Continuing our series of discussions with new and returning members of the NWCFL, we have caught up this week with Skelmersdale United Vice Chairman, Gordon Johnson. The 2023/24 season will be a fairly unceremonious return to the NWCFL for Skem, who actually finished mid-table in last season’s NPL Division One West, but were relegated for ground grading issues. Their artificial pitch at JMO Sports Park (the ground they used in their 2021/22 NWCFL promotion season) failed a "bounce test", and the ground they shared at fellow NWCFL Prem side Burscough was graded at Step 5. After a turbulent summer of key figure departures and home venue complications, I was able to speak to Gordon about everything that’s been going on over the last couple of months at the club.
From reading your interview with the Liverpool Echo, it sounds like it’s been an arduous summer at Skem – tell me a bit about the work that has been done to save the club.
An arduous summer would be a mild way of describing it, to be honest. Having only been invited to join the board at the club during the off-season twelve months ago to take on the role of Chairman, the mass exodus of committee members at the end of last season was certainly a shock. The reasons for the departures can only be described by the individuals themselves I suppose, but what was apparent was the root and branch review that was needed in the structure and running of the club. That is still a work in progress but I’m confident that the new structure and business model that we’re currently putting in place will absolutely benefit the club going forwards. As part of that process, Frank Hughes has rejoined the board of directors and will be taking over the role of company Chairman, and I will continue as Vice Chairman and look after the club football committee. We now have an executive committee in place that is working strategically moving forwards, and a football committee concentrating on just that - the week-to-week matchday organisation of the club and our fixtures.
For now, will you remain at Burscough’s Victoria Park?
Yes, we have another twelve-month groundshare agreement in place at Burscough FC and I must thank Paul Gilchrist, chairman of Burscough FC, for his support, whilst we continue our efforts off the field to get the club playing back in Skelmersdale at the earliest opportunity – back where we belong.
You’ve also recently appointed a new manager - what made you decide to go with Matt Potter?
When our previous manager left unexpectedly in the close season, having previously pledged himself to the role for the 2023/24 season, we quickly advertised our vacancy but also enlisted consultancy support in identifying a possible new manager for the team. Matt was very highly recommended from this, having just taken AFC Liverpool to their highest ever finish in the NWCFL, with a reputation of playing entertaining and exciting football. I also knew Matt from my time working at Liverpool County FA, and know of the fantastic work he had been involved in as a coaching tutor over there, so he was an ideal fit for us. This appointment also continues in our previous philosophy of giving new and younger managers an opportunity in the game. Matt is also a West Lancashire resident, a local to Skelmersdale, and he has bought into our ethos and strategy for taking the club forwards in the long term.
As well as the appointment of the new gaffer, there’s plenty more hands on deck when running a club like this. Talk to me about how important the volunteer work you have is, as well as the impact that the fans have.
Volunteers are key to the survival of clubs and the work they do for Skelmersdale United is immeasurable. We have a small core of matchday and committee volunteers who have stuck with us from last season and have been actively involved in our preparations for the season ahead. Together with them we also have a couple of new volunteers who are keen supporters of the club and have jumped on board at the opportunity to play an active role in the way things are run. Despite being temporarily displaced from our hometown, we still ration a small but ‘hardcore’ group of supporters happy to follow the club whilst playing slightly further out of town, and the impact they had on the team last season will hopefully carry over with our return to the NWCFL.
How does your pre-season schedule look?
We’ve actually left it to our new manager to structure his own pre-season plans which, on the face of it, appears to be going well so far. Like most managers operating at this level of football, Matt has a core group of players he wants to bring to the club but has also held open trials looking to bring in others too. The plan is to assess these players, both in training and in a variety of fixtures throughout July in order to be fully ready for the start of the league campaign on the 29th. We’ve already had a couple of games against Ashton Town and Chorley FC, with further friendlies lined up against Asheville, Winstanley Warriors, Atherton LR, Clay Brow, Prestatyn Town and MSB Woolton. We’ve got a structured plan to play against clubs from a variety of levels.
Last season was fairly comfortable in terms of on-field results for Skem – how confident does that make you ahead of the new season in the NWCFL?
To be fair, last season the team punched well above its weight. We were operating on one of the lowest budgets in that league, which is an absolute credit to our previous manager, coaching staff and, of course, the players themselves. As a consequence of this though, the whole of last year’s squad, more or less, have been snapped up by clubs in the Northern Premier League. As a result, Matt is faced with the reality of building a team from scratch for the season ahead. However, I’m still very confident of competing and being a team to be reckoned with during the coming campaign. As to whether we’ll be in the running for honours, we certainly hope so, but with teams in the league again operating on much bigger budgets than us, that remains to be seen. That’s the reality of being displaced and not having our home base in Skem, unfortunately.
The NWCFL is a league that Skem are familiar with, and one that you know how to get out of - what are your expectations for the 2023/24 campaign?
I think I’ve probably covered this in my last answer, but suppose our expectations are certainly to be there or thereabouts in the league and hopefully some cup success too. We actually started out last season by winning the NWCFL Chairman’s Cup Final in pre-season, which gave the team a real pick-up at the start of proceedings. That certainly helped us early doors. So yes, a little cup success again this season would be very nice.
As much as I'm sure that this situation isn't what Skem fans would have hoped for, from the league's perspective, it's a pleasure to have them back, and we wish them the best for the upcoming campaign.
Image credit: Twitter - @skemutdofficial, 14/06/2023