Like most football clubs across the country, Stocksbridge Park Steels have had a challenging few months. With Covid-19 bringing last season to a halt and removing all source of income, the Northern Premier South East Division team have gone from fighting for a playoff position to having to crowdfund to replace spectator income. But now a new season is beginning and with their first competitive fixture, The Emirates FA Cup match against Stalybridge Celtics being televised this weekend, the future looks bright for this relatively young club.
The newly named Eco- Power Environmental stadium can normally hold approximately 2,000 spectators yet on Saturday there will only be 350 allowed to attend. Graham points out that whilst tickets have sold out, the challenge for the club will be to get people to adhere to restrictions. “If people say they’re related or together in groups, there’s no way for us to check that, clubs at this level can’t afford testing. It’s frustrating but we just have to get on with it.”
Working hard and getting on with it seems to have been an attitude the club has embraced
throughout this turbulent period. The Steels do not seem to have been phased by the new
restrictions and were still able to train at least once a week when the team were initially limited to training in groups of 6. Having been told that the season would start in October only for that to be suddenly brought forward by the FA, the club have coped remarkably well in the rush to get everything ready on time. I’m informed that the club only found they were going to be televised in the early days of September yet Graham believes the players and their manager Chris Hilton will remain focused against their opponents from the Northern Premier.
“Some love the cameras and some might freeze, it’s like finals, you never know until the day. They are ready but it is a challenge. It’s not the easiest draw but we never seem to get an easy draw at the FA cup. We had a good run a few years ago in the FA trophy and we beat Stalybridge then. Hopefully if everyone applies themselves and everyone’s fit, we should give them a good game.” “Chris is the manager and I let him manage. He’s been brilliant. Prior to us shutting down last season, we were heading for the playoffs. If there’s a young player who’s doing well, Chris will give them an opportunity.”
Both teams will receive some funding from the BBC for Saturday’s match but the decision to televise the match will undoubtedly bring the players of Stocksbridge FC some well deserved exposure. When I ask Graham if some players are reluctant to play during the current global situation, he smiles.
“They’re very keen and couldn’t wait to start pre-season. They’re a great set of lads, through all of this they’ve been magnificent. When the season came to an end, some of the contracted ones threw in their last weeks wages. They’ve been really loyal to the club.”
Graham has now been at the club for 23 years in a variety of roles spending many years as a coach but 2020 has brought one of the most challenging financial situations. But with the club’s current team and a new sponsorship deal, he maintains a positive attitude that the club can succeed this season, starting with the opportunity the match with Stalybridge will bring.
“We’ve been very lucky to have a sponsor come in in July that really has made a difference to us. We are grateful to Eco-Power Environmental. Hopefully now the future is looking brighter and we can push on and build on that.”
Preliminary Round FA Cup match Stocksbridge Park Steels vs Stalybridge Celtic can be viewed on BBC iplayer and BBC Sports website on Saturday 12th September 12:30pm.