Ashton Town AFC, based in Makerfield, Wigan, just a nudge over five miles away from the DW Stadium, the home of once Premier League side Wigan Athletic.
Playing their football in the North West Counties Football League Division One, where they were halted in sixth position when the league was drawn to a premature end last season.
This year though, ‘The Town’ are setting about making a big impact. To signify their intentions, the non-league side have signed FA Cup-winning captain – Emmerson Boyce.
Now 41, Boyce made his name during his most prestigious spell as Wigan’s right-back during a nine-year spell at the DW between 2006 and 2015.
The London born full-back started out at Luton Town before moving to Crystal Palace and ultimately heading to what has now become home in Wigan.
Qualifying via his parents, Boyce also represented the Barbados national team, with whom he earned 12 caps and scored three goals.
With over 200 Premier League appearances, the athletic defender retired in 2016 after a spell with Blackpool and has stayed away. Until now…
Ashton Town chairman Mark Hayes has previous when it comes to signing former Premier League stars for his club. Back in early 2019, the non-league side persuaded another right back to pull on the red and white when they signed Frenchman Pascal Chimbonda for a month.
The former Tottenham and of course Wigan man played four games at Profiles Park and seemed to enjoy his time with the club.
The Man Who Made It Happen
I’ve spoken with the chairman of the step six side regarding his new arrival and the impact he has had on the club.
”Signing Emmerson has been simply outstanding. As a lifelong Wigan fan its an absolute dream world to have our FA Cup-winning captain turning out for my non-league side. Similar to when I signed Pascal Chimbonda, it is much more than a publicity stunt, or just for a few games.”
”The influence that these players have on the dressing room and in training is priceless. Feedback from some of the lads has been great, we have the basis of a young team who are still learning and one commented how good it was that Emmerson was reading the game for him and directing him which in turn gave him more time on the ball.”
Not only impact his teammates, but it also seems age is just a number when it comes to Boyce.
”Emmerson can still play too, he is as fit as he was 4 years ago when still playing professionally. His debut saw a sell-out 150 crowd in a friendly and he has trained with the rest of the lads a few times ahead of his league debut this coming Saturday.”
The signing of the gravitas of an international footballer who has an FA Cup winners medal was always likely to cause a stir, but have the club noticed a heightened interest.
”Media wise we did an amazing video reveal that went viral, and it even hit sky sports as transfer news.”
Competitive Ashton Town Debut
The NWCFL Division One kicked off this weekend and Emmerson Boyce made his return to competitive action as Ashton travelled to many people’s favourites for the league – Lower Breck.
A far cry from the Wembley sunshine on May 11, 2013, where the now 41-year-old had lifted the famous old trophy aloft as the Lancashire club beat Manchester City 1-0.
‘Boycie’, in the same number 17 shirt the big defender adorned on that day strolled out at Anfield Sports and Community Centre in the frankly biblical rain, ironically just over a mile away from Premier League football as Everton hosted Brighton at the same time.
The Barbados international settled back into life comfortably in the opening exchanges as his speed of thought saw him get in the way of numerous shots and opportunities on the right-hand side of central defence.
In truth, it was the visiting Ashton who had the better of the opening exchanges, the Breck defenders showing their own last-ditch qualities time and time again to keep the score at 0-0.
Towering above almost everyone on the pitch, the new recruit was also the target from attacking corners, as well as much discussion in the stands.
However, it was the Liverpool side in red who began to show their worthy of the favourite tag as they raced into a two-goal lead – albeit through no fault of the former Wigan man.
Before half-time, it was 4-0 following two goals direct from the corner spot, helped perhaps by the monsoon wind and rain.
Walking off at the break soaked, trailing by four goals, and perhaps reliving previous trips to this part of the world whereby he had been part of a winning Wigan side just down the road at Anfield, Boyce may have been questioning his decision to come out of retirement.
After a much improved second half, this time playing with the weather Town had their chances, although they went on to concede once more and ultimately lost the match by five goals to nil.
Not the start Boyce, the chairman, or indeed the club, on the whole, had perhaps dreamt of. It could be time to give some of his FA Cup-winning former teammates a call and see if he can get the gang back together.
Boyce will now travel to the fan sunnier climbs of Barbados, possibly just to dry off after his debut, but also to take up his new role as Technical Director of the islands national team. The defender will therefore be unavailable for a few matches as he will also have to undergo a period of isolation on return.
Thank you to Ashton Town AFC chairman Mark Hayes for his time and I wish you and your side good luck for the season.
featured image credit Ashton Town AFC