FOLEY Meir have as much reason as any member of the non-league family to be bitterly disappointed by the Football Association’s decision to declare this season void.
The reason is understandable. The country is in the grip of the coronavirus crisis and all sport has ground to a halt, but disappointment all the same for many clubs up and down the country who were hoping to make the step up the non-league ladder.
The club plays in the Staffs County Senior League, but have a burning ambition to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Eccleshall, Hanley Town and Abbey Hulton United who have all made the move up from step 7 to 6.
With the Football Association’s restructure of the non-league pyramid system planned to continue next season with an additional league at step 4, which would be run by the Northern Premier League and two new divisions at step 5 in the Midlands and the West London/Thames Valley areas, it meant more clubs than ever were in line for promotion.
The top three from the North West Counties League Premier Division were being promoted with four going up from Division One North and South to make way for more clubs to move up from step 7.
Foley Meir failed with an application to join the North West Counties League two seasons ago, but because of the restructure they were confident a fresh application this season would be successful – until the carpet was pulled from under their feet.
Money had been spent on upgrading their Whitcombe Road site in Meir, grants secured to provide floodlights and it all appeared to be all system go just a few short weeks go.
However, the decision to scrap promotion and relegation issues from step 3 down has hit clubs hard, including Foley Meir, but they are determined to bounce back when football does eventually kick in again.
Former manager and now committee member Liam James, says everyone connected with the club is disappointed, but completely understand why such a big decision had to be made.
“Yes, we have been working very hard for some time now bringing the ground up to standard so we can take that next step up. We were hoping it would be this season, but that’s not going to happen now, so we will just have to regroup and go again next time,” he said.
The club had a ground inspection during January when officials from the North West Counties League visited to take a look around. They were impressed with most of what they saw.
James explained: “We were due an inspection so the league could see what work had been carried out. Most of it was fine, we just needed to extend the hard standing around the ground and that has now been done. We also worked on a new stand which is in place and we finally managed to get planning permission for floodlights to be erected.
“We had a lot of help from Neal Morrell and Dave Grice at Stoke-on-Trent City Council with regard to grants etc and managed to secure funding for the floodlights from the Stadia Improvement Fund, which is part funded by the Premier League,” said James. “Some of the work on the ground was done on a voluntary basis and we have had a lot of help from one of our sponsors MW Construction Ltd, who carried out a lot of the work on the ground, but the club has still spent in excess of £20,000 in getting the jobs done on time.”
Some of the money won’t arrive until the move to step 6 had been achieved, such as the cash for the floodlights.
James explained: “We have been successful in securing the grant, but we won’t see any of that money until we make it to the North West Counties League, so that’s just one of the many projects going on that has been put on hold for now.”
The club will also receive some cash from supermarket giant Tesco from their Bags of Help scheme which funds local community projects across the country. Shoppers have three community projects to choose from and voted by dropping a token into their slot, but due to the current crisis, all three projects will receive the same amount instead of being one outright winner.
Foley Meir were sitting fifth in the Staffs County Senior League Premier Division table when the season was halted, but that would probably have been enough to see them promoted.
According to the North West Counties League, if the club finishing top of the Staffs County Senior League does not meet the ground grading or does not want to be promoted, then the club finishing second may be considered. If they don’t meet the criteria, then clubs down to fifth place may be considered.
In total, 11 clubs applied for promotion to step 6 in the NWCL region, including Foley Meir.
“It’s not going to happen this season, I don’t think so we’ll just have to regroup when all this is over and go again,” said James who stood down as manager last summer to make way for Kieran Mear, who took over the reins.
James says there is a good squad of players at the club and is hopeful they will all return.
“Kieran has put together a good squad. He played for some of our junior teams, so he knows the set-up well. He’s only 24, but is getting the best out of the players, some of whom could be playing at a higher standard. He’s a great young manager. We were in a reasonable position in the league with games in hand on all of the teams above us and we had also reached the final of the Staffs FA Vase and the Leek Cup.”
Foley Meir also had the league’s top marksman in Mark Grice, brother of Leek Town’s Tim Grice, who was on 29 goals.
“It could have been a very successful season for us, but at the end of the day there are bigger things going on out there at the moment with the coronavirus crisis. Staying safe is all that matters for now, football will return, but at the moment, there’s little indication of when that may happen. I hope when all this blows over and we can get back to playing football again, we will have most of the players with us, but that could be a long way off yet.”
Foley Football Club was founded in 1947 by a group of friends and ex-servicemen from the Foley district of East Fenton.
Everybody interested in forming the football club had a collection and a replica of Arsenal’s strip was purchased from the late Les Evans who had a shop in King Street, Longton. Les also donated two lace up “case balls” at the time to help the club along its way. Les was well known throughout the country in sporting circles and was a tremendous friend and benefactor to Foley Football Club and later became president of the club.
Originally, the club was based in premises adjoining the Foley Arms pub in Fenton and players would use facilities at the Ebineezer Chapel in Carron Street , Fenton to change in prior to games at their first ground at “The Open Holes”, Goldenhill Road, Fenton.
Foley Football Club moved to their present ground in Whitcombe Road, Meir, in 1982 thanks to the hard working committee members who have served the club over the years. Since 1982, the club has spent in the region of £80,000 of its own hard earned funds in bringing what was essentially a sloping field up to the standard requited of the Staffs County Senior League Premier Division.
In November 2001, they opened their prestigious purpose built permanent changing and hospitality facilities. The project was assisted by the Football Association’s Football Foundation Grant Aid Scheme with a grant of six thousand pounds.
In February 2004, the club was proud to receive Football Association Charter Status.
Recent honours include winning the County League title in 1996, the Midland League Division Two title in 1997, Staffs FA Challenge Cup winners in 2007, Staffs County Senior League Premier Division champions in 2008 and Division One champions and President’s Trophy winners in 2016/17.
For the record, the 11 clubs to applied for promotion were Allscott (West Midlands Regional League); Ashville (West Cheshire League); Crewe FC (Cheshire League); Egerton (Cheshire League); Foley Meir (Staffs County Senior League); Ilkley Town (West Yorkshire League); South Liverpool (West Cheshire League) Stockport Georgians (Manchester League); Wellington Amateurs (West Midlands Regional League) and two new cubs, Bury AFC and FC Isle of Man.
Bury AFC was founded in December 2019 as a phoenix club for Bury FC following that team’s August 2019 expulsion from the English Football League.
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