Ashton United have revealed a number of exciting plans as the club looks to improve on and off the pitch following relegation to the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
At a fans’ meeting at Hurst Cross, the club confirmed that long-serving chairman Terry Hollis has stepped down and has been replaced by father and son, David and Jonathan Burke, who adopt the role in a joint capacity.
David is a local businessman with interests in property, construction and IT, whereas Jonathan, now London-based, works in theatre and television as a writer, actor and producer under the name Jonathan Sayer.
As part of their plans moving forward, David and Jonathan are hoping to install a 3g pitch at Hurst Cross - similar to the ones at Hyde United and Buxton - in the hope of making the Robins’ stadium the central hub for all things United.
The duo are also considering the possibility of developing new stands at the stadium, while the prospect of a women’s team and walking football team are also on the cards.
In a bid to engage with the local community and drive up attendances, Jonathan is looking to improve the club’s website by launching an online ticket system. It’s hoped that by purchasing tickets in advance, combined with discounted prices and special offers, the local community will rally round and pledge their support as the Robins go in search of promotion next season.
Following the announcement, long-serving official Steve Hobson said he’s excited for the future, but emphasised the importance of staying grounded and realistic.
“They’re looking to make progression, although they’ve not set a target in which we’ll be in the Football League by 2025,” he said.
“We’re just going to make progression on a solid foundation.
“Sustainability is critical. There’s no point in building your house on sand because it will collapse very quickly. You’ve only got to look around the non-league world to see examples of that. Teams are dropping right, left and centre.”
With artificial pitches increasingly being used in the non-league world, it comes as little surprise that Ashton want to follow the same successful model. As well as providing a steady revenue stream and being conducive to attractive football, 3g pitches can also be used throughout the week by a club’s teams and the wider community.
Steve believes a 3g pitch will play a key part in the Robins’ success.
“It’s a key part, although it’s not entirely pivotal,” said Steve.
“They’ve (David and Jonathan) got to start off slowly but surely, making sure they’ve got their feet on the ground and knowing what needs changing at the club. They’re not going to come in with a broom, sweep everything away and start from scratch. The reason they’ve come in is because we’re a stable club and we’ve made progress annually, and ultimately they want that progress to continue in a sustainable way.”
Having been introduced to the club as a child, Jonathan, now 30, has always had a soft spot for his local club.
He moved to London to pursue a career in theatre and television and has since co-wrote successful shows ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ and ‘The Comedy About A Bank Robbery’.
Through his success, Jonathan has the chance to give back to Ashton and believes the football club is great way of doing that - especially given his grandfather, Johnny Burke, played for the club in the 60s and captained the side for 12 years.
He said: “Unlike my dad and grandad, who actually played for the club, I don’t have a background in football. I inherited all of my family’s enthusiasm for the sport but none of the ability, unfortunately.
“I’m from Ashton, which is the most important thing as this is my home. Even though I now spend more time in London, this is where I’m from and that means a lot to me.
“I think what’s important is that we’re not a one-team club. We’re a big part of the community, and it seems sensible that the way you improve that is by having lots of teams.
“Next season, I think it’s important that we have a women’s team set-up, along with a walking football team. It’s hard to do these things without a 3g pitch, because the grass turf can’t cope with the demands of such activity. It would be great to have all the teams based here and therefore integrated into the club fully.”
Jonathan is excited about putting his plans into action, but reassured supporters that the current officials and volunteers will be actively involved in helping the club progress.
“I was aware of the community atmosphere from previously attending games, but the last 12 weeks I’ve been here as part of the board,” he said.
“I’ve listened to people and got to know them, which is really important. We want to continue the work that others have done, but also develop it further. We want to make sure that the people who already work here have greater resources to improve what they’re doing. It’s really important that you understand the fabric.”
David, who was born and bred in Ashton, believes the club is a sleeping giant. He wants to awaken the beast while also helping the local community in the process.
“I think the whole area of Ashton needs to be revitalised,” he said. “It gets bad press in certain areas, but there are a lot of nice places and a lot of nice people, and I think we can help.
“In memory of my father, I’d like to build a stand called the Johnny Burke stand.
“At the end of the day it’ll be down to Tameside Council. I’ve not met them yet, but I’m looking forward to making contact and I’m sure they’re very pro-active with the community, as we are, and I hope we get their support and help.
“If we can help out the community and the club, that can only be a good thing for everybody.”