The piece below was entered into the When Saturday Comes Writers’ Competition, which required entrants to write between 800 and 1,500 words on any aspect of the 2016-17 football season. While it did not win, it does capture some of the joy of getting involved with Prescot Cables.
To my mind, the greatest success story in Merseyside football this season isn’t Liverpool’s return to European competition; nor is it Everton combining a largely positive campaign with securing a site for their new stadium.
Prescot Cables play in the Evo-Stik League Division One North, seven levels lower than the region’s biggest clubs. At Christmas, the Tigers were in serious danger of relegation and attracting crowds of 200. Yet by the end of April, the club’s captain, James McCulloch was lifting the Liverpool Senior Cup in front of over 900 rapturous fans and his team had pulled well clear of the bottom two.
I witnessed Cables’ transformation first-hand, having been recruited to the club as the Programme Editor at the end of January. I’d been approached to help out on Twitter; the club is very active on social media and this has undoubtedly helped the club to increase the level of support. Another thing that works in their favour is how affordable going to a game at Prescot is. An adult and child can get into the game, buy a programme and still have change from a tenner, thanks to all children under 16 being admitted free.
Once through the turnstiles, spectators find themselves inside a proper, old-fashioned ground, dominated by an enormous main stand, with concrete terracing around all four sides of the stadium, which is hemmed in by terraced housing, a gasworks and, at the far end, Knowsley Safari Park. Known to most as either Valerie Park or simply Hope Street, this incredibly atmospheric venue was opened in 1906 and is the antithesis of the modern, kit stands and flat terracing so often found at this level of the game. With the exception of a brief period in the 1990s, when the ground was home to a Rugby League club while the struggling Cables moved in with Ellesmere Port, it has been the base of the town’s football club for more than a century.
Cables – who get their unusual name from the wire manufacturing which once dominated the town – had been perennial strugglers since being relegated into their current division in 2009. In an effort to improve their lot, the club became a Community Interest Company (CIC) and offered the opportunity to become a shareholder for a £5 subscription, payable annually.
That was where I came in; I was new to the area, having moved for family reasons in December 2015. I’ve been involved in non-league football all my life, but my involvement had been limited for a year to some long-distance administration on behalf of Ashford Town (Middlesex). But I’d watched Cables a few times and liked the friendly atmosphere around the club; when the appeal went out for shareholders, I sent in my fiver. Remarkably, so did more than 300 others, smashing previous records. It wasn’t long before Cables’ tireless Commercial Manager, Steve Garnett, asked if I would help out with a single programme, as the previous Editor was indisposed. Having previous experience, I agreed and soon found the job was mine.
I joined a club second-from-bottom of its division but in a misleading position; there had been a high turnover of players caused by a change of manager. Outgoing boss Andy Paxton found that work commitments were too onerous for him to continue running the First Team, although he stayed with the club and was elected to the Board. His successor, Brian Richardson, had built a young and capable team which had needed time to gel. When things did click, in the Tigers’ first home match of the New Year, they did so in style, Prescot hammering high-flying Ossett Albion 5-0, a victory followed up with a 4-0 Senior Cup win over AFC Liverpool.
The side’s home form was transformed; they were unbeaten at Volair Park for the rest of the season. Although points were harder to come by on the road, crowds were increasing with every match and it seemed as if Cables would survive relegation comfortably. News then came of a three point deduction for inadvertently fielding a suspended player in a win at Bamber Bridge. The next match after the penalty was applied was a game against second-bottom club Goole, who now had an opportunity to catch Cables.
The 355 spectators at Volair Park saw the hosts respond defiantly to losing points, dominating play and sweeping into a 2-0 lead, which they held with just four minutes to play. The visitors pulled a goal back and, sensing weakness in their youthful opposition, capitialised on a late defensive slip to claim an unlikely point.
At a time when other clubs might have lost heart, Cables simply redoubled their efforts. The club’s volunteers sent out a series of positive messages and Brian Richardson helped his players to regroup. The Tigers won 5-1 at Bootle to book a place in the Liverpool Senior Cup Final and put seven past Glossop North End (who were third at the time) before defeating eventual champions Lancaster City 2-0 to finally banish the spectre of relegation.
With their League status secured, the Liverpool Senior Cup Final became the club’s focus. Prescot were hosting the match, against Southport who were full-time professionals but had endured a torrid season in the National League. A huge effort was made to promote the fixture locally and was rewarded with a gate of 907 – the club’s highest for many seasons. On the pitch, Cables dominated the match, despite being three levels below their visitors. The excitement was palpable and when Joe Herbert gave them the lead the crowd at the Safari Park End surged forward to salute him, causing a section of the pitch perimeter fence to give way. It was a worrying moment but the video of the incident shows fans tumbling on to the turf, putting the fallen panels back up, jumping over the fence and resuming their celebrations. The clip went viral and eventually helped the club to raise funds for essential maintenance work at the ground.
Although the incident wasn’t without consequences – Cables midfielder Lloyd Dean went off at half-time due to an injury caused by the fallen fence – the match continued and a second goal by Andy Scarisbrick meant that Prescot won the magnificent trophy for the first time in a history that dates back to 1884.
As James McCulloch received the trophy, to the cheers of hundreds of mostly young, local supporters, there was a palpable sense that this was the start of something, rather than the end of a season. The club certainly looked to capitalise on the moment, taking a stall at the town’s monthly Producers Market the following week, selling Cup Winners merchandise and seeking to raise awareness of the club within its area. The club also works hard to involve the local Junior League, inviting teams to act as mascots at home matches, as well as running under-age teams of its own.
At a time when the Premier League and its clubs feel increasingly disconnected from the communities they represent, there’s something tremendously empowering about the momentum generated by Prescot Cables and their growing band of supporters. As a small-town club competing against teams with bigger budgets from across the North of England, Prescot are never going to be targeting “the Football League in five years” as so many others have. But what they are doing is winning friends and football matches and that’ll do for me.