As 2021 comes to an end, we reflect on what has been another strange year for football clubs as we, tentatively, look forward to what we hope will be a better 2022.
There had been no football since the season was prematurely ended before Christmas but the club continued to operate as best it could in trying circumstances.
The New Year started with some positive news when it was announced that Dave Bowden had been appointed the new chairman and, it goes without saying, how quickly and professionally he adapted to the role.
It hasn’t been easy for him, no one said it would be, but the way he has dealt with everything from top to bottom on all club matters has been one of the success stories of the year. With the backing of a relatively new board, the club ran smoothly and that cannot have been straightforward amidst an ongoing pandemic.
A sign of the times, no doubt, but the first involvement with supporters was a fans’ forum on Zoom. Superbly hosted by Nathan Ridley, the chairman was joined by Danny Grainger, Steven Rudd, Conor Tinnion and Brian Dawson with the guys discussing how we planned to move forward as well as answering questions and queries from the fan base.
Grassroots football was given the green light to resume in April so the Development Squad’s friendly match v. Aspatria on 3rd April was the first game at Borough Park in 2021 – a quiz question in years to come perhaps!
The game was officially played behind closed doors with the changing rooms out of bounds but it was a start. Matty Foster’s first half goal being the first of the year, albeit a few months late.
It would be much later in the year when Reds Ladies and the first team got back onto the hallowed turf.
The Development Squad played a handful of friendlies but then competed in a re-structured County League throughout April and May and actually topped their division and were rewarded with a trophy to boot!
The FA had already confirmed that, for the second successive year, the season would be declared null and void and in May we learned who our opponents would be in the new Northern Premier League West Division.
Training had been designated for a mid-June start but not before the Danny Grainger departure bombshell was announced. He had agreed to further his career at Scottish League 1 Club, Falkirk, by accepting the post of assistant manager.
It was a shock to all but Danny left with everyone’s good wishes and appreciation of what he did for the club in two aborted seasons. Little did we know his new adventure north of the border would be over a few weeks before Christmas.
The post was advertised and Chris Willcock became the club’s new manager on 23rd July only for his first game at Consett, twenty four hours later, to end in defeat.
We already knew the fixtures for the 2021-22 campaign and Chris’ first competitive game in charge would be at Kidsgrove Athletic.
The pre-season programme for the seniors included an attractive package of games, a first ever encounter at Berwick Rangers plus matches against League One outfit, Morecambe, and League Two neighbours, Carlisle United.
Brothers Liam and Carl Lightfoot were introduced as substitutes, simultaneously, in the game at Consett while goalkeeper, Jim Atkinson, had an afternoon to remember against Morpeth Town – scoring a goal after just ten seconds, saving a penalty, providing an assist and keeping a clean sheet!
Brad Carroll had the satisfaction of scoring Reds’ first goal of the season in a hard fought opening day success at Kidsgrove and the team actually won their first five league games conceding just one goal in the process.
To counter the brilliant start in the league, there was an early exit from the FA Cup with Marine (we played them three times in eight days in August) ending our interest in a replay.
Scott Allison scored in the FA Cup tie v. Marine at Borough Park, that being his 128th competitive goal for the club, lifting him to third place in the all-time scorers list. Sadly, though, it was his only goal of 2021 and a long spell on the sidelines was the outcome of a shoulder injury and subsequent operation.
The arrival of the new manager saw a seamless transition in terms of results but naming the same team for consecutive matches was becoming a pipedream for Chris as an injury list, second to none, led to early season recruitment on a large scale.
Regardless, it had been an excellent start for the ‘gaffer’ and included a narrow win over his former employers, Ramsbottom United.
But on a very wet evening at Warrington Rylands, Reds’ long unbeaten run stretching back 28 matches (a club record by the way) came to an abrupt halt. All good things come to an end, they say.
Another record was established in a Cumberland Cup victory over Whitehaven when Reuben Jerome scored a hat-trick in under four minutes as Reds staged a dramatic late spree to avoid an embarrassing defeat. Reuben finished the evening with four goals.
Runcorn Linnets became the first team to bag three points in a league fixture in twenty seven matches at Borough Park, yet the team responded well to that October setback. They finished the year on an unbeaten sequence of six games, amassing sixteen points from a possible eighteen.
Some of the home games were blessed with inclement weather but nothing to match the Bootle fixture which saw Storm Barra emerge as the only winner on a wretched night.
We welcomed some everlasting friends on match days and the return of Tommy Cassidy was a special, albeit sad, occasion. Other former managers – George Norrie, David Hewson, Lee Andrews and Danny Grainger – also watched the team in action.
Many former players called in too, including the legendary John Burridge – just a few weeks before his seventieth birthday.
Over the year, we said a final farewell to former heroes Bernard Fleming (84), Dixie Hale (85), Jack Bertolini (87), Geoff Martin (81), Jack Vitty (98) and Haydn Hough (77) all of whom passed away.
There was a managerial change for the Reds Ladies team too with Paul Mackenzie succeeding Brian Heywood in the dug-out. They enjoyed a great first half to the season and were lodged in third position in Division North One of the North West Women’s Regional League at the mid-season break.
Hayley Bracken was in great scoring form bagging eighteen goals before Christmas.
Brian Dawson and Craig Routledge continued their excellent work with the Development Squad and although results were a little disappointing at times, the majority of the group gained valuable game time with the first team in the cup competitions.
Attendances were healthy with the league average, over ten home matches, a commendable 557.
A bizarre year, but a successful one for the club overall, with the aim clearly to maintain the good work into 2022 and beyond.