HE has been the best-kept secret in the West Lancashire League but the cat is out of the bag for Stoneclough.

The Fox Park club have, cunningly, kept their marquee signing of the year under wraps but it has now emerged that former Blackburn Rovers winger Ben Marshall has been in the ranks for the Division One promotion hopefuls.

Stoneclough’s players and coaches finally put the news out with a tongue-in-cheek announcement on social media on a stop-off on their return from Saturday’s match at Millom, a fixture they won 1-0 to keep their promotion bid on track.

And while club officials admit they were somewhat taken aback by the publicity it has generated, they are delighted to have a player with years of experience in the Championship in the squad, not least because of his character, free from airs and graces but bursting with enthusiasm for life a world away from English football’s second tier.

“It’s gone mad all of a sudden,” said club secretary Peter Conroy. “This has caused a real buzz, but he’s actually been with us since October, he is a local lad, from Swinton way, and he was mates with a few of the lads and just wanted to come down just to get fit.

“We had to contact Norwich City (Marshall’s former club) to get him released, which you never think you’ll have to do in amateur football, and we’ve had Sky Sports on wanting to cover the story too.

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“It is worth it though, he’s an unbelievable lad, he’s enjoyed his time with us so far, and he’s hardly missed a game for us. It’s great having him around.

“It’s so refreshing to see him, he’s a ‘human being’, not closeted away at all. He’s fitted in brilliantly, and obviously he’ll be free to leave whenever he wants or needs to for the sake of his career.

“We had to jump through a few hoops but he’s such a great lad to have around the place.”

There is no doubt Marshall – a target for Bolton Wanderers earlier this season – and his team are going great guns in Division One this season, as they are the nearest challengers to Lostock St Gerards, who have established a six-point gap and have two games in hand on Stoneclough.

And Conroy is confident they can collect enough points over their remaining eight games to ensure it is they who join the runaway leaders in the West Lancashire League’s top flight next season.

“We would be massively disappointed if we don’t make it into the Premier Division this season,” he added.