TO train travellers between Manchester and Wigan, the reassuring presence of Crilly Park has been a regular feature to spot from the window since the sixties, but not so long ago, the club itself was approaching the end of the line.

Suspended by the North West Counties League in early 2019 and threatened with expulsion because of the debts accrued, the outlook was bleak for Rovers, who were also wrestling with a complex leasehold and dwindling crowds.

Five years on, and it’s full steam ahead. Plans for extended changing rooms are at an advanced stage, bills have been paid, lease resolved, a bright new coat of blue and yellow paint applied, and the residents of the Hag Fold estate invited to claim a free season ticket to come and watch the team try and win promotion after missing out by a single penalty kick last time around.

At the helm of the recovery effort, Shaun Lynch, a stalwart of football in the town, and a man proud to see progress being made on and off the club’s famous sloping pitch.

“When we first took over there was hardly any lease left, the North West Counties wanted to kick us out of the league for one thing or another, and we were up to our necks in debt, it was a really bad situation,” he told The Bolton News.

“But we have a really good group of volunteers and we’ve basically worked through it. We are debt free now and we can spend money on the changing rooms, fixing the clubhouse and one or two other things. It is a great place to be now.

“Most importantly we have a good team to watch now. We just missed out on promotion last season but onwards and upwards now, and the community is getting behind us.”

It is at that point that a ball from the warm-up whizzes past. The chairman breaks off from the interview and ducks down behind some wooden pallets to retrieve it.

“Thanks Shaun!” a chorus of voices reply from the pitch.

And that, in a nutshell, is the job. There aren’t many tasks that Lynch has not been asked to do in several years at LR, or in three decades with Atherton Town before that. “I wanted to jack it in when I left Atherton Town but people asked me to come here and help with a couple of things, so I ended up being manager for 18 months,” he said. “That was me done, I wanted to enjoy my life away from football, but then some of the committee members who are family friends came knocking on my door saying ‘if you don’t help us here, the club will probably fold,’ I couldn’t say no, really.

“That was five years ago. I played here as a junior, a senior, I’ve managed the team and now I’m the chairman, I’ll probably get buried on here as well.”

With the sun shining on Saturday afternoon, higher league opposition Bury ensuring a profitable gate and healthy queues for a burger from local butchers Gerrards and a well-stocked bar, it was easy to feel optimistic about the future for LR, who played well in a 1-0 defeat.

But sustaining their current momentum could hinge of the success of their plan to bring in more fans from the estate which encircles Crilly Park.

The club have made an open offer to local addresses to claim a free season ticket and have experienced an encouraging take up.

“We are up to about 100 so far,” said Lynch. “And that is going to make a big difference because those people might just come in and buy a pint and a pie, it all helps.

“Our average last season was about 150 and that was up on the previous season.

“This is the biggest council estate in Wigan and we need to tap into it. There are folk who don’t have lots of money, so if they want to watch a game for free, get involved, meet players and staff, we’re here.

“We want people to be talking about the club, knowing how we’re getting on.”

Rovers are working hard to produce their own, boasting seven junior teams, Under-16s, 17s and 21s, and also have a women’s team having recently brought East Leigh Diamonds under their umbrella, who play in the same division as the rebranded Bolton Wanderers side.

But David Jones has had to find replacements for Lewis Rawsthorn – who moved to Radcliffe and has now been loaned to FC United – and Cal Hunter, who between them contributed more than 50 goals in all competitions last season.

Hass Gorji and Tom Romano have been tasked with providing the firepower alongside Luke Nicholls, and Lynch is confident the team is in good hands with Jones, who at the age of just 24 was given his first senior managerial role last season.

“I think he’ll go higher and higher,” he said. “Right away from the interview he knew all about us, he’d done his homework.

“We’d got recommendations from Brian Richardson at FC United, who’d worked with him at Bootle, and he came across straight away as a manager, not a young man.

“He told us what he’d do, how he’d do it, what players he’d bring in – and he’s head and shoulders above anyone else I’ve employed here, being honest.”

To enquire about a free season ticket email or contact 07725 568764.