The Northern Premier League

Runcorn Linnets FC - The Story So Far

Runcorn Linnets embarked on the 2022-23 campaign under the command of Dave Wild.

A young and driven UEFA B coach, working towards the A qualification, Dave was appointed boss at APEC Taxis Stadium on June 1st 2022, almost immediately after leaving Matlock Town.

He had spent two years at Matlock as assistant manager and, like the Linnets, had experienced the highs at reaching - and lows of losing in -play-off football last season.

Dave, who had previously managed at Step 4 with Linnets' Pitching In Northern Premier League West Division colleagues Mossley, helped to steer Matlock to a fourth-placed finish in the NPL Premier Division.

The Gladiators ultimately missed out on promotion with their semi-final defeat.

Dave has named former Linnets striker Jamie Rainford as his new No.2 in a first shot at management for the much-travelled veteran frontman.

Billy Paynter has joined as first team coach, having worked in the Academy set-ups at Everton and Port Vale. Billy has close to 500 EFL appearances to his credit, his clubs as a player having included Port Vale, Swindon Town and Brighton & Hove Albion.

Despite a bitter-sweet climax, 2021-22 was the most successful season in Runcorn's history, also marking the end of an era.

At its conclusion, the club said fond farewells to manager Calum McIntyre as he left to take charge at Chester FC.

For all the disappointment at Calum's departure, Runcorn officials and fans alike fully understood his decision and were delighted to see an ambitious and talented manager progress in the game.

Linnets will look back with a huge sense of pride, despite the heartbreak of missing out by a whisker on a place in the NPL's top flight.

The 16-year-old fans-owned club got to within 19 minutes of a third promotion after leading their home West Division Play-off Final.

Having been ahead from the fourth minute through divisional Golden Boot winner Ryan Brooke's 34th goal of the season in all competitions, Linnets fell at the very last hurdle as a powerful visiting Marine side scored twice in eight minutes to secure the spoils.

The result in no way diminished the achievements of the club over a record-breaking campaign, which will long be remembered and savoured.

Nobody associated with Linnets will forget the moment at Prescot Cables when the play-off spot was secured, or the 4-1 win and stunning display in the semi-final at Leek Town.

It was a campaign in which new standards were set on the field while attendances soared beyond all expectations - crowd records tumbling at regular intervals. The Play-Off Final saw Linnets take the aggregate attendance in 12 years at their stadium past 100,000.

Tickets for the 1,600 sellout final, this a new club and stadium best attendance, were the hottest in town.

Already in 2022-23, Linnets have set a new home attendance record for a regular league match, the 1,080 gate for the victory against Macclesfield surpassing the 1,015 crowd for the visit of Colne in the final Premier Division game of the play-off season.

Late twists and turns in a tight race for the play-off spots had seen Runcorn achieve a highest ever Step 4 placing, against long-established clubs with bigger financial muscle. Runcorn were more than up for the fight.

It was also a delight just to be able complete the season and reflect in the traditional way on its ups and downs (although there were not many of the latter) after the two previous Covid-curtailed campaigns.

Calum McIntyre continued to develop an excellent playing environment with his coaching skills, man management and meticulous attention to detail.

In his 22 months at the club, the now 28-year-old coach Calum forged a strong bond with the club backed by his very capable backroom team.

On arrival, Calum had quickly named as his assistant former Norwich City and Aberdeen defender, Colin Woodthorpe, who had successfully held the same managerial positions at both Colwyn Bay and AFC Fylde.

As he embarked on his maiden role in senior football management, Calum (also during his Linnets tenure employed as head of Academy at fellow fans club Chester), had recruited a new first-team coach, Mike Allcock. Colin and Mikey both took up roles in the backroom staff at Chester on Calum's promotion to their first team manager's position.

A key element in Calum's management/coaching strategy and playing style had been the club's state-of-the-art pitch, which presents Linnets with an outstanding surface.

It was installed in summer of 2020, Linnets having been chosen to take part in the second phase of Sport England's hybrid carpet pilot programme.

The project, also in conjunction with the Football Foundation, Premier League, The Football Association and Cheshire FA, involved the laying of the durable international-standard pitch, comprising 95% natural grass, growing through and intertwined with the grass fibre carpet.

Its unveiling was the culmination of two years of hard work. The pitch benefits all sections of the club being utilised for matches by the first team, Development and Academy teams plus the Linnets Ladies (playing in the North West Regional League) while Akidemy and junior players, managers and coaches can use it for training.

The pitch is also available for hire by community clubs and organisations.

Another major happening in the 2020 close season had involved the departures of Linnets' long-serving management team of boss Michael Ellison and assistant Matt Cross plus the retirement through injury of influential player and club captain, Kyle Hamid.

Only Matt Atherton (313) has made more appearances than Kyle's 261* with Ellison, Mark Houghton and Rob Whyte the only other double century makers.

Ello and Crossy had been in charge since summer 2016 after both playing for the club and are assured of legendary status at Linnets on account of their on-field service and managerial achievement in bringing the club its first championship success.

They had also overseen Runcorn's first two seasons in the NPL after promotion as North West Counties League Premier Division title winners of 2017-18 - Linnets putting the disappointment of multiple near misses firmly behind them.

After three runners-up finishes in the previous four seasons, promotion was finally clinched on April 28th 2018 on the 12th anniversary of the club's foundation.

The title was secured on May 3rd 2018 with a 5-0 home victory over Blackpool-based Squires Gate.

This long-awaited league crown was captured with two matches to spare and 100 points a club record 122 league goals being scored over the 44 games with 36 conceded.

The club enjoyed a very creditable introduction to Northern Premier League life in 2018-19 as members of its West Division.

Until the 2021-22 season this was the only NPL programme, which Linnets had been able to complete because of coronavirus.

They eventually missed out on a play-off spot on goals difference.

For the two aborted seasons, Linnets had competed in the North West Division after geographical reorganisation.

But as more far-reaching changes saw the creation of a third NPL division at Step 4 for 2021-22, Linnets reverted to membership of the West Division.

Linnets have come a long way since being founded in 2006 by supporters of former national non-league champions, Runcorn AFC after a traumatic end for the old club.

The initial aims had been to bring the successor Linnets back to Runcorn and establish the club as one of which the community could be proud.

Both these ambitions were achieved with the club still in its infancy.

The stadium in the Murdishaw area of Runcorn, opened in 2010 with the project having been supported by Halton Borough Council, the FA and Football Foundation as well as the club and its fans.

Winter 2017 saw the completion of a replacement 1.4 million clubhouse as part of wider redevelopment of surrounding land with retail and leisure facilities.

At the same time, pitches outside the stadium were fenced in for use by the Linnets' numerous junior teams with the club also signing a new long-term lease for the extended site with Halton Council.

Runcorn Linnets Football Club was born after Runcorn AFC had intimated it would not be in a position to field a team beyond the end of 2005-06 season.

Upon leaving town in 2001, the now defunct club had suffered a troubled and nomadic existence.

Fans met at their spiritual home in Canal Street at the then Quayside Bar and Function Rooms, next to the Linnets Park housing estate on which Runcorn AFC's ground had once stood.

An existing Supporters Trust was remodelled to run Runcorn Linnets, whose identity was derived from Runcorn AFC's nickname.

The new club spent its first four years playing home games as tenants of Witton Albion FC at Wincham Park, Northwich - gaining promotion at the first attempt to the top division of the North West Counties League under the management of Steve Carragher, who had been the predecessor club's last team boss.

Victory against Formby in the NWCL Challenge Cup final in 2012-13 brought a first winners' trophy for the first team. Former Runcorn AFC player, Joey Dunn was the then manager.

Paul McNally is another "old boy" of the original club to have managed the new with Steve Wilkes being the only manager prior to Calum McIntyre and now Dave Wild not to have had any previous Linnets connections.

Wilkes had in 2009 led the Linnets to their first ever final, only to be beaten to the League Cup by New Mills at Tameside Stadium, which would be the scene for the club's triumph in the same competition four years later.

The abandoned 2019-20 season saw Linnets make their debut in the NPL Academy League.

This was rebranded in 2020-21 as the ESPFA, Linnets reaching the national finals as winners of the Northern section - a feat repeated in 2021-22.

Linnets U21s team, which was renamed the Development team in summer 2021, also flourished from the outset. Eden Gumbs became its first graduate to the senior men's squad for 2021-22, with the hope of many more to follow.

Click here to view the history of Runcorn AFC
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16:48 30/1/2023

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