Saturday 22nd April 2017 ko 15.00
Northern Premier League-Premier Division
SKELMERSDALE UNITED 1 (Burey 8)
STAFFORD RANGERS 1 (L Reid 78)
I remain half amused, half annoyed at Premier League fans when they complain “Their” club has only finished fifth. You call that a bad season? Try speaking to the likes of Leyton Orient, or for that matter Skelmersdale United.
The West Lancashire town was hewn out of the Industrial Revolution, coal was king there, and even the town’s nickname “Skem” hints as grit rather than silk. The town was designated a “New Town” in 1961, and so has seen massive expansion since.
The football club first became famous for their 1967 FA Amateur cup run, all the way to the final at Wembley. Their 0-0 draw with Enfield was watched by 75,000, then the largest crowd at the National Stadium that wasn’t an international or major final. Skem lost the replay 3-0 at Maine Road. They did finally win the Amateur Cup in 1971 beating Dagenham 4-1, again at Wembley.
They moved from the spiritual home White Moss Park in 2002 and finally moved to Stormy Corner in 2004. They were promoted to the Northern Premier League in 2006 and to it’s Premier Division in 2013. And from there they could have expected to eke out a sustainable existence but in February this year the club made a bombshell announcement.
They announced that since they couldn’t agree an extension to the lease on the ground, they’d be leaving on it’s expiry in November this year. In practical terms, that would seen them unable to start next season, just about any league requires its member clubs to have some sort of security of tenure over their ground. That’s been solved in the short term by an agreement with Prescott Cables to share Valerie Park, but the intrigue lies with the landowners at Stormy Corner.
You tend to see the football club being moved on as an excuse to build houses, but the ground lies in the edge of an industrial estate. Now I’m sure there’s more money to be made from industrial units than a non-league club, but you do wonder if that’s the landlord’s angle. The landlord is Chequer Properties and one of it’s directors, Martin Gilchrist is owner of Burscough FC themselves looking to move- to a new ground built by Chequer Properties!
The upheaval saw manager Tommy Lawson depart with most of the first team squad, and this game saw Skem rock-bottom and relegated playing out a thoroughly meaningless final game of the season. They looked like causing a minor shock, as the young home team took an early lead through Bevan Burey. But the longer the game wore on the more Skem tired, and the more an older Stafford Rangers side were able to turn the screw. They equalised through a former professional, Levi Reid had a stint with Oxford United, which seemed an analogy for Skem’s on the field problems.
There are no lack of clubs with problems with landlords, a few I’ve written about on this blog. What strikes me about this instance is the sheer pointlessness of it all. Let’s say the Skem do end up groundsharing at Prescott, who will gain? Is this a means of financing relegated Burscough’s new ground. The remarkable thing about this sad story is that there don’t seem to be many winners.