Runcorn football – a short history

Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here with my human. The big feller suggested to me that we write a blog about football. I liked the idea because I love running after and chasing balls. I love football too and I remembered being on the Heath Playing Fields when football matches were being played. I was off-lead, which in hindsight, wasn’t such a good idea. I was staying close to my human, as I always did until a football from a game that was being played, came close to me. What was I supposed to do? I chased it, rolled it a few times and then sank my teeth into it. It made a funny hissing sound, and my human made a funny roaring sound. ‘Joe!’, he yelled, but it was too late. The men who were playing the game laughed and said that it was OK as they had another ball. My dad said that he was really embarrassed. I couldn’t understand why because if they didn’t want me to play, why did they kick the ball to me?

Sorry, I went off on one! So, back to football and our blog. The big feller suggested that we write a potted history of Runcorn football. While we walked around the town, we could visit Canal Street, Pavillions and Millbank Stadium. Canal Street was the original home of the town’s football club with Pavillions and Millbank being the grounds used by Runcorn’s two current football clubs. Other grounds have been used for short periods due to a variety of reasons but, the three that we have listed were and are the main ones used.

Lockdown pub – formerly The Linnets

We went for a walk around the older parts of Runcorn first, to visit the site of Runcorn Football Club. Their home venue was in Canal Street which nowadays, is a housing estate. There is very little evidence of the existence of the football ground. We walked all around the area but, all we could see was the Lockdown Pub & Kitchen which used to be the Linnets Function Rooms. Canal Street was originally the home of Runcorn Rugby Football Club in 1886 who used the venue until World War I. The rugby club did not return after suffering badly during the war. It was shortly after this that the ground was purchased by RH Posnett, the owner of local tanneries. The Highfield and Camden Tanneries Recreation Club started to play there just after the war. Their name was changed to Runcorn Football Club in 1918.

The steps to Canal Street
Linnets Park where the ground used to be

As we walked around the area where Canal Street football ground used to stand, my human told me about when he was young, and he used to go to nearly every home and away game. He told me about how he walked to the home games, along Heath Road and how he nipped into Hambleton’s for a quarter of home-made humbugs. They were as sharp as shards of glass when you first put them in your mouth but, lovely and chewy as they warmed up and stuck to your teeth. He used to walk down the sandstone steps from Delph Bridge, past the Navigation pub and along Canal Street. After paying at the turnstile, he used to buy a match programme, if he had enough money.

Canal Street, Runcorn FC
Match night at Canal Street
After the demise of Canal Street, the Canal Street End

He described to me how exciting it was to stand on the terrace behind the Canal Street end goal. He said that he used to roam around the ground with the other kids and if a penalty was awarded against Runcorn, they would all sprint to behind the goalmouth that ‘Pengy’, Brian Pendlebury used to face the opposition penalty taker. Pengy was renowned for saving penalties and was my dad’s idol when he was young. At half-time, he used to battle with the other kids to parade the half-time draw results, around the perimeter of the pitch. Otherwise, he would buy a hot Bovril and a meat and potato pie, from the hut in the corner. Sometimes, he would buy a Wagon Wheel instead. He said that they were as big as a real wagon wheel. Nowadays, he says that they are merely bite-size. A big mouth, if you ask me! He used to stand behind the opposite goal, waiting for a ball to be kicked over the bar. He would compete with the other kids to find the ball and return it to the pitch.

On one or two occasions, my human was allowed into the home changing room at half-time to have a cup of tea with the players. This, for some reason, was the highlight of his time at the match. He used to wonder what it would be like, sitting in the stand, and on the one occasion that he did, he hated it, feeling restricted and stuck with the ‘old men’. On special occasions, such as FA Cup matches, he would wear a green and yellow Linnets rosette, with a silver metallic FA Cup in the middle. He also proudly wore a home-knitted green and white scarf to every match. He told me that he loved the atmosphere in the ground and everybody knew everybody else.

Runcorn’s first Wembley appearance

Runcorn FC were founder members of the Cheshire County League in 1919 and won the league that year. In 1937 they won both the league and cup. The club were founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968. 1982 was a bittersweet season for the club as they won the Alliance Premier League which meant promotion to the Football League. Sadly, the club failed to meet league requirements and were denied the coveted promotion. 1986 saw the club reach the FA Trophy final at Wembley but, they unfortunately lost 1-0 to Altrincham.

Match programme from the infamous wall collapse match
The wall collapse versus Hull City
The aftermath of the wall collapse
The stand fire destruction

A series of unfortunate events beset the club starting in 1994 when a perimeter wall collapsed during an FA Cup match against Hull City. This was followed up by a roof being blown off a stand in a gale. Then, the main stand was burnt down in a fire. The club never really recovered from these incidents and were relegated for the first time in their history in 1996. The club went downhill rapidly and finally succumbed to the pressures in 2001 when Canal Street was sold.

Previous achievements include the Alliance League winners, 3 times runners up at Wembley in the FA Trophy, 2 Northern Premier League wins, 3 Norther Premier League Challenge Cup wins, 5 Cheshire League wins and the Northern Premier League President’s Cup. FA Cup achievements include a 4-2 defeat to Preston North End in the 3rd Round in 1939. A 1-0 defeat to Barrow in the 2nd round in 1948. A 2nd Round defeat to Southport in 1968. A 4-2 defeat to Hartlepool in 1978. A 4-0 defeat to Wigan in the 2nd Round replay in 1986. 1-0 defeat to Stockport in 1987. 3-0 defeat to Crewe in 1988. I realise that these were all defeats but, I wanted to highlight how far Runcorn progressed in those seasons.

Jack Search – arguably Runcorn’s greatest player – copyright unknown
Pengy – copyright unknown

Jack Search, notably Runcorn’s greatest player is hailed as their greatest FA Cup legend after the centre forward led Runcorn against Preston North End in 1939. Preston were the holders of the cup at the time. As mentioned, Runcorn lost 4-2 but only after a mammoth battle. The choice for greatest FA Cup goalkeeper went to Brian Pendlebury, who played magnificently in Runcorn’s win in the FA Cup First Round in 1967. Pengy, as he was known, was my human’s hero when he used to watch the Linnets in the 1960’s. He was renowned for saving penalties and whenever one was given, all the kids in the ground would sprint to behind his goal in anticipation.

Runcorn Football blue plaque

Runcorn FC moved to Halton Stadium in Widnes in a ground share with Widnes RLC and Everton FC Reserves. They changed their name to Runcorn FC Halton and were promoted to the newly formed Conference North in 2004. They were relegated at the end of the season back to the Northern Premier League. After this they left Halton Stadium and had brief stays at Southport FC, Haig Avenue and at Prescot Cables, Valerie Park. The following season saw matters getting worse for the club with insufficient funds to pay the players and horrendous defeats. They were relegated again, and the decision was made to cease as a football club.

Millbank Stadium

Our next place that we visited was the Millbank Stadium area. I had a run around Murdishaw Woods when we first arrived combined with a dip in the stream. As we had only gone to the area to look at the football club, my human thought that we could combine the trip with a blast for me in the Nature Reserve before we concentrated on the business in hand. The area is a relatively new development with the Millbank Stadium, a large Aldi, a new pub and a small array of shops. This is the home of Runcorn Linnets FC that were founded in 2006. The Football Association have agreed to allow the club to be a replacement for Runcorn FC. Initially, Runcorn Linnets shared Witton Albion’s ground near Northwich. In 2010 the Millbank Stadium was completed, and the club moved in.

The Runcorn End
From the terrace

As we walked around the ground we were met by Alan Jones, the Club President. He invited me and my human into the stadium for a look around. With an average attendance of 374, the club is visibly growing after a disastrous past. We looked around the pitch and stood in the covered terrace behind the goal. I was dreaming about running on the pitch and chasing the ball. I am sure that the players would be ok with me if I burst their ball!

From behind the goal
The new hybrid pitch
A match day programme

The first season was spent in the North West Counties Football League Division 2 and as runners-up were promoted to the First Division. After ending each season mid-table for four years, the club gradually moved up the table finishing runners-up on three occasions. Two seasons later in 2018 they won the Premier Division and were promoted to the Northern Premier League Division 1 North. Currently, due to the pandemic, the league is suspended.

The goalmouth
Stand and changing rooms

We walked to Weston Point on another day to visit the Viridor Community Stadium, the home of Runcorn Town FC.  The club was formed in 1967 and was called CKD and played in the Runcorn Sunday League until 1974. They changed their name to Mond FC in 1970 and again in 1974 to Mond Rangers when they entered the Warrington and District League. In 1984 the club joined the West Cheshire League Division 2. In 1995 Mond Rangers came second in the league and were promoted to Division 1. After a dip in form, they were relegated in 2002 but, they bounced back as runners-up in 2005. In 2008 the club won the Runcorn Cup, were runners-up in the Pike Cup and came 3rd in Division 1, their best season to date.

The opposite stand

The area around the ground was once owned by ICI and the large ICI Rec, later the Pavillions, now stands derelict. The grounds are overgrown which gave me an opportunity to have a run around off-lead. We walked to the stadium entrance and as at Millbank Stadium, we were allowed to enter the ground to have a look around. The stadium is older than the Millbank but, hopefully with a bit of investment should be able to compete eventually. No football is being played there at the moment due to the pandemic.

A matchday programme

Floodlights were installed in 2010 and the club was elected to the North West Counties Football League. Promotion was gained in the first season to the Premier League by becoming runners-up. The next season saw them runners-up in the Premier League. The following seasons saw mixed fortunes with the Town finishing mid table and just under the top two. The club has ambitions to compete at the same level as their town rivals, Runcorn Linnets. Local derby’s are always an eventful affair with mixed results. In all competitions the results are as follows.

Runcorn Linnets have won 7 times. Runcorn Town have won 5 times. With 3 draws.

We had a good time investigating the football history of the town and we realise that there is way more stories to tell. We hope that this inspires some discussions and provokes some memories of good times. Till next time!

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