Atherton Collieries FC was formed in 1916 by miners from the six pits which were operative in the old urban district of the town. The club was created as a means of providing welfare for those at home during the war effort. When the pits were nationalised the football club was gifted to the people of the town. They have played at Alder House, known as The Kensite Stadium for sponsorship purposes since their formation making the ground one of the oldest in the division. You gain a sense of the history when you walk around the facility which keeps its identity and warmth despite being renovated gradually over the past few years.
Colls were founding members of the North West Counties Football League in 1982 and have remained there until this campaign when they will compete in the Northern Premier League for the first time in the club’s history. There have been many memorable moments from the club’s time in the NWCFL and the club are well known around the region as a result.
During the 2006-07 season, Collieries had a future international footballer in their ranks with a young Anthony Pilkington spearheading the Colls attack. Despite being the youngest member of the squad, Pilkington found himself grabbing all the headlines when they beat league leaders FC United of Manchester 3-0 at Gigg Lane. He grabbed himself a hat-trick during this match and soon found himself being transferred straight to the Football League with a move to Stockport County. From there we went on to move to Huddersfield Town and Norwich City in the Premier League before being called up to the Republic of Ireland’s international squad.
Prior to this, Collieries had been known in the local area to produce professional footballers. The famous 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United featured two former Colls players as Billy Butler and Bob Haworth helped the Wanderers bring the FA Cup back to Bolton for the first time in their history. Links between Bolton Wanderers and Atherton Collieries continue to this very day with the two clubs playing each other in an annual pre-season friendly. The first showdown ended in a 3-3 draw with over 1,500 attending the game. Matches like this have helped propel Collieries into the limelight in recent seasons and fans of professional football clubs now consider Colls to be their second club.
Michael Clegg was appointed first team manager in August 2014 and immediately began assembling a young, local side. The club went on to win the NWCFL Division One title and the Bolton Hospital Cup in his first season, as well as reaching the final of the League Cup Final and the Division One Cup Final. Success did not stop there as in his second campaign the Colls went one better and won the League Cup, beating the league champions Colne 5-1 at Fleetwood Town’s Highbury Stadium. This along with a fourth placed finish represented Collieries' best ever league finish in their long and turbulent history.
The 2016-17 season was a momentous one for Atherton Collieries as in their centenary year they clinched the NWCFL Premier Division title and reached the last 16 of the FA Vase backed by a large, ever growing local fan base. This was made even more impressive when you consider Colls only gained promotion into the division two years previously before earning a place at the highest level in their history in the Northern Premier League for season 2017-18.
Following their promotion, the Colls defied all odds to proudly win the NPL's 2017-18 Integro League Challenge Cup towards the end their debut season at Step 4. Still with a nucleus of players, coaches and volunteers from Atherton, the club headed into season 2018-19 to compete in just their second ever season at Step 4 of the Non-League system. With professional football becoming ever increasing, people are slowly but surely now giving Non-League football a chance and Atherton Collieries are a club who have embraced this new culture shift with open arms.
The coal miners who founded the club 102 years ago would be proud of how much the Colls have achieved in recent times. Who knows how further Collieries can go in 2018-19 and beyond with the support of the local community?