With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.
Saturday March 1st 2008 ko 15.00
LEIGH RAILWAY MECHANICS INSTITUTE 1 (Carroll 90)
BARROW AFC 2 (Henney 36 Walker 59)
Part of me wonders whether I’m the right person to write about this, as this is a time when two paths crossed fairly briefly and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Leigh RMI used to be Horwich RMI and one of the my great groundhopping regrets is that I never got to their iconic ground Grundy Hill. The pitch sloped 16 feet from corner flag to corner flag diagonally and the views of Rivington Pike were reckoned to be without parallel. The trouble is time and ground gradings wait for no-one and with the club now in the Premier division of the Northern Premier League, in 1995 the club sold Grundy Hill, moved to Leigh Centurians Rugby League ground, Hilton Park and changed their name to Leigh RMI in the process.
It cost the club more than they imagined. Other than moving the club six miles south-west of where the fan base was, they moved from a football town to a rugby one. The club managed to get themselves into the Conference Premier, now the National League Premier in 2000, but did so with crowds of only around 250 on average.
For Leigh Centurians, having RMI as, in effect co-owners was a godsend. They’d played at Hilton Park since 1945 and as lovely as Hilton Park was it was an expensive millstone round the rugby club’s neck and equally importantly it was difficult to make compliant as a potential Superleague venue. It was an issue, Leigh were playing in the second tier Championship after all with ambitions for promotion, so it was obvious that Hilton Park’s days were numbered.
I caught RMI in a downward spiral. They’d been relegated from the Conference Premier in 2005 after after being reprieved the season before and had only survived relegation from the Conference North due to another reprieve in 2006. With Hilton Park sold for housing and the Wigan Metropolitan Council owned Leigh Sports Village in construction, RMI left Hilton Park relegated in bottom place at the end of the season and joined the rugby club at the new stadium.
Leigh RMI were renamed Leigh Genesis and the kit was changed from red and white stripes to white shirts. Or putting it another way the club’s background as a railwayman’s club from Horwich was completely lost. The club found themselves at Leigh Sports Village for a mere 3 years. The first season saw them relegated from the Northern Premier’s top flight and the third in 2011 saw relegation from Division One North with a mere 23 points and a staggering 112 goals were conceded.
Leigh Genesis left the Sports Village leaving Leigh Centurians who have now played 2 Superleague seasons but now are back in the Championship. The other major tenant is Manchester United who use the stadium for U19s, U23 and women’s fixtures.
Now if a 12,500 capacity stadium was unnecessary for a side in the Northern Premier League it certainly was for a side in the North West Counties League. The club negotiated a groundshare at Atherton LR’s Crilly Park, but then opted not to accept their place in the NWCL. They played one season in youth football only, and have played in the South Lancashire Counties League since. They currently play in the league’s third tier Division 2 and play home games at Lowton High School in Warrington.
It is all a far cry from Hilton Park, let alone Grundy Hill. But wasn’t Hilton Park special?