Formation and Grounds In the 1880’s the district of Witton, situated in the mid-Cheshire salt town of Northwich, had several different teams using the name ‘Witton’ as a prefix. The name Witton Albion itself can be traced back to a match played on October 26th 1887. No record of any matches has been found for 1889 and as such 1890 had long been regarded as the year when the current club was actually formed.
Albion’s first ground was adjacent to the Parish Church Vicarage. In 1897 they moved to Magdala Place near the Station Bridge. 1910 saw them move, paying the princely sum of £15 per annum, to a new ground adjacent to the Victoria Saw Mills just off Witton Street. July 1920 saw the club buy the ground outright for £750. Renamed appropriately the Central Ground, this was to be their home until 1989, when a Sainsbury’s Supermarket was developed on the site. The club then bought a 14 acre site off Chapel Street, Wincham and had the then very impressive Wincham Park stadium built. To secure the club’s future, much of the surrounding land was sold off, nevertheless it remains amongst the better non-league grounds in the country.
Leagues and Honours
Witton Albion entered the Northwich & District League in 1892 before quickly moving to the Crewe & District Junior League and then to the Cheshire League where their first ever championship was secured in 1896-97. 1901-02 saw Witton spreading their wings as they joined The Combination where the opposition consisted of the likes of Bangor, Burslem Port Vale, Chester, Tranmere Rovers, Wellington (now Telford) and Wrexham.
A move to the Manchester League was made for 1904-05 where they played Altrincham, Macclesfield, Hyde, Buxton and Northwich Victoria on a regular basis. As leagues became stronger and stronger Witton decided to join the Lancashire Combination in 1912 and the decision was rewarded the following season when they carried off the 2nd Division championship. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of World War One, Albion only had one season in the top flight, finishing a respectable 10th.
Following the war Witton Albion became one of the founder members of the Cheshire County League. It was not though until after the Second World War that championship honours were achieved. The following ten years saw them arguably become one of the best non-league sides in the country. They won the league three times with the league and cup double attained in 1953-54. They were also League and Cup runners-up during this period as well as a long spell of consecutive appearances in the Proper Rounds of the FA Cup.
Witton were denied founder membership of the Northern Premier League due to the entry qualification relating to the season two prior to the formation and so had to battle on before eventually gaining promotion, when finishing Cheshire County League runners-up in 1978-79. They almost won the NPL at the first attempt but were pipped by Mossley by just one point. The second season after moving to Wincham Park saw them as runaway champions with a sixteen point margin over Stalybridge Celtic.
Season 1991-92 therefore saw them compete with the cream of the non-league world in the Football Conference. Cheltenham Town, Colchester United, Dagenham & Redbridge, Macclesfield Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Yeovil Town, future Football League clubs, were amongst their opponents in the three year spell as members. The end of the 1993-94 season saw the club relegated, for the first time in their history. With the club’s much publicised financial problems the end of the 1996-97 season brought a further relegation to the NPL First Division. Finding eventual stability, the club finished comfortably in the top half in the succeeding seasons. In 1999-2000 Witton were only denied promotion on goal difference when they finished level on points with both Accrington Stanley and Burscough, along the way only suffering four defeats!
A fifth place finish in 2003-04 ultimately, under the re-construction of the Non-League pyramid, earned Albion a place back in the NPL Premier Division. 2007 saw the tightest ever finish in the NPL’s 39 year history with Albion missing automatic promotion by just one goal and then losing to AFC Telford in the play-off final in front of a Wincham Park crowd of 2,281. Albion suffered a similar fate the following season, with the title seemingly won, a tremendous run from Fleetwood dashed hopes of automatic promotion before Witton this time lost at the play-off semi-final stage.
After finishing runners-up for two consecutive seasons in the Premier Division, the failure to secure promotion saw a mass exodus of management and players from the club with all but two squad players departing, only stalwart Brian Pritchard and the popular striker (and Manchester United & England masseuse) Rod Thornley remaining! Nigel Deeley, previously the popular assistant, was the unanimous choice as the new manager with the task of rebuilding the playing squad.
After seven points from an opening nine, the manager’s fortunes changed and after a run of nine consecutive defeats the board decided to appoint former manager Gary Finley in his place. Finley and assistant Lee Coathup (a member of the Wembley FA Trophy squad in 1992) looked to have steered Albion away from relegation before only three points gained from the final eight games saw Witton slump to third from bottom and relegation to the NPL Division 1 South.
The 2009-10 season saw Witton travel more than 3,000 miles in a mixed league campaign. Ever present in the top half of the table Witton touched the summit and appeared to be putting together a side capable of returning at the first time of asking to the Premier Division. Lack of consistency, injuries (including a bad leg break to striking hero Mike Moseley) and a high turnover of players ultimately lead to the club missing out on the play-offs by six points and finishing seventh in the league. manager Gary Finley departed on the final day of the season.
In May 2010 Witton appointed the experienced Paul Ogden as manager. With more than 40 years management experience his appointment was part of an overall restructure of the club’s football activities by chairman Mark Harris and the board. Former fan’s favourite Dave MacPherson returned to the club as assistant player/manager, moving up later in the season when Paul Ogden relinquished his role, whilst Brian Pritchard stepped up to the position of assistant player/manager following a record breaking previous season where he increased his number of games for the club to well over the 700 mark!
At the end of the 2010-11 season and with Dave MacPherson’s departed, Brian Pritchard was appointed manager with Mike Moseley his assistant and Nigel Deeley was added onto the coaching team. These full members saw their just rewards along with the rest of the ‘Witton Family’ when their charges won both their play-off semi and final 3-0 to earn their place back in the NPL Premier Division for season 2012-13. With virtually the same squad the following season, the team achieved a marvelous fourth place position only to be beaten at FC United of Manchester in the play-off semi-final. Season 2013-14 however saw a very different scenario as the team skirted around the relegation positions for a good while until early March when a good set of results saw them eventually finish in 16th spot.
On the 2014 August Bank Holiday, manager Brian Pritchard made the shock announcement that he was leaving the club after a total of 19 years with Witton. A massive decision for him but with his work commitments, together with his personal life to consider, then the club very reluctantly accepted his resignation. Anthony Sheehan stepped up from his role of Player Coach to manage the club and initially results went his way but a disastrous run of defeats saw him leave. Tony Sullivan was brought in from Cammell Laird at the beginning of October charged with ensuring Premier Division status was maintained. It took over four months to finally establish a run of good results and by the end of March the team were finally out of the drop zone. April though brought just a single point from six matches the final one being at Stamford when 2-0 up at half-time against fellow relegation candidate an awful second period consigned the team to the First Division.
Tony Sullivan duly stepped away but the club was able to take advantage of NPL First Division South Norton United’s sad demise to recruit their manager Scott Dundas along with almost his total backroom staff and a sizable contingent of players. However, just two months into the campaign and following a poor set of results Dundas and his staff were relieved of their duties leaving Paul Ogden to step in once more along with stalwart Terry Murphy to take temporary charge of team affairs prior to the appointment of former player Carl Macauley who along with his assistant Gary Martindale were the management team at Conference North Vauxhall Motors until the club’s resignation.
They thankfully succeeded in steadying the ship and despite the club once again being forced to change regional divisions, set about recruiting their own team, both on and off the field. Their dedication certainly paid off in 2016-17 when, in practically any other scenario picking up nigh on 100 points and scoring 100 goals along the way would secure automatic promotion, the team won their play-off games against AFC Rushden & Diamonds and Spalding United to regain their place back in the NPL’s top flight.
Witton Albion first made it into the Proper Rounds of the FA Cup in 1948. Since then they have figured in the First Round draw a further twelve times. On three occasions further progress to Round Two has been made, 1951, 1953 and 1991. The latter being as a result of Witton defeating Football League opposition for the one and only time – Halifax Town in a replay at the Shay. When Albion met Bolton Wanderers in 1990 it was to be the main BBC TV’s Match of the Day. Barry Davies was in attendance and despite atrocious weather and pitch conditions the crowd of 3,784 plus the millions who tuned in saw Witton not be overawed. The soon to be promoted Wanderers, their then manager Phil Neal together with the 800 visiting fans departed much relieved with their 2-1 victory.
In the 2011-12 season’s FA Cup Albion won through four rounds, accounting for higher ranked Marine and Altrincham along the way before giving Conference outfit Barrow the fright of their lives in a pulsating encounter in front of a 860 home crowd. The past three seasons though has seen the team only register one win and thus miss out not only on cup glory but any vital prize monies.
In the FA Trophy the three seasons of 1990-91, 91-92 and 92-93 truly stand out as Witton became the first team to make three successive semi-final appearances. 1992 culminated in them making it to Wembley Stadium, where they encountered a powerful Colchester United who had already secured promotion back into the Football League. The crowd that day, in excess of 32,000, were joined by a massive TV audience when Sky TV relayed the whole of the final, for the very first time. Witton had defeated Colchester the previous season at Layer Road and so revenge was very much the order of the day. Mike Lutkevitch gave the 5,000 strong following hope with his looping header, after Albion had trailed 0-2, but a late goal won the game for the Essex side.
Last season saw the team’s best performance in a decade, notching up very impressive wins over higher ranked Kettering Town and Boston United before losing out in very controversial circumstances to National League Chester FC after a replayed First Round tie.
The Cheshire County FA Senior Cup has been won by Witton eleven times since 1902 and they have been beaten finalists on ten occasions. The 90’s decade saw them carry off the trophy in 1995 and 1996 together with three further appearances in the Final. 2004 saw us again contest the Final with World media coverage and exposure following a certain ‘sending-off’ incident. The 2006 Final saw Albion, with several Reserve team players drafted in defeat odds on favourites Stalybridge Celtic 2-0. Since then though we have only been able to make it as far as the semi-final stage three times.
A number of former Witton Albion players have also appeared in the Football League; Geoff Horsfield (Scunthorpe, Leeds, Leicester, Sheffield Utd, West Bromwich Albion, Wigan, Fulham & Birmingham City), Andy Oakes (Darlington, Swansea, Walsall, Bolton, Derby, Port Vale and Hull), John Doolan (Rochdale, Blackpool, Doncaster, Barnet and Mansfield) and Shaun Whalley (Accrington Stanley, Wrexham, Luton, Shrewsbury).
One of Non-League’s top goalscorers and one time the holder of the most expensive Non-League transfer fee, Carl Alford (Macclesfield Town, Kettering Town, Rushden & Diamonds, Stevenage Borough, Doncaster Rovers, Yeovil Town, Nuneaton Borough) also gave his career a massive boost when he moved on from Wincham Park, having played for us in that Wembley FA Trophy Final.
In 2005-06 Crewe’s Nicky Maynard had a seven week spell on loan to us, upon his return he quickly earned a 1st team place and began scoring freely for the Alex before a £2m plus fee took him to Bristol City before signing for Premiership bound West Ham United whilst four seasons back he overcame a long term injury before helping to take Cardiff City into the Premiership before joining MK Dons in 2015.
Shaun Miller, now at Carlisle United via Sheffield United, Coventry City and Morecambe, also returned to Crewe following a loan spell early in 2007 and completed the end of that season as a 1st team player and goalscorer. Our 2011/12 season’s “Player of the Season” Alex Titchiner was snapped up by then then new Football League outfit Fleetwood Town during the 2012 summer and spent quite some time on loan at FC Halifax Town helping them secure promotion.
Some previous players since the mid-1960’s include Chris Nicholl (Aston Villa, Southampton, Northern Ireland), Peter Mellor (Burnley and Fulham – their goalkeeper in the FA Cup Final), Neil Parsley (Huddersfield and West Brom), Peter Henderson (Chester and Gillingham), Mark McCarrick (Birmingham and Tranmere), Phil Power (Crewe and Macclesfield), Dave Carrick (Preston, Port Vale, Wrexham), Mark Leonard (Everton, Stockport, Wigan, Rochdale, Crewe), Grenville Millington (Chester and Wales) and local talented player Mike Whitlow (Leeds, Leicester, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United).
Another locally born and bred midfield player, Colin Rose, won caps in 1996 when called into the England semi-pro International squad whilst Andy Lee, John Davison and David Constantine retained their places in the England team, after moving to Witton from their previous clubs. In 2007-08 Liam Brownhill was chosen as the only non-league player below the Conference to feature in the England ‘C’ team in their two European Championship matches.
In no particular order, other familiar names to appear in Albion’s colours over the past thirty years or so, include: Nigel Gleghorn (Ipswich, Man City, Stoke, Birmingham), Kevin Langley (Everton, Wigan), Ray Wallace (Southampton, Leeds Utd), Ray Ranson (Man City, Everton, Newcastle), Goalkeeper John Burridge, Arthur Albiston (Man Utd), Nicky Reid (Man City, West Brom), Tony Henry (Man. City), Neil McNab (Tottenham, Bolton, Man. City), Billy Garton (Man Utd), Scott McGarvey (Man Utd), Mark Lillis (Aston Villa, Man.City), Brendan Batson (Arsenal, Cambridge, West Brom), Frank Carrodus (Man. City, Aston Villa), Drew Brand (Everton) and Micky Mellon (Tranmere, Blackpool, Burnley, Bristol City) and Ken Barnes (Man City). Ex-Busby Babe Denis Violett, England and Lancashire fast bowler Ken Higgs plus star local comedian John Bishop are amongst others who’ve appeared for the club over the years.