By Pete H

Our once-a-week does of nostalgia continues to punt you through the Covid crisis – and our latest edition is placing Runcorn FC centre stage. And, this time, it’s back to the 1990s – and not only ‘cos we have a thing for the decade that brought us Spice Girls, Channel 5 and the fillum Titanic. We don’t want to give too much away in this introduction, however. We sort of want you to read on a bit and find out more about the Linnets.

It contains one of our biggest-ever wins. Honest!


Who are Runcorn?

Let’s not be too self-indulgent too soon, however. Long before our history-making was on the agenda, the Linnets’ story gets up and running back in 1918 as Highfield and Camden Tanneries Recreation Club. It only took a year for ’em to shake the long-winded name and go with something much simpler; taking the new ‘Runcorn Football Club’ into the Cheshire League and winning the title at a canter in their first campaign. League-mates at that time included such luminaries as Northwich, Alty and Tranmere Rovers too.

In those interwar years, the Linnets claimed a total of three Cheshire League titles; adding a fourth in a slightly rejigged 1939-40 season. The stretch after World War Two wasn’t that fruitful, however. It wasn’t until the 1962-3 campaign that a fifth Cheshire League title went into their record books. Five years later and the relationship with the competition was over; Runcorn becoming one of the founder members of the Northern Premier League.

It was a step change that yielded two league titles; the first by a single point from Stafford Rangers in 1976 and the second by a distance in 1981. That second had a bigger impact, though, because it meant joining up with the creme de menthe of the non-league world in the Alliance Premier League. And they wasted no time in making themselves known; the 1981-2 campaign marking the high water mark of the club’s history with yet another title.

Why do we know Runcorn?

It wasn’t even the rubbish election system that stood firm in the Linnets’ way of becoming a Football League club. Well, it sort of was – they didn’t meet the requirements to even be considered for election. By the time automatic promotion from the now-called Conference came into effect in 1987, they were falling a long way short of the champions who’d go on to benefit. Not that they were particularly struggling; the 1989-90 campaign saw them end the season in third – but 17 points behind champions Darlington.

Unable to land a blow on those at the summit, Runcorn’s fortunes looked as if they were fading. The 1992-3 GM Vauxhall Conference season saw them survive by one point. Not down and not yet out, they roared back to fifth position next season and had momentum on their side as we stuck our heads above the Diadora League parapet and entered non-league showbiz in 1994. The Linnets were one of the teams who’d give us a real idea of where we were at. And it turns out they wouldn’t be taking any prisoners first time out.

What is our record against Runcorn?

In our first-ever meeting at Canal Street, the Linnets ran out 3-1 winners. And a 1-0 win at our place ensured that we’d have to wait until our second season in the Conference to get off the mark against them. By this point, however, off-field issues were starting to affect the Cheshire club. The 1993-4 campaign saw their Canal Street ground suffer from the “triple disasters” – the main stand burnt down, the West Terrace roof blew away and a section of wall collapsed during an FA Cup tie with Hull.

All this put a financial burden on the club and it started to show during the 1995-6 season. While very good for us, it was very bad for the Linnets. Back we went to Canal Street and, boy – did we have fun. Two for Dave Venables and three for Barry Hayles were highlights in an eight-goal romp. It is still one of our biggest-ever wins, but that’s no real shock. Is it? It almost makes our 4-1 win indoors later that season look pretty average. There was yet another hattrick for Bazza, however – taking his personal tally against the Linnets to six.

The struggling Linnets were relegated at the end of the season; returning to the Northern Premier League for the first time since 1981 and the first time they’d ever been relegated at all. But this isn’t the end of the story. Two years later, our paths crossed once again in the FA Cup. Our First Round clash at Canal Street had the potential to be a banana skin, but Carl Alford’s strike ensured we got a replay out of it. Alford and Michael Love scored the goals at Broadhall Way just over a week later to ensure our place in Round Two.

Runcorn: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 6 — W 3 — D 1 — L 2 — F 16 — A 6 — Pts 6 — WR 50%
Our last tango: Stevenage Borough 2-0 Runcorn, 23 November 1998

What happened to Runcorn?

The Linnets marked the new millennium by moving in with the Widnes rugby league team and Everton reserves at the Halton Stadium. To recognise their move across the borough, Halton was added to the club’s name for the start of the 2001-2 campaign. It didn’t deliver much in the way of benefit on the pitch, however. While they rejoined the Conference fold as members of the new Conference North division in 2004-5, they were relegated straight back to the Northern Premier League. Off the pitch, things weren’t improving either.

The club ended the 2004-5 campaign as tenants at Southport‘s Haig Avenue ground after moving out of the Halton Stadium. For the 2005-6 campaign, they were put up by Prescot Cables – but life was going from bad to worse. Wages couldn’t be paid and players of the necessary standard couldn’t be recruited. Defeats were frequent and heavy; the Linnets ending the season facing a second successive relegation after shipping 108 goals. They would never go down, however; instead resigning their place and going out of business.

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Runcorn club profile