Horwich are coming home to lay down their roots
HORWICH RMI are coming home.
Fourteen years after leaving the town to become Leigh RMI, a football team will be playing in Horwich under the famous old name from next season.
Horwich RMI played at the famously sloping Grundy Hill from being formed at the turn of the century until 1994 when the ground was sold for housing development and the club moved to ground share with Leigh Centurions Rugby League Club at Hilton Park.
Two years later, John Sumner and his son, Paul, pictured below, got together with the RMI Social and Recreation Club and set up a new Horwich RMI.
The lack of suitable pitches in Bolton, however, meant they had to start life in the Bolton Combination playing in Eccles, where they have been ever since.
But, after playing at Brookhouse playing fields for the last 11 seasons - the last 10 of them in the Lancashire Amateur League - they have finally found a home in Horwich.
Years of planning, negotiating and fundraising have come to fruition in the form of two pitches and good quality facilities on playing fields on the Hilton estate where they have negotiated a 25-year lease with Bolton Council.
The Football Foundation and the football club have ploughed equal amounts of money into the project, the club raising money from the sale of land at the Chorley New Road social club to build flats.
Once the drainage work has been done, the pitches will be ready and Horwich RMI will finally be back in town.
One welcome absence will be the big slope which made Grundy Hill a difficult place to play football.
"The new pitches are nice and flat, and I'm glad about that," said John who is first team manager as well as co-founder of the club.
"We've got two pitches, changing rooms and showers at the ground, and a good car park.
"Assuming the drainage is fine, the pitches will be as good as any around, and the rest of the facilities will be as good as anything in the town, without question.
"The main drainage is done. We just have a bit more work to do before we can play on it at the beginning of next season."
The acquisition of such impressive facilities is reward for years of hard work and a determination to get a Horwich RMI team back in Horwich. "It has always been the motivation to get Horwich RMI Football Club back into Horwich," said John who is steeped in local football, running teams on his own at first and then with his son, Paul.
"I have been running teams since the days of the Bolton Sports Federation. I started in the Horwich League in the 1960s, then in the Bolton Sports Fed with St Luke's.
"I helped out at Lever Rangers in the Combination, then we went to Rivington.
"When that ended, we were looking around to start a team and when we heard that Horwich RMI Recreation Club was looking to start up a team, we approached them.
"They had lost Horwich RMI a couple of years earlier, and football had been a large part of the town.
"The RMI club obviously wanted to keep the name going in the town as a football team and they gave us enough money to get started. From then on we have been self funded.
"There were no pitches in Bolton that the league would accept because they weren't good enough.
"We had played on these pitches at Eccles when we had been in the Combination and we knew how good they were so we applied and got one no problem. And we have been there ever since.
"They are not too far away and they've been good. But we won't be sorry to leave because the motivation has always been to play in Horwich.
"The good thing about playing in Eccles is that you don't have games called off like they do in Bolton."
John is full of praise for the part Bolton Council have played in helping them achieve their ambition.
"It has taken years to get to this stage and we had a lot of help from John Gorton at Bolton Council."
The club has three senior teams, all in the Lancashire Amateur League, with the first team in the Premier Division where they are satisfied with their mid-table position in their first season in the top flight.
"This season our ambition was to maintain our Premier Division status and, hopefully, to be able to attract more players," said John.
"We've done better than we expected, so we're pleased, and we had two players in the inter-league team last week."
RMI have made constant progress in their short existence. But there is one big thing missing - a trophy.
They were promoted as runners-up in Division Two in 2000. Three seasons later they lost the final of the First Xl Cup to a golden goal in extra time.
The next year they lost in the final of the Supplementary Cup and last season they were promoted as runners-up in Division One.
"We have done really well," said John. "It's just missing that trophy."
"We've come so close but not quite made it.
"The biggest disappointment was losing the cup final to a golden goal because it is a really cruel way to lose a cup final."
Despite being ambitious and eager for success and to develop the club, John is firm in his belief that it is wrong to pay players at amateur level.
He said: "The ethos of the club is to promote amateur football. I don't agree with paying players because once you start down that road, where does it end?
"Players will come for the money, but when the money runs out they'll leave. I don't think that's the way to run an amateur football club."
Instead, RMI take a long-term approach to achieving success, and are pleased with the strength of the junior set-up they started a few years ago.
Colin Myers started it with the same initiative and drive that John and Paul showed to set up the senior side.
"Colin came to us and suggested the idea," said John.
"He started it and he runs that side of things.
"He has done a fantastic job. I can't praise him enough.
"We thought it would be good to have junior players in the club so they would come through and we wouldn't have to go out and find seniors players.
"The idea is to have a production line and we'll have to wait and see if that's what happens."
They still have a few years to wait, as the oldest age group only plays at under-12s level.
But there is every chance of that production line, with 16 teams currently competing in junior leagues at every age group from under-5s upwards, with two teams in each age group, bearing fruit.
And, with one eye on tradition, they all have names which pay homage to the town's railway industry, such as the Steamers, the Engines, the Diesels and, the first junior team the club set up, the Rockets.