Local football: Askern Villa in crisis

Askern Villa's team have a minute's silence for the death of Gary Speed. Picture: Andrew Roe
Askern Villa's team have a minute's silence for the death of Gary Speed. Picture: Andrew Roe

OFFICIALS at crisis-hit Askern Villa are battling against the clock to prevent the club from folding.

The troubled non-league outfit held an emergency meeting on Wednesday night after being granted a stay of execution by the Northern Counties East League (NCEL) board.

Villa were on the brink of collapse last week after they were forced to postpone their weekend home clash with Hemsworth MW due to a shortage of players – which led to the resignation of long-serving manager Brian Johnston.

Former boss Paul Curtis has since taken the reins and told the Free Press he is confident he can prevent the 88-year-old club from going under.

However, Villa secretary Dave Hall has today slammed the “apathy” in the village of Askern which he believes is the root of the club’s problems.

The Division One outfit’s committee has crumbled, the club have been plagued by financial worries and their Manor Way ground has been a constant target for vandals in recent years.

Hall said: “I’m absolutely gutted about the current situation.

“A lot of people have put a lot of hard work into getting this club up to this level but the last three months have been absolute agony for myself and Brian Johnston.

“We’ve basically being running the club between ourselves.

“Brian had to go to hospital with a suspected heart attack during one game – that’s an indication of how bad things became.

“It’s a real shame when you think that two years ago we played in the FA Cup for the first time, we had a good run in the FA Vase and not so long ago we got 900 people down here for the Rovers game.

“Hopefully some new blood will revive the club, but there’s not much time to sort everything out.

“Unfortunately the people of Askern have just never got behind the club,” he added.

“It’s been very hard, there’s a lot of apathy in the village.”

Villa, who have been unable to raise a side on three occasions this season, have until next Tuesday - when they are due to play at Hallam - to provide the NCEL with an assurance that they can fulfill the remainder of their fixtures.

The NCEL board agreed to suspend Askern’s next two fixtures, Wednesday night’s game against Pontefract Collieries FC and Saturday’s trip to Louth Town, in an attempt to help Villa resolve their problems.

Following Johnston’s exit, a major exodus of players left the club with six senior players, Hall told the Free Press.

The man tasked with rescuing Villa is newly-appointed manager Curtis, who previously had a spell in charge of the club prior to Johnston’s arrival in 2005.

He told the Free Press he was confident of bolstering both Askern’s playing squad and committee in order to keep them afloat.

“I’m confident we’ll be able to tell the league that we’ll be okay,” said Curtis.

“I got a call from [committee member] Jimmy Szmidt saying the club had virtually folded.

“As an Askern lad it was a no-brainer to come back and to get involved.

“None of us want to see the club go.

“The hardest thing for us is the financial side of things but our priority is to set up a new structure and make sure the club has an immediate future.

“There’s a lot of potential at this club and our plan is to unite the senior side with the junior teams playing in the village.

“But first of all we need to get things stable.”

Askern Welfare were formed in 1924 and renamed Askern Villa in 2008 following promotion to the Northern Counties East League.

The club currently lie 18th in Division One.

Curtis would like to hear from anyone interested in joining Askern Villa, either as a player, helper, volunteer or sponsor.

Anyone interested can contact him on 07970 627213.