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17 Jul 2020 : Marking 10 years at The Millbank Linnets Stadium

Today marks a significant milestone in the history of our club. It is ten years to the date since we opened The Millbank Linnets Stadium.

And while Covid-19 has denied an immediate on-field celebration befitting the anniversary, there is still every cause to enjoy the landmark moment, reminisce and look to the future with optimism.

The unveiling of our ground on Saturday. July 17th 2010 was the culmination of The Return to Runcorn campaign.

The Linnets had come home, nine years after leaving town - Runcorn AFC having sold Canal Street for housing.

As Linnets Park sprung up incongruously at the scene of so many footballing memories, the original club saw out their remaining years at a variety of venues - mostly Halton Stadium, with the odd appearances at The Drill Field (the historic ground of Northwich Victoria, now no more), Witton Albion's Wincham Park and Haig Avenue in Southport. The final resting place was Valerie Park (now Volair Park) in Prescot.

By the time the final game of a disastrous, traumatic 2005-06 Northern Premier League Premier Division season dawned at Ashton United, it was clear that the old club had no future but seeds had been sewn for its successor.

There was, however, a lot of work to be done to get to the stage where the phoenix club was able to kick off the following season - not least finding a home ground (there were none suitable in Runcorn) and convincing the football authorities that the project was viable.

The first four years as tenants at Wincham were propelled by immediate success in the second tier of the North West Counties League. But playing even home games 13 miles away was not easy, despite the hospitality of Witton Albion, and with finances stretched, it was clear that the Linnets needed to wing their way back to Runcorn as quickly as possible.

That the dream came true so swiftly was remarkable, considering the club had started from scratch.

On February 11th 2010, Runcorn Linnets and Halton Borough Council issued a statement to mark the start of construction at the fledging club's stadium.

Derek Greenwood, then Linnets chairman, said: "This is a momentous day for the club. To be able to start work on our new ground is something we've been dreaming of for a number of years now, and it's great to see it finally coming to fruition."

With club officials agreeing a 30-year lease on the HBC-owned site at Halton Sports in Murdishaw, the building of the 1,600-capacity ground was officially launched with a sod-cutting ceremony on Friday, February 5th.

"The Linnets Stadium" had been an overwhelming choice of name after a poll of Trust members but to many fans, the ground has become known simply as "The Millbank" - thanks to the success and longevity of the club's main sponsorship deal with the Millbank Group.

The Runcorn-based specialist recruitment company has also been our much-valued ground sponsor since we "came back" to town.

The stadium, costing an initial 230,000 and funded jointly by Runcorn Linnets FC, Halton Borough Council and the Football Foundation, provided a welcome home for the Linnets, who had been exiled from Runcorn since the predecessor club sold its Canal Street ground in 2001.

The new facility took just a few months to build, and was ready for the start of the 2010-2011 season, its first competitive match being a 2-2 NWCL Premier Division draw against Colne.

As well as the first team, the club would run reserve and youth teams while links were established with local junior set up Inter Union JFC, who initially became Inter Linnets JFC and later Runcorn Linnets Juniors.

The Football Stadia Improvement Fund, supporters of the Football Foundation and the largest funder of non-league football in the country, supported the project with a grant of 93,331.

The opening by Linnets chairman, Derek Greenwood, saw various invited guests including ex-players and officals, local MPs, borough council representatives, and club sponsors Millbank Group, cutting a ceremonial ribbon in the club's yellow and green.

The unveiling took place immediately before the inaugural Linnets match at the venue, the pre-season friendly against former landlords, Witton drawing a crowd of 1,037.

Despite winger Michael Case equalising for Runcorn with their first ever goal on the ground, the higher-ranked visitors ran out winners 3-1 but this didn't diminish the sense of achievement and pride at the homecoming.

The opening-day attendance remains an all-time record for a Linnets match at the MLS, although this has been threatened once or twice.

The Runcorn derby on the closing afternoon of Linnets' title-winning 2017-18 NWCL Premier campaign attracted a stadium-best league crowd of 890.

This was surpassed for last season's Buildbase FA Trophy visit of FC United of Manchester. The first competitive meeting of the fans-owned clubs was watched by 962.

The largest crowd at the stadium had, however, been registered in 2016-17 for the NWCL's Reusch First Division Cup final. The turnout for the tie, involving City of Liverpool and Sandbach United, was 1,263.

The club's excellent facilities have been used by Cheshire County FA for showpiece games, most notably the 2018 Senior Cup final which saw Nantwich Town defeat Stockport Town, as well as for charity games and local finals.

We have also hosted an Under 16s Academy fixture between Liverpool and Derby County.

The Millbank has evolved quickly over the decade. Fans and sponsors joined together to fill in the pitch perimeter through the purchase of fence panels, one of the requirements for promotion to the Northern Premier League, which was finally achieved through much perseverence after numerous near misses.

The championship-clinching 5-0 NWCL victory over Squires Gate on Thursday, May 3rd 2018 will live long in the memory, so too the emotional post-match celebrations!

Additional cover - dubbed the bus shelters - was was provided on the dugout side.

But one of the biggest changes to the stadium saw the move in the winter of 2017 into a new pitchside clubhouse - the official opening following in February 2018.

The switch had been a consequence of a retail and leisure park, featuring an Aldi supermarket, being built on our doorstep and lengthy negotiations with the council.

Linnets waved goodbye to our former HQ, which had been lovingly converted by club officials, volunteers and sponsors from a disused gym, annexed to the Halton Arms pub.

Both buildings were demolished to make way for the new development on land which is now called Jack Search Way - in tribute to the Linnets' legendary pre-WW2 centre forward and post-war chairman.

Having straddled Stockham Lane, with the clubhouse to one side and stadium on the other (two separate compounds being ingeniously connected on matchdays!), the club transferred to a more convenient single site thanks to the 1.4m replacement clubhouse.

With extensive adjacent car parking, this was purpose-built to accommodate the club's senior men's and Ladies' teams along with the junior section, which simultaneously completed a project to fence in the Halton Sports complex, after taking on responsibility for its outside pitches.

The Trust (Runcorn Linnets FC Ltd) signed an amended long-term council lease to recognise all these changes. The club's address was altered to Stockham Lane, now the access road to the ground (this had previously been off Murdishaw Avenue), and we even got a new postcode to the great consternation of sat nav users!

The stadium's 10th anniversary coincides with another major ground improvement taking place, as part of a trailblazing Sport England pilot scheme.

The laying of an international-class Hybrid pitch (blending grass with an artificial carpet) will offer superb playing/training facilities for the Linnets' first, Ladies and NPL Academy sides. It will stage matches involving our new U21s men's team along with training/coaching for some of our junior players.

The pitch - watered from our existing borehole, installed only last year - will also be available for hire by the wider community and will hopefully be a launchpad for the further enhancements, which will be required at the ground to enable a further climb of the footballing ladder.

The ground has already witnessed highs and lows, triumphs and tears. Such is the nature of football.

But if the next ten years are as eventful, successful and enjoyable as the last, then plenty of treats are in store for fans of Runcorn Linnets. #OurRuncorn

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