The Northern Premier League

Runcorn Linnets FC - The Story So Far

Runcorn Linnets were again pipped to promotion from Pitching In Northern Premier League West Division in 2023, narrowly losing its Play-off Final for a second successive year.

Linnets could indeed be described as the 'nearly men' of 2022-23 as they were runners-up in the Liverpool Senior Cup (reaching the final at the first attempt) and beaten semi-finalists in the Cheshire Senior Cup, as they had been in the previous season.

It was an eventful end to the campaign in many ways with Billy Paynter taking over as manager for its last six weeks.

Billy was appointed boss in March 2023, stepping up from first-team coach upon the dismissal of Dave WIld, who had only taken charge in the summer 2022 having managed Mossley and been assistant at Matlock Town.

Things could easily have spiralled out of control with major disruption at such a crucial time but Billy called on all his professional-game experience to swiftly put things back on track.

After falling to Vanarama National League club Altrincham in the Cheshire Cup, Linnets also found themselves up against higher-grade opposition in Liverpool FA final.

Backed by a magnificent following of 1,500 fans, Runcorn were beaten on penalties by NPL Premier outfit Marine at Widnes (after a 0-0 scoreline over 90 minutes).

The Crosby club had already edged out Linnets in the 2021-22 promotion race by winning the Play-off Final 2-1 at Runcorn's APEC Taxis Stadium.

The 2022-23 Play-off Final followed a similar pattern, although Linnets were this time the away side.

They took an early lead at Workington, just as they had against the Mariners 12 months earlier, before again succumbing by the odd goal in three.

But this time it took extra-time to separate the teams in only the eighth match in charge for Billy Paynter.

Prior to joining Linnets backroom team for 2022-23, Billy had worked in the Academy set-ups at Everton and Port Vale, also representing the latter as a player.

He had hung up his boots with close to 500 EFL appearances to his credit, serving clubs also including Swindon Town and Brighton & Hove Albion.

He now has the job of preparing for the 2023-24 season with interest in the club at a new high.

The amazing response to the Liverpool Cup final followed a 1,080 crowd for the November 2022 defeat of eventual champions, Macclesfield - the biggest attendance for a league match on the Runcorn ground.

Billy has as his deputy Jamie Rainford, who continues in the position of player-assistant manager to which he was appointed ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.

At the end of 21-22, the club had said fond farewells to manager Calum McIntyre as he left to take command at Chester FC.

His final match in charge of Runcorn had been the Play-Off Final against Marine, which took the aggregate attendance in 12 years at Linnets' stadium past 100,000.

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

It was also a delight just to be able complete the season after two Covid-curtailed campaigns.

In his 22 months at the club, Calum had forged a strong bond with Linnets.

A key element in his 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 significant 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.

(Our appearance figures include games played in the seasons abandoned because of the coronavirus pandemic, although playing records for these two campaigns have been officially expunged).

Ello and Crossy had been in charge since summer 2016 after both playing for the club and were 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, they 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 at the time of his appointment being the only manager not to have had any previous Linnets connections. Calum McIntyre, Dave Wild and now Billy Paynter have since joined that particular "club".

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 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 Macauley Clifton, Adam Moseley and Josh Elverstone having followed in his footsteps.

Click here to view the history of Runcorn AFC
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Cardiac Risk in the Young
Charter Standard Club
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