Simply the best at Ashton United

ASHTON UNITED’S owners, management team and players have been backed to bring the good times back to Hurst Cross in the not-too-distant future.

Luke Sayle, who became the Supporters’ Club chairman in 2022, has pointed to the ongoing developments off the pitch for the newfound belief and optimism.

A six-figure investment from joint-owners David Burke and Jonathan Sayer includes a complete revamp of the social club, amendments to the changing rooms and a brand-new kitchen to be opened shortly.

But manager Steve Cunningham has assembled a squad with vast amounts of quality to deliver the main objective this season – promotion to the National League North.

And there are certainly grounds for optimism in terms of promotion, as Steve, who was appointed as the manager a year ago, delivered the same success while managing Buxton in 2021.

Steve Cunningham

Now, with 12 months’ experience in the Ashton United dugout, the former Colne boss has reignited hopes of returning the club to the second tier for the first time in five years.

More importantly, the Robins’ manager has established a strong sense of unity across all areas of the club – unlike anything Luke has previously experienced.

Speaking to The Correspondent, he said: “The work Steve has done, along with the players, to bring the supporters closer to the team is the best I’ve ever seen at the club.

“We had a race night recently and all the players attended and spent time with the fans. At a lot of clubs, you’ll find that seats are reserved for players and managers – they’ll have their food and go home.

“Steve has a rule where every player must spend 45 minutes in the social club after every home fixture. Those relationships have continued to develop and are paying dividends.

“It’s played a part in why a few of our players attended our visit to the Children’s Ward at Tameside Hospital recently.

“Sean Newton, George Milner and Jake Ratcliffe, our goalkeeping coach, approached the Supporters’ Club and wanted to help – it wasn’t a case of us pleading with the players to do it. They were happy to do it and have fully backed the club’s principles.”

It is no secret that principles are, and always have been, a huge part of the club’s make-up.

While the players and management team honour their commitments both on and off the pitch, volunteers – described as the lifeblood of non-league football – also spend vast amounts of time to help the local community – specifically, under privileged and desperate residents in the Hurst area.

Ashton United in the Community, the club’s charitable arm, has established a food pantry in recent years amid the cost-of-living crisis, while members of the Supporters’ Club took it upon themselves to rally round and coordinate this year’s Toy Appeal.

In fact, funds previously used to pay for drinks and food during the festive period have instead been used to buy presents.

Luke added: “The club has supported the Tameside Toy Appeal for a number of years, but this time it was run by the Supporters’ Club.

“We would normally set aside some funds for a Christmas knees up and put money behind the bar for drink and food. We’ve ring fenced the funds and decided to buy presents instead.

“It’s not a sacrifice in our eyes – it’s something we’re more than happy to do as the club is a focal point of the local community and, in return, we want to support our local people.

Jonathan Sayer, Ashton United co-owner

“Unfortunately, due to the current situation, the numbers at our food pantry are growing by the week. We’ve passed the three-figure mark.

“Logistically, that has created a lot of problems for people who have to go out and source the food. The only positive to take from the situation is that we’ve managed to create a bigger community and got to know a lot more people around the area.

“So, although it’s a bad situation, it has inadvertently brought people closer together and increased the club’s visibility.”

Although the main focus is to gain promotion this season, the long-term plan, according to Luke, is to gradually entice a new crop of supporters to the club in the coming years.

However, achieving this will require a modern-day approach to football-related operations. Or, put simply, Hurst Cross needs to become an exciting hub for the local community throughout the week.

Luke says the owners tackled this issue as soon as they arrived and gave the social club, now rebranded as The Cross Bar, some much needed TLC.

He explained: “The work that’s happened in The Cross Bar and that environment that’s been created, we’ve been able to put on a lot of new events away from the football side of things.

“More people now see the club as more than just a football provider – it’s become a hub and place where people can congregate and socialise on various days of the week.

“The owners have invested more than six figures into the club. We’ve just had a brand-new kitchen built which will be open in January. We’ve had work done on the decking area and replaced it with astroturf and the changing rooms have been revamped to ensure the players have everything they need on a match day, with new showers and ice baths.

“Everything that’s being done is to ensure that the club can prosper and aligns with our goal of rising up the pyramid. From the board of directors and management team, to the players and fans, the goal is to get promoted. There are whispers floating about as to whether we can catch Radcliffe.

“Steve was in a similar position when he managed Buxton as they were chasing league leaders South Shields. He won that division a few years ago, so he’s well experienced in these situations. Spirits are certainly high, as is confidence, and that’s been reflected in the atmosphere on the terraces.

“It’s certainly the most exciting time in the club’s history, not just with the day-to-day plans but with the long-term vision put forward by the owners.

“It’s a steady, gradual process, but with a good balance of new and experienced fans and officials, it’s creating a really good dynamic and bodes well for the future.”

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