographs, newspaper cuttings, rare match day programmes, archive material, memories and statistics, the A4 publication not only charts a timeline but tells the story in words and pictures of personalities who have been the lifeblood of the Linnets - great managers, prominent club officials, leading players and well-known supporters.

Memorable matches, knockout successes and title runs are also chronicled along with the disasters – including in the 1990s the main stand fire followed by a pitch wall collapse at a controversial FA Cup tie against Hull City which both contributed much to the downfall of the former club.

The author leads us through the decades, back to the beginning of Runcorn AFC immediately after World War One, as a replacement for the town's rugby team (also nicknamed the Linnets) which famously operated as Runcorn Football Club and hosted, and beat, the touring New Zealanders in 1907-08.

The oval ball game had held sporting sway since the 1880s but failed to reappear at the end of hostilities. After a split from rugby union, the club had in 1895-96 been a founder member of the breakaway Northern Union, which developed into the modern-day Rugby Football League.

To bring depth and context to the tale, Derek provides a running social commentary to highlight major national and global events that formed a backdrop to the contrasting fortunes during the Linnets’ long and eventful life.

Derek Greenwood has been a Linnets supporter for more than 60 years and following the club is a family concern, played out with total commitment and an uncanny symmetry.

The author’s late parents were heavily involved. Father, Eric was secretary of the committee which in the 1960s saw floodlights installed at Canal Street, and mum Edith a supporter too.

Derek himself was a leading light on the steering group which guided Runcorn Linnets through its formative period. He was a founder Trust Board member and within a few months chair of the club.

Derek's son, Neil has likewise been a lifelong fan although he has never lived in Runcorn - still travelling to almost every game home or away from his now home on the outskirts of Leeds.

Throughout his career as a secondary school teacher and ultimately deputy head, Derek lived and worked on either side of the East Lancashire-Yorkshire border. This was the base from which he supported the Linnets all over the country either by car or Travel Club coach for 40 or so years.

Even in the early part of his chairmanship, there were regular 120-mile round trips to matches and meetings before moving home with wife Jenny (also an RLFC club volunteer) to Frodsham on their retirement.

Derek said: 'Runcorn Football Club has been part of our lives for as long as I can remember although the club was already 30 years old when I was born.

'I always promised myself that when I retired and had some time, I would try to explain why that should be.

'This is therefore, not an attempt to write a history of the club as such but more share through my scrapbook why the club meant so much to me, my family and so many fans I have met over the years.

'I have been lucky enough to 'inherit' material from the club's history. I have in my collection well over 2,000 Runcorn programmes and numerous scrapbooks so the hardest part was what to put in and what to leave out. I hope at least that I bring back some memories for all those who read the booklet.'

The booklet will be priced at £10 and every penny from sales will go directly to Runcorn Linnets FC.

Derek hopes it will be printed and available for sale in time for The Hallmark Security League match at home to Northwich Victoria on Saturday, November 18th.

There is also an opportunity to purchase NOW through the club website by clicking here.

Online orders will not be processed until the mid-November publication date.


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