No one-season wonder worries for Euxton Villa

Thu 12th October 2023 | Euxton Villa
By Jay Cooper

As a very articulate and handsome man spoke about in a relatively recent “Five Things We Learned This Week” list, every new season brings new faces, some of which are entering unchartered waters for the first time as a club. And you do get a special few that take to those waters like a duck. Last season, in the NWCFL First Division North, there were 2 teams to whom the above statement definitely applies. One of those is current Division One North table toppers FC St Helens; and the other, as the subject of this article, is Euxton Villa.

The PR7 side made their maiden voyage into Step 6 of non-league in 2022/23, and enjoyed a dream start to their campaign, only losing 2 of their first 10, and fighting their way to second in the table by the time they faced eventual league champions Pilkington away from home in November – they won that match and became the first team that season to take 3 points from Pilks.

Following that match, a takeaway quote from Villa gaffer Matty Atherton was him stating that, "What we've got is a group of lads who are committed, they've seen the project we're trying to build”. Whilst it would be rich to suggest that the outcome of this one match against Pilkington is hard evidence of that project being a success, especially given how new Euxton Villa were to the NWCFL at the time, it’s hard to argue against the fact that, since then, the club have done little to suggest that what they are building will falter at all.

After a semi-quiet end to the season, they still did the necessary job of holding onto their play-off spot in 2022/23, eclipsing league veterans Holker Old Boys to 5th place by two points. They came up against league runners-up Chadderton in those play-offs, but, given that, in 2023/24, Chaddy are a NWCFL Prem side and Euxton aren’t, you can work out for yourself what the outcome was.

All things considered, it was a very strong start to life in the NWCFL for Euxton Villa, and, as hinted at by the manager, there was a project in place to push the club even further in the seasons to come. Whilst we don’t know the full extent of what that project is – it would be quite foolish for a manager to make all his plans for his team open to the public, after all – there was certainly some hard evidence of another step in the right direction away from the field for the club as the NWCFL began preparations for the 2023/24 season.

In fact, this was announced all the way back in January, but wouldn’t come into full effect until the summer. At their Jim Fowler Memorial Ground, it was always in the pipeline to improve facilities, and part of that was the idea of implementing an artificial 4G pitch. Those plans were given a significant boost after the turn of the year, with it being reported in local press that the Football Foundation had made the offer of a grant worth over £1 million to the club, with Chorley Council pitching in with £100,000 of that money.

For anyone who isn’t in the know, the Football Foundation are the country’s largest sports-based charity, and, to paraphrase from their own website, “over the last 20 years, they’ve been planting seeds to grow grassroots football. They have worked closely with passionate people in communities up and down the country to deliver sports projects worth over £1.8 billion to local communities.” This money isn’t just pulled from thin air, either - partners of the charity include The Premier League, the FA and the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. They strive to be a positive example of a footballing promise often made but rarely kept – the idea that money made at elite level will benefit all parties in English football.

Earlier this week, I had a catch-up with first team manager Matty Atherton, and he said of the grant that, “pushing for this is something we’ve been geared towards for a number of years. We’re always looking to put what we can back into the infrastructure here, as well as our many junior teams, so by having a state-of-the-art 4G pitch, those teams can be playing here, week in and out, with no worries, and that creates the future of the club.

“It’s around £1.1 million, and it’s all been agreed that it will go on the pitch, the surroundings and roadside area. As you can imagine, when it’s that kind of money, all parties are very concerned with how it gets spent. But it’s all planned and ready to go, so it’s a matter of time, now. There’ll be a bit of flux for us, as a team, because we will likely have to play elsewhere for a little while, but once it’s done, we’ll have a great pitch to come back to.”

This is a phenomenal step for a club seemingly so focused on growing and pushing forwards away from the pitch. Back on it, given how high up in the league Euxton Villa finished last time out, there didn’t seem like all too much room for improvement within the scope of the NWCFL First Division North. Even still, here they are, sitting 2nd in the table after 14 league matches, just as they did last time out. As a cherry on that cake, they’ve also got at least 1 game in hand on every other team in the play-off places.

Manager Matty put that success down to “hard work, good teamwork, and having the right characters. It’s not necessarily about having the best 11 players on the pitch every week, it’s more about the team as a unit, and making sure that they all understand what we want from them. And, as long as they buy into that, we should always have a level of success.”

It was actually after a match that I had this particular chat with Matty Atherton, but it wasn’t a league game that had taken place that night. Earlier this week at the time of writing, the Edward Case Cup First Round proper took place, and Villa were given AFC Blackpool by the draw. In a night to forget for their visitors, Euxton breezed to what is easily their biggest ever win since joining the NWCFL, with the final score being 9-2.

There was plenty for the gaffer to get his teeth into after the game, saying that “we really put them to the sword in the first half, and you’ve got to take a lot of pleasure in winning any game of football by a scoreline like that”, but did also note that the two goals conceded “were very much annoying. The likes of (FC) St Helens, who are top of our league now are very clinical at the back, and that’s the side of the game we haven’t quite gotten fully to grips with yet this season.”

It would be understandable if a cup run wasn’t Euxton Villa’s priority this season given that they are currently the team to beat in the league if you ignore those pesky runaway leaders in FC St Helens. One thing it would give them, though, if they were to go on to win one of the cup competitions that they are a part of this season, is silverware. “We spoke about as a group that we really wanted some external gratification for our work over the last 5 years, since I’ve been manager. We’ve had a lot of on-field success, but no trophies to show for it. So, for us, a trophy would give us that external reward, which this group absolutely deserves.”

It would be another thing for Matty and his team to juggle this season if they were to get a sustained cup run going – it goes without saying that they’re in the hat for the next round of the Edward Case Cup. But, wins like this one do also apply to how Villa will conduct themselves week by week in the league. “Momentum is so important, scoring goals is important, and there’s been a few players who’ve come into the team in these cup games and given us food for thought. They’ve proven they can come in whenever we’d need them to, and they can compete. So having a squad of 17 or 18 players who can do that for us is crucial to what we’re about.”

It's hard not to take such a seismic victory as a statement of intent, especially given that Villa managed to make the play-offs last year, and that this most recent result is not their first goal-laden demolition of the season. With ambition, good squad depth and clear industrial plans for the future, Euxton Villa might become a name known more far and wide in the future than we ever would’ve anticipated when they joined the league just over a year ago.


Image credit: Twitter, @Paulobrien101, 31/08/2023

Our Sponsors & Partners

Our Sponsors & Partners