Mark Hayes on Ashton Town’s 2019-20 Football Season

Ashton Town logo and banner

Mark Hayes is the Chairman of Ashton Town AFC, who we sponsor for the ground naming rights and man of the match. After hearing that the FA (Football Association) effectively ended and voided the season for the second tier of non-league football and below, we wanted to hear directly from Mark for his thoughts on how he felt the FA have handled the coronavirus situation, how Ashton Town have performed this season, as well as any highlights he’d like to mention. We’d like to thank Mark for his honest opinions and feedback, as well as his time in reaching out to us.

The aim

The 2019/20 season has probably been not only the strangest season in my 11 year tenure, but the strangest for most, whether involved in football, or just a fan.

In recent years I have found the seasons have become our biggest challenge, and last season prior to COVID-19 we had already seen a colossal seventeen games postponed. Gone are the years when summer rolled into autumn, autumn to winter and so on, to the point that I really don’t know if they can even teach that in schools now. The weather has just got progressively worse, and with the pitch being the most valuable asset to any club, it needs not to be risked when huge damage could be pending, but also the referee’s requirement for a suitable playing surface has gone health and safety daft.

The aims for this season was promotion. For the first time since I have known, due to the proposed restructuring of the leagues the top four were to be automatically promoted. With this as the target, we went all out with all sponsorship monies going to strengthening the team to ensure we had a real good crack at promotion.

All season we were near the top, however with success come the vultures, and unfortunately we could not keep our manager when Atherton Colleries came calling, and nor would I stop him jumping three divisions. Along with him leaving though went his family sponsorship, that in turn lost us our top goalscorer and so on…

Anthony Potts playing for Ashton Town AFC

Anthony Potts playing for Ashton Town AFC

Promotion from within

Despite many options my thoughts was to promote from within as I felt it vital that we kept the core of our team as we were sat in such a great position in the league. Dave Dempsey had a fantastic back room team, three outstanding guys whom all have their different qualities, but with which they bounce off each other. Coaches Lee Bignell and Karl Bell were then named as Joint Managers, and Chris Stammers as Head Coach.

With the losses though of some very influential experienced players purely down to the adjustment in cash flow, the results did become inconsistent. That, along with the inconsistency of games played due to the horrid torrential weather at times.

The last time we kicked a ball we won 1-0 at home, and sat joint 5th in the league. Given we may have given ourselves too much to do to get that vital 4th spot, no one envisioned what was to come.

The last game against Holker Old Boys was one of the very few games played that weekend. All teams in non league were given the option to choose whether to play or not due to the pandemic and both sides, ourselves and the opposition, chose to go ahead. Since then, not a ball has been kicked, to the point that the season has even been forgotten about professionally and now written off.

The FA decision

The FA has used our divisions as their first call as to what to do with the football season that is 75% completed, but with no known date of when it could start back up. Their decision is to null and void it. No promotions or regulations, yet fines and suspensions remain. Crazy. In fact, absolutely ridiculous.

There was obviously no easy way to end this season, as no one could have planned for this to happen, but with teams having put in eight months of blood, sweat, tears, and a hell of a lot of money, and some teams having already been named champions, it’s an absolute absurd decision to tell us all to throw that away. Personally I would still play the season out. No matter what, we play them games when it is safe to do so. Social distancing for fans would not be a problem at our level, and ultimately if the Premier League is to continue, then our season are now going to be out of sync. It cannot be one rule for one and not for the other, it just makes the divide between grassroots and the professionals even more wide.

With the FA decision looking likely that it cannot be overturned, the likes of Bury FC, and a team from the Isle of Man whom were to join at our level next season have now been put on hold for a year. Think alone what disruption that is going to cause, months of planning for nothing, and likewise the team who had been announced as promoted, Vauxhalls and Lower Breck, it now means nothing and they have to start again. It is simply not right, especially to then still demand fines for games that they now say have not been played, and even more so if higher divisions are allowed to carry on.

The highlights

Tom Molyneux playing for Ashton Town AFC

Tom Molyneux playing for Ashton Town AFC

Despite the season being null and voided we have still chosen to give awards for our most consistent performers, all be it for now that the presentation was done virtually over social media, and that the trophies are still in the shop and not able to be picked up! Our captain Anthony Potts (pictured earlier) was the outstanding winner, our leader whom is originally from the north east took both the Manager’s Player of the year, and the Player’s Player of the year. Pottsy has been a fantastic leader for us joining a couple of seasons back from West Didsbury, and his awards are very much deserved. The other award was for the Fan’s Player of the year, this was a close contest with a total of seven players being voted for, but the deserved winner was Tom Molyneux (pictured above). Tom was Everton’s youth captain a few years back and he is a vital cog in the centre of midfield that makes us tick. Tom reads the game superbly and almost plays with ease, either breaking up play, or doing that simple pass to take us forward.

The lads are now all in isolation like most, and it’s a frustrating position for us all. Players can’t play nor train together obviously, and officials can’t plan much as we have no clue as to when or how a new season is going to start.

Roll on the new season to be, and the normality of the beautiful game back in our lives.