12 April 2018
Swinton Lions Chairman Andy Mazey returns in his monthly column to address the Lions’ disappointing start to the season, discusses how supporters are directly improving the playing squad and provides an update on the Agecroft project.
It has been a disappointing start to the 2018 campaign for the Lions.
After ten bruising rounds of the Betfred Championship, Swinton sit bottom of the league table, still looking for their opening win of the season.
“Disappointing is an understatement, despite the ongoing progress being made away from the pitch it feels like one step forward two steps back on it. The Easter period can make or break teams and Stuart, the board and I firmly believed our efforts against Leigh and Barrow would galvanise the boys. I honestly thought that we had turned the corner and we would beat Sheffield.
“Sadly we reverted to killing ourselves with basic errors and despite having enough good ball to win the game we failed to capitalise on a great opportunity to pick up two points. The margins for error have now gone and we need to start to learn quickly with some must win games not far around the corner now if we are to stay in this division.”
Swinton have had a testing fixture list at the start of the 2018 Championship season, having faced the current top four teams in the division within the opening seven rounds of the competition. With sections of supporters vocally disheartened by the Lions campaign thus far, Andy points to how far the club have come in the past year but accepts that the team is capable of producing much better on the pitch.
“We need to start to learn quickly with some must win games not far around the corner now if we are to stay in this division”
“The majority, I would like to think, fully understand the situation we find ourselves in this year and appreciate the model we are operating. We have had to prioritise stabilising the club, but people probably don’t fully understand just how little we have had to put a squad together. We don’t make excuses though and performances haven’t be consistent or good enough and I believe we have assembled a squad capable of more and we have not yet reached the levels or achieved the results we are capable of.”
After an improved performance against Leigh Centurions and spirited draw away at Barrow Raiders, things were looking up for the 151-year-old club as they headed into a crunch clash against fellow Championship strugglers Sheffield Eagles. However, a late Simon Brown drop-goal condemned the Lions to their ninth defeat of the season.
“While the Sheffield result was very disappointing we still have destiny in our own hands and nothing is yet won or lost so we have to move on and learn the lessons.”
“I was in awe of our travelling army recently at Barrow, so much so that it cost me a new pair of shoes and a dry cleaning bill to run across the pitch and thank them”
It is maybe testament to the positivity that the new regime has brought in to the club during the off-season, that Swinton fans have been frustrated by the club’ season so far. Andy, who regular converses with fans on social media and during games, asks for patience and confidence.
“I truly believe that if every single one of our supporters can not only stick with us but also convince more people in and around the town to come along and support us, then we will slowly, but surely, get back to where this great club once was and will be a force to be reckoned with once again. I’ve said it before but please remember this is a marathon not a sprint and the long term future will no longer be jeopardised by short term objectives.
“Ive always maintained it was the respect for the supporters efforts that sold this club to me. I believe when it really matters they will be our eighteenth man once again. Its up to the seventeen taking the field each week to show the same pride and passion for this club as the supporters do.
“On that subject I was in awe of our travelling army recently at Barrow, so much so that it cost me a new pair of shoes and a dry cleaning bill to run across the pitch and thank them.”
NEW LIONS IN THE PRIDE
The club made several new signings in the off-season and this has continued into the new campaign, most recently this week with the announcement of the signature of young half-back Brad Billsborough as well as the capture of forward Levy Nzoungou on loan from Salford Red Devils. Andy believes this further evidence that the club is building for the future on the pitch, as well as off it.
19-year-old Brad, a product of the St. Helens Academy, had left Whitehaven owing to travelling difficulties and the Lions acted quickly to bring him to Heywood Road.
“Brad is an ambitious young man with a first class attitude and a genuine willingness to work hard”
“Brad is a player with great potential who has a growing reputation having been a stand out performer in a first class St Helens structure at both academy and reserve grade levels in recent years. He has continued his development in Championship One this year with Whitehaven and following his release he attracted lots of attention from a host of Championship clubs.
“To have secured his signature is testament to the way our club is now being run and perceived. It all happened very quickly but having met Stuart and myself, I’m delighted that both Brad and his father believed that Swinton Lions is the best place for him to continue his development. Brad is an ambitious young man with a first class attitude and a genuine willingness to work hard and make the required sacrifices to fulfil his ambitions. This is exactly the kind of attitude we are looking for at this club as we build for the future.”
On securing the loans of Levy Nzoungou and Gavin Bennion, who has impressed in his six appearances for the club so far, Andy said, “I speak with Ian Blease over at Salford regularly and had scheduled a call first thing on Tuesday morning following our game with Barrow on Easter Monday to discuss Gavin Bennion’s future. Having lost Andy Bracek leading into the Barrow game through injury and with Josh Barlow facing a three game suspension, securing a new deal for Gavin was an absolute priority.”
“As these things often do one conversation led to another and I became aware of Levy’s availability. Stuart was keen to add to his middle options and we moved quickly to get a deal done ahead of some big games coming up in the next few weeks. Levy has great leg speed and strength and is a real hard-hitting and enthusiastic forward who has the potential to excite our supporters.”
PRIDE BUILDER FUND
In a competitive league with a huge financial disparity between the full-time and part-time clubs, acquiring talented players to improve the playing squad can often depend on the flexibility of the club’s budget. Following the instability of last year, the club’s finances are now run more stringently, which can often make this harder for Andy and Stuart Littler to work in the market.
To help assist, some members of the club’s dedicated fanbase have taken it upon themselves to generate funds in support of improving the club’s playing staff. The Chairman clarifies his position on this supporter-driven initiative.
“In short the answer is I don’t have an official position. Like everyone else I picked up on some conversations on social media a few weeks ago when it was first mentioned. Having discussed with the board I publicly offered the club’s full backing if someone was willing to pick the ball up and run with it. This has now happened which is fantastic.
“I would like to congratulate everyone who has so far committed to a contribution”
“Pride Builder Fund as its now been christened is completely supporter driven and will be managed by supporter representatives. It’s really encouraging to be in a position whereby we are no longer sending round the begging bowl to pay off unpaid taxes and firefighting and we are in a far more stable position so supporters generous donations can now contribute directly to new players and improving the squad.
“I would like to congratulate everyone who has so far committed to a contribution and offer big thank you to Liam Blakemore and Peter Taylor who have campaigned for this on social media and of course David Roberts, Tim Fensome and Rhys Griffiths who have now stepped up to manage the whole process moving forward.”
‘OUR POSITION HAS NOT CHANGED’
Six months have passed since Andy announced a partnership with amateur football club Moorside Rangers on an initiative to work together on an exciting project aiming to develop the Agecroft playing field site into a community sports facility and stadium. The Lions have played at six different venues (Gigg Lane, Moor Lane, The Willows, Leigh Sports Village, Park Lane and current home Heywood Road) since leaving their beloved Station Road in 1992 and any fan or follower of the club supports the return of the club to it’s home town.
Whilst being keen to provide an exciting update, Andy admits it’s still currently slow and steady progress, “There’s not a great deal of progress to report at I’m afraid. I will however take this opportunity to put any unfounded rumours to bed and assure our supporters that our position has not changed and that we remain fully committed to the partnership with Moorside Rangers and developing the Agecroft site.
“We have had some encouraging recent dialogue with Moorside’s Vice Chairman and our relationship which is built on trust and mutual respect remains strong and we shall be getting together again early in May. Ahead of this meeting we have held internal project team meetings and have developed a clear agenda to close out a few areas of concern which we have from our side.
“Our position has not changed and that we remain fully committed to the partnership with Moorside Rangers and developing the Agecroft site”
Once in a position to start the development, the project will be begin with a new dressing room block being built first, followed later by a 4G pitch. This will be followed by supporter and integral facilities that can be added progressively. Despite the project still being in it’s initial stages, The Lions’ Chairman reiterates his and the board’s commitment to the project.
“It remains our intention to fully support Moorside’s efforts which are absolutely vital in unlocking the football related funding, which will be required to begin the crucial early stages of development of what will be a community sports facility that adds value to the M27 area and will serve as the new home of Swinton Lions.”
Written by Chris Bell