Penwortham have Northern League ambitions

Match action from last weekend's game between Vernon Carus and South Shore in the Palace ShieldMatch action from last weekend's game between Vernon Carus and South Shore in the Palace Shield
Match action from last weekend's game between Vernon Carus and South Shore in the Palace Shield
Penwortham captain Ashley Billington revealed the club has a burning ambition to play in the Northern League.

The Moore and Smalley Palace Shield outfit has watched old foes such as Longridge, Garstang and Fulwood and Broughton move on to play in the higher league in recent seasons after promotion and relegation was introduced a few years back.

Those three clubs have more than held their own after making the step up with Garstang, for instance, finishing runners-up in 2019 while Longridge currently lead they way at the top of the table after a faultless start to the campaign.

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Having being perennial challengers in the Palace Shield around a decade ago, Penwortham have been in the doldrums somewhat in recent weeks.

But a bright start to this campaign saw them win their opening two games of the season, although that unblemished record was ruined last weekend when they were narrowly beaten by Eccleston.

However, Billington believes the club’ may start to see its investment in youth in recent years bear fruit this season and he has targeted claiming one of the two promotion places on offer this season.

“One of the goals I set which would have been a couple of years ago now was to try to get into the Northern League within three years,” said Billington, whose team travel to Croston this weekend.

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“It is something which we aspire to and it would be another step in the right direction and it would certainly align us on the pitch with what’s going on off it.”

Billington believes the fact that Penwortham have played over the years without an overseas amateur has benefited the team in general.

“We have never had an overseas amateur like other clubs in the Palace Shield,” said Billington.

“We have tried to get one but for numerous reasons, Covid being one this year, we have never had one.

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“So I think we are kind of seeing the difference now where we have never had one, we have actually grown and got stronger as a team.

“That is in comparison to other teams in the Palace shield who have been able to have an overseas amateur in previous years but have not been able to get one this year because of Covid.

“I think if we were able to bring an overseas amateur in it would add to the overall quality which we have.

“We are grown organically as a team and a lot of the lads have been together longer than I have been captain.

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“So when you do have a team which has grown as a collective unit, it feels there are no real superstars in our squad.

“It is very much a team ethic where if one player does not come to the party then another one will.”

Meanwhile, Three weeks into the new season and Garstang CC skipper Mark Walling admits he’s just happy to be playing cricket again this year.

Garstang are back on Northern Premier Cricket League duty for the first time since finishing as runners-up to Leyland in 2019.

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Last year’s season was shortened as a result of the pandemic, meaning the Northern League sides joined forces with their Palace Shield counterparts for a one-off cup tournament.

It’s back to the status quo now, though preparations for that have hardly been ideal.

Teams were only able to start training two-and-a-half weeks before the season started, while clubs with overseas professionals had visa applications and international travel restrictions to deal with.

“We’re just trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible,” Walling acknowledged.

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“It looks like all the teams are going to be beating each other, so I think it’s going to be quite close and I can’t see much between everyone this year.

“It’s going to be an interesting season, everyone has had a rushed pre-season.

“The nice weather we had in April has helped the batsmen out because the wickets have been really good – which you can see in some of the early scores.”

Garstang could have also asked for an easier start to the season.

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Defending champions Leyland were their opponents on the opening day, followed by Blackpool, Longridge and Saturday’s hosts, Fulwood and Broughton.

“We knew we had a tough start to the season,” Walling said.

“However, we have to play everyone twice so we have to get stuck in and play as well as we can.”

Fixtures on Saturday

Northern League Division One: Fleetwood v Lancaster, Fulwood and Broughton v Garstang, Longridge v Netherfield, Morecambe v Kendal, St Annes v Chorley

Moore and Smalley Palace Shield Premier Division: Croston v Penwortham, Eccleston v Great Eccleston, Fylde v Barrow, Kirkham and Wesham v Vernon Carus, Preston v Penrith, South Shore v Thornton Cleveleys