Big interview: Chorley FC chief Ken Wright
Ken Wright has a little chuckle to himself when he sums up the job of being Chorley chairman.
“If somebody finds a problem, then they usually get told, ‘You see him over there? He’s the chairman – go and see him,” Wright said with more than hint of a wry smile.
Being the figurehead of arguably the biggest non-league club in Lancashire is quite the responsibility, although something which Wright has grown accustomed to, having been in the role since 2003.
However, the onus on him looks set to increase ten-fold after news broke this week that he and fellow board member and vice-chairman Graham Watkinson have become the new owners of the club.
In a statement, it was revealed that the club’s ownership shareholding had been transferred to the duo – thus signalling the end of Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings’ interest in the club.
He had previously owned the club and its Victory Park ground since saving the club from extinction in the early 1990s. Hemmings has over the years backed the club financially to varying degrees, although his input has diminished over the last decade.
The decision to entrust the keys to the football club to Wright and Watkinson speaks volumes for the way the Magpies have flourished both on and off the pitch in recent times.
Boosted by a stable financial and business footing, the Magpies have enjoyed one of the greatest periods on the pitch in their long, century-plus-old history.
Languishing in the lower reaches of the NPL First Division North, the appointment of former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Garry Flitcroft as manager in the summer of 2010 sparked a considerable upturn in fortunes.
They have since gone on to win promotion twice and have enjoyed several play-off campaigns over the last seven years. They currently reside in the National League North – two steps away from the Football League.
Under new boss – Flitcroft’s former assistant Matt Jansen – the club was just one win away from promotion to the National League this season, but they were beaten 2-1 after extra time by FC Halifax Town in the play-off final last weekend.
The resurgence of Chorley as a major force in the world of non-league football is a huge testament to the work of the club’s current custodians.
However, as far as Wright is concerned , there is still much work to do as he looks to secure the Magpies’ future for generations to come.
Chief among his list of priorities in this new dawn is the potential redevelopment of the 97-year-old charming, but dated, Victory Park.
His and Watkinson’s acquisition of the club means they are in a much better position to negotiate with the club’s landlords Chorley Borough Council, who have recently acquired Victory Park.
Securing a new long-term lease will allow the Magpies to apply for grants and funding to improve the facilities.
“A lot of people say to me that they like going on Victory Park because they say it’s like going back in time,” Wright said.
“But the facilities do need updating and improving. We are playing at a good level – we are doing okay at the moment in that regard. But one of our stands got condemned the year before last and the big main stand is in a poor state.
“Yes there is a certain charm to Victory Park, but when you look at what our neighbours AFC Fylde have achieved with their fantastic new ground – you’ve got to be envious of those facilities.
“As chairman, I feel that we are fire-fighting at times – stopping the place from falling to bits. It’s a huge challenge.”
While ideally Wright would prefer to see the club remain at Victory Park – he would not rule out the prospect of relocating like Fylde have done.
“A lot of clubs have relocated,” Wright said. “Victory Park is in a central position in the town and a lot of the supporters walk to the game.
“You would have to consider whether moving would mean a lot of those supporters would not go to the games anymore.
“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of relocating. It’s all about what we think would be the best for the club in the long term.
“If relocation is an option then it will be considered, but for the moment we can only work with what we have got and that is to try to improve our present facilities.”
Negotiations with the council are currently at an impasse due to the impending General Election, but Wright is hopeful of opening up discussions as soon as possible.
“I can’t see there being too many problems. I do believe the council want to work with us rather than against us,” he said.
Should Chorley eventually get the green light to improve their facilities, then their ambitions of moving further up the football pyramid and possibly into the Football League – for the first time in their history – become more realistic.
“ I’d like to think we could get to the Football League,” Wright said. “You look at clubs like Accrington Stanley and Morecambe who have done really well to get into the Football League and stay there.
“You have got to have ambitions. I always say. ‘We are in it, to win it’.
“Morecambe were able to relocate to a new stadium, while Accrington are still at the same ground.
“I feel that we have a fan-base which is bigger than both of those two clubs and that’s not being disrespectful.
“We feel we could attract the sort of gates, if not better, than what they are achieving.
“The challenge is to keep putting something out there on the pitch that the supporters enjoy and enjoy coming to watch.”
One issue that Wright has poured cold water on – for now – is the prospect of the Magpies’ playing staff turning professional – even though the vast majority of clubs in the division above and many at their current level are full-time.
“It’s no surprise that the two clubs who finished first and second in our league this year – Fylde and Kidderminster – are both full-time,” Wright said.
“Some are planning on going full-time next season – Halifax are going full-time.
“Clubs which are full-time do start with a massive advantage.
“When you are a part-time operation, you don’t get the same amount of time to work with your players in training or to prepare for matches.
“It is a massive advantage, but unfortunately, we have not reached that stage where we can consider going full-time.”
Despite the various challenges, Wright is keen to stress that he will be leaving no stone unturned as he looks to lead the club on to greater success on and off the pitch.
“The message me and Graham want to try to get across is that we want to move the club forward, work with our landlords on how best we are able to do that and put a business plan in place,” he said.