BIG INTERVIEW: Ex-Preston North End striker Lee Ashcroft’s loving it at Longridge Town
Last-day drama was in plentiful supply for Longridge Town and their manager Lee Ashcroft as they chased title glory in April.
A full season’s work for Town in the North West Counties League First Division North – their first playing at that level – boiled down to two results.
They faced Holker Old Boys at the Mike Riding Ground, while title rivals Avro took on AFC Liverpool.
Ashcroft’s men did their job, beating Holker 4-1 but the destiny of the title lay on Merseyside.
All Avro needed to do was match Town’s result but a late goal saw them lose 1-0 to AFC Liverpool and that sparked a title party back in Longridge.
Former Preston North End striker Ashcroft has been at the Longridge helm for five years and to have guided the team to glory gave him a great feeling of satisfaction.
“It was a fantastic effort by everyone at the club,” said Ashcroft.
“The chairman, all of the helpers we have, the players, we were all in it together. To win the title and score more than 140 goals made it a special season.
“We play a certain way, try to play out from the back which a lot of teams in the division don’t do.
“We had a great pitch to play on and tried to make the most of it.
“Avro pushed us all the way, right through to the last minute of the season.
“We led the table from the middle of August but fair play to Avro. At one stage I think we had a 12-point lead over them but Avro kept winning and we dropped a few points at one stage.
“Going into that last game they held the upper hand.
“We just had to focus on doing our job against Holker Old Boys, which we did – we won the game.
“Avro’s result meant we won the title, what a day it was.”
Town are now gearing up for life in the North West Counties League Premier Division, work already started on the pitch to improve drainage.
They will be rubbing shoulders with Northwich Victoria, Bootle, Runcorn Town, Squires Gate, Charnock Richard, Burscough and clubs of that ilk.
Ashcroft previously managed Northwich, with Longridge’s games against them ones to look out for on the fixture list.
“There are some good clubs in this division, some of who have been in higher leagues,” said Ashcroft.
“I’m going to keep faith with the lads who got us promoted and add one or two to the squad.
“It won’t be easy but we won’t be frightened by the new division.
“This time last year we were preparing to play in the NWCL First Division North for the first time after coming out of the West Lancs League and we didn’t do too badly did we?
“Last season we were getting crowds of nearly 200, when I first started here we had 30 people watching.”
During a playing career which started off at PNE – his home-town club – and included spells with West Bromwich, Notts County, Grimsby, Wigan Athletic and Southport – Ashcroft would be the first to admit that going into coaching was not something he gave much thought to.
There is a chuckle from the former Broughton High School pupil as he reflects on the subject.
Said Ashcroft: “It wasn’t something I thought I would turn out to be. I played for a manager called Alan Buckley at WBA and Grimsby who I took a lot from, so too Gary Peters at Preston.
“I managed Kendal Town and then Northwich – if I’m being honest I shouldn’t have gone to Northwich.
“When I was 42 I started playing a bit again and out of the blue I got a call from the chairman Brian Parkinson asking me whether I fancied being Longridge manager.
“They had just survived in the West Lancs League the season before.
“I’ve just done my fifth year here so there must be something I like about it!”
As a teenager, Ashcroft came through PNE’s youth system and he made his debut in the first team in January 1991.
He said: “I was in the youth team who were coached by Walter Joyce, he worked us hard.
“My first game was away to Scunthorpe in the Leyland DAF Cup, it was Brian Mooney’s last game for Preston – what a player Moons was.
“Then I played in the next league game against Bolton at Deepdale.
“I had to get away when John Beck was manager and I signed for West Bromwich Albion.
“A few years later I came back when Gary Peters was manager, first on loan and then I signed permanently.
“One of the stand-out moments of that second spell was scoring a hat-trick against Fulham at Deepdale.
“The group of lads we had then – Sean Gregan, Kurt Nogan, Gary Parkinson, David Eyres, David Lucas to name but a few – were a great set to be involved with.
“I left for the second time to join up with Alan Buckley at Grimsby, who had been at West Bromwich.
“I went to Wigan which wasn’t the best move, then a chance came for me at Southport with Mike Walsh, I had a coaching role.”
“That is when I started to realise coaching was for me.
“I enjoy coaching. I try to put on different sessions to get the best out of the lads.”