A GROUP of Horwich residents has joined forces to save the town’s recreational facilities and reclaim the area’s proud sporting history.
The Friends of Horwich Football group is made up of local people with a passion for sport and has been launched with the target of “improving both the quality and quantity of community sporting facilities in Horwich”.
Members feel a number of factors, including an increase in housing developments and the poor upkeep of pitches, have lead to a “dire” situation for sport in Horwich.
The group’s primary focus is on football — but it also wants to improve provisions for other sports, including cricket and crown green bowling.
There is a feeling among many that Horwich has lost a big part of its sporting identity — with a number of football teams leaving the town or having to play fixtures elsewhere.
Group member Kieran Morris, aged 32, said: “I have played competitive football in Horwich since I was eight years old and, at 32, it is distressing to see the decline in facilities and clubs in the town.
“Growing up I remember going to watch numerous town teams. There was a real passion for sport in Horwich and amateur football attracted large crowds.
“Back then Horwich had its own Sunday league and teams travelled from other towns to play in it.
“We had St Mary’s, who were one of the best Sunday teams in the North West, and the Old Rivingtonians, who were one of the top amateur clubs in Lancashire for a while.”
These teams are no longer a part of the sporting make-up of Horwich and another famous side, Horwich RMI, who once reached the third round of the FA Cup, have left the area and reformed as Leigh Genesis.
The area where the former Horwich RMI team played, which included a Northern Premier League standard ground, has been replaced with housing.
Mr Morris added: “The lack of suitable facilities now means that Horwich’s most successful club, Horwich Victoria, have to travel to the Essa academy on the other side of Bolton and pay £150 a match to use the facility.”
The group believes that with the reduction of pitches in the town, there is only one facility available for senior football in Horwich, in Green Lane — a pitch Mr Morris describes as “of a very poor standard”.
It has also been revealed that a portion of the Green Lane playing fields has been earmarked for housing in Bolton Council’s most recent allocations plan that has been sent for inspection to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
But Bolton Council chiefs stressed the local authority was investing £1 million in playing fields, which will include drainage works at Green Lane.
In contrast to the senior football situation, junior football in the town is thriving, with more than 1,000 schoolchildren playing in matches every weekend.
But the question being asked is: Where will the children play when they turn 16?
Another of the group’s concerns is about major development plans for the area, including a 1,700 home estate on the site of the former Horwich Loco Works and a 140-house scheme on the Bolton College campus in Victoria Road.
If approved, they will bring many more sports people to the area — and the pressure on the town’s limited facilities could reach breaking point.
The Bolton College plans would also see the loss of another facility, as the college’s playing field would be developed for housing.
Another group member, Bob Horsefield, said: “Sporting facilities are being cut and disregarded to the detriment of the people of Horwich.
“In principle we welcome the proposed development at the Loco Works, but we need to be sure of what the impact of the development will be with regards to our community infrastructure.
“We want to promote the idea of space being made available within the constraints of the Loco Works development plan to accommodate a municipal sporting area, which could house a range of sporting clubs and other community driven ventures.”
At a recent meeting of Horwich Town Council, group member Steven Chadwick, aged 27, of Brownlow Road, presented an extensive list of about 20 playing spaces and facilities that he said were either no longer available for public use or are now not suitable for playing on.
He said: “It seems like Green Lane is the only area where senior football could take place and some of that could be built on.”
Horwich North East ward councillor Richard Silvester said he had objected to the Green Lane site going into the allocations plan.
He added: “I wasn’t listened to but I did object — I would recommend that that green space should be saved.”
In a statement, Bolton Council said it “regularly maintains all football pitches and recreation spaces” and that it “monitors them for any issues”.
A spokesman added: “We have significantly reduced the level of usage on council pitches since the Playing Pitch Strategy was last refreshed in 2007.
“With effect from 2010, the preferred level of usage on pitches has been reduced by a third, to two matches per week per pitch rather than the FA average standard of three matches per week.
“This has been possible because of investment in improved drainage on a number of other sites, bringing more pitches into use and also recognises Bolton’s local climatic conditions of high rainfall.”
- For more information on the activities of the group, follow friendsofhorwichfootball on Facebook.