BIG INTERVIEW: Ex-player Ben Kay can’t wait for dream FA Cup tie for Chorley against his former club Wigan Athletic
He may well be a Latic through and through, who has even lived the dream and appeared in the first team for his boyhood club, but Chorley groundsman Ben Kay insisted there will be no split loyalties as far as he is concerned this weekend.
The Magpies take on Wigan Athletic in the first round proper of the FA Cup on Sunday at the DW Stadium – a match which will be screened live on BBC Sport’s digital platforms.
For Kay – who is responsible for caring and cultivating the pitch at Victory Park – it is the dream tie on a personal level.
He supported Wigan as a boy and was lucky enough to earn a two-year apprenticeship with the club at the age of 16, before going on to become a professional.
Unfortunately, Kay left the DW Stadium at the age of 19 without making a Football League appearance, although he did feature for the club in a Leyland DAF Trophy encounter at Walsall.
Kay – who was the head groundsman at Fulwood Academy before moving to Chorley – admits he will never lose his allegiance to the Latics, but tomorrow he will be hoping for nothing other than a Magpies’ victory.
“It’s the dream tie for me,” said Kay. “I know somebody from the supporters’ club put on Twitter early last week before the draw asking who would everybody like in the first round.
“I always take the Mickey and say I want the Barcelona of the North West – Wigan Athletic.
“ They all wind me up when I say that but when the draw came out, I was sitting in my living room with my wife Laura and I went absolutely mental.
“The wife was going mad at me telling me to calm down.
“I have been a Wigan fan all my life from the age of eight or nine.
“I used to go on Springfield Park with my friends.
“I played at the centre of excellence from the age of 11 up until I was 16 when I got offered a two year YTS. Then I went on to be a pro for a year under Paul Jewell when he was manager.
“I still follow Wigan but I’ll be honest – I want Chorley to win this weekend.
“We have worked hard to get to this stage of the competition.
“It’s not every year a club like Chorley gets to the first round, whereas Wigan go straight into the first round.
“I feel it means more to Chorley than it does to Wigan so I want Chorley to win.
“It’s going to be tough but if we can keep a clean sheet, there is always the chance we can nick one.”
It was back at the turn of the century that Kay began to make a name for himself with the Latics, impressing at youth level.
His ability to play in a wide variety of positions from centre-forward to centre-half certainly worked in his favour.
It was Bruce Rioch who handed him his first-team debut on January 30, 2001, when the Latics travelled to the Bescot Stadium.
He was still a trainee and was pitched into the starting XI for the encounter which Wigan went on to lose 2-1.
Following that he was handed a pro deal but unfortunately found his way into the first team blocked as Wigan – managed by Jewell and backed by owner Dave Whelan – began to spend money in an attempt to rise up the football pyramid.
“Obviously it was a dream come true to be signed as a professional by your hometown club, the club you supported as a kid,” said Kay, who has an 11-year-old son called Isaac and a daughter Harriet (4).
“It was a great feeling especially as I think out of the 11 YTS lads there were only two of us who were handed a professional contract.
“It was in that time frame when the club was signing lots of players, so I was up against people like Lee McCulloch, Peter Kennedy and Jason De Vos.
“These were international footballers so it was always going to be hard for me to break into the team.
“But it is one of those experiences which nobody can take away from you.
“Could I have broken into the first team? I think it’s different now to what it is these days.
“Young lads are getting two, three or even four-year contracts and they can bide their time.
“I was an 18-year-old kid going up against international footballers.
“There was probably not the structure in place to nurture young kids.
“I think if I had been at a club like Bury or Rochdale, I might have got more opportunities and played more games.
“Wigan were just able to go out and sign an international footballer.
“I also think when Paul Jewel came in, he struggled at first and so was reluctant to give youth a chance.”
After leaving Wigan Athletic, Kay drifted into non-league playing for Congleton Town, Marine, Leigh RMI and Warrington Town.
At the age of 30, he became joint manager of Ashton Athletic, guiding the team to the LFA Challenge Trophy in 2017 when they defeated Radcliffe in the final.
From there he moved to Clitheroe to become Simon Haworth’s assistant before becoming the groundsman at Chorley.