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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

Atherton Laburnum Rovers FC

Crilly Park, Spa Road, Atherton, Greater Manchester M46 9XX
Telephone: 01942 883950
Nickname: The Panthers
North West Counties League

Note Atherton LR were formed in 1956 as Laburnum Rovers FC when a group of local lads wanted to start their own team. They asked Joe Riley, elder brother of one of the lads, to help them and by the end of December 1956 they were ready to go. They were admitted into the local Briarcroft Junior League, despite the season being well under way.

The club was named after its first home at Laburnum Road Playing Fields, although after a couple of seasons Rovers relocated to Hag Fold (or Hagfold) Playing Fields. After a difficult start the club gradually progressed into senior football, but their lack of facilities prevented any further progression. Instead a farmer’s field was found in the shadow of the massive Laburnum Mill. Despite footpaths crossing it and duck ponds on either side (one roughly where today’s entrance is), sheer hard work transformed the field into a football pitch, with the club officially taking residence in 1966. Visiting the ground today, which is enclosed within a small housing development it is a little difficult to imagine what the site was once like.

Jack Crilly succeeded Riley as Chairman and until his sudden death in 1980, worked tirelessly for the club, with the ground re-named in his memory. The first perimeter fence was made from reclaimed railway sleepers, and the first structure to provide any cover was the clubhouse which had a verandah. In 1980 the club joined the non-league pyramid when their application to join the Cheshire County League was accepted. A stipulation of the League was that the town had to be in the clubs name, so links with the past were retained with the new name of Atherton Laburnum Rovers. In 1982 the club became founder members of the North West Counties League, being placed in Division Two where they remained until the League was reorganised in 1987 when their facilities saw them placed in Division One.

Ground improvements continued during this time. In 1983 a covered enclosure behind the left hand goal was erected. However, this is set back some way from the pitch and when I visited at the end of September 2005 appeared to be finding good use for storage of an impressive array of ground-keeping hardware.

Three years later two small areas of cover appeared on either side of the half-way line on the far side of the pitch, and were joined together by further cover in 1991. This was originally seated but no longer is. Above is a sign on the fascia with the club’s old name, albeit spelt incorrectly, and in addition rather pointlessly stating the various admission charges to the ground – a bit late when spectators are already in the ground methinks (although perhaps it’s to make those who have sneaked in feel guilty!).

Floodlights went up in 1989; and in 1991 the changing rooms and clubhouse were completely rebuilt. The most recent addition is the smart 200 seat stand on the near side. This affords a good elevated view of the action, with the two dugouts at ground level. One thing that has certainly changed is the club colours. An unsuspecting first-time visitor to the ground could easily make the mistake of believing the club plays in sky blue (an earlier nod to Man City perhaps?), when in fact the strip these days is yellow & black. The club also issues a massive programme that is surely one of the best at this level of the pyramid … and puts that of several more senior clubs to shame. DB