Hurst Green pitch in together

Neale Brown, Ian Burton and Barry Bolton at Hurst Green’s pitch

Neale Brown, Ian Burton and Barry Bolton at Hurst Green’s pitch

First published in Sport

BARRY Bolton is a purposeful, friendly and energetic man.

The handshake is firm and talking to him you sense a huge enjoyment of his career which he wants to share.

Born and bred in the village, he was the greenkeeper at Stonyhurst Park Golf Club for 30 years and now, in semi-retirement, measures out his life in time spent at Smithy Row, Hurst Green’s neat and tidy ground.

“I’m down here every day, I love the place,” said the 67-year-old, who has seen three generations of the family – including himself – play for the amateur club.

“I’ve looked after the pitch for half a century and I never get fed up of doing it.

“We’d rent the pitch off the local farmer for £85 a season and then he’d put his cows back on.

“It was just a soggy meadow then really. Twenty years ago all we had was a pitch.”

It is hard to imagine now as Barry brushes his hand over the lush turf, a pitch any groundsman in the Football League would be proud to call home, never mind in the modest foothills of the West Lancashire League.

“I got a call the other night to say there was a sheep grazing in the penalty box,” he smiled.

“The sheep up here are like race horses, they can jump anything.

“But clubs turn up here and go ‘wow’ this pitch is beautiful. That makes me very proud.”

We sat in the visitors’ dug out and talked about the incredible rise and rise of this delightful village club.

A glimpse sideways down the valley and across the rolling fields, the summit of Pendle Hill glows almost crimson in the late summer sunshine.

Straight ahead are the spires of Stonyhurst College, while the swallows dive and chatter over the chimney pots of the cottage at the end of Smithy Row, where Rugby World Cup winning star Will Greenwood spent his youth.

His father Dick, who also wore the Three Lions, taught geography at the Jesuit College.

Greenwood junior once famously said he would swap his England World Cup winning medal for a chance to play up front for Hurst Green.

Greenwood said: “People ask me if I have any regrets in life?

“Just one – that I never wore the Hurst Green Football Club shirt. Really. That’s how much it means to me. I was always looking over our garden fence going,’Go on give us a shout – pick me’ Chairman Neale Brown, a local joiner, is Hurst Green’s man for all seasons and Barry’s son-in-law.

He played for the club throughout career before taking the manager’s seat from 1999-2006.

“Will Greenwood is our number one fan and we were incredibly proud when he said that,” he said.

“Will did a sportsman’s dinner for us at Longridge, and Brian Ashton, the former England coach was there too.

“It raised £7,000 and that helped the club gain admission to the West Lancashire League with the ground improvements that we made.

“He has played a huge role. We are going to arrange a friendly so that he can live his dream of playing for Hurst Green.”

When Hurst Green resigned from the East Lancashire Football League in 2012, they needed just one term in the West Lancashire League to make their presence felt, winning the Division Two title in splendid style. Last season, they finished third, narrowly missing out on successive promotions and were also runners-up in the West Lancs Football League Presidents Cup.

“The players pay a fiver to play and somehow it seems more real than the way the professional game has gone over the last few years,” said vice chairman Ian Barton, who was still playing for the first X1 at 43.

It is, without doubt, a very home grown success. When they lifted the League Two championship with a draw at Bolton County, the village restaurant, the Bayley Arms sponsored the team bus.

“The thing is, everybody chips in, you have to at this level and there’s no prima donnas out on the field,” added Barton.

“There’s a real village spirit here and our two life members, Peter Hayhurst and Barry Bolton, who’ve done one hundred years service between them, epitomizes what we are about and they make it very easy to run the club.”

There’s brickies, teachers, carpenters and even a local singer – Chris Scott – in the Hurst Green ranks, while manager Graeme Seedall has worked the promotion oracle, building a durable, hard to beat outfit.

Stephen Young and Andy Holden guided the reserves to promotion, while this season they have launched an U18 team.

“Graeme’s record speaks for itself, and his recruitment of players has been phenomenal”, added Barton. “To be where we are in the non-league pyramid is a fantastic achievement.

“One day we’d love to play in the West Lancs Premier League, and have a derby day with Longridge Town.”

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