Evo-Stik League chairman Harris hopes for another successful season
The Evo-Stik Northern Premier League gets underway this weekend after League Chairman Mark Harris described their member clubs’ performances last season as “hugely satisfying”.
The league boasted its best FA Cup performance for fifteen years, led by the likes of Warrington Town, Blyth Spartans and Norton United.
And for Harris that, along with seeing what it meant to volunteers within the member clubs, provided him with a great source of pride, admitting that he hopes for a repeat during the new campaign.
“First and foremost I hope our clubs have another successful year, particularly in the FA Cup. What we saw last year from Warrington, Blyth Spartans and to a lesser extent, Norton United, was our best showing in the FA Cup since the early 2000s, that is what I want to see again.
It was hugely satisfying to see. We cover such a big area and I think we cover 40% of the UK population. The reward is seen, not just in the eyes on the players, but in the eyes of the volunteers, in the eyes of the supporters, that is what drives us on and keeps us going”
Harris, who is also Chairman at Witton Albion, paid tribute to a number of clubs for showcasing the league on a national scale over the past twelve months, but also took the time to acknowledge the efforts of other clubs who may have gone under the radar with the success that they have achieved.
“You have to start with Blyth Spartans(pictured below), it is a first class club, everything about it is first class. It was great to see such hard working people having that hard work rewarded with such great success.
There was Warrington winning on the first live FA Cup Match of the Day for a number of years.
In the league it was great to see FC United get promoted at last. They have gone from a standing start to great success and we wish them all the best in future.
Then you have Darlington coming through, seeing them on their way back to where they have come from is great to see.
But then there are the historically smaller clubs, well ran clubs like Mickleover Sports, who are back in our Premier League this season, getting them back into that division is great to see because they are a very well ran club and their stay in the Premier Division last time was far too short”
The season wasn’t without its lows for the Evo-Stik League.
The demise of Norton United, a club who have considerable success in last season’s FA Cup, was in Harris’ words “extremely sad” and he argues that the administrators in football must do more to prevent more clubs going to the wall for situations outside of their control.
“It’s never nice to see and I like to think that out of bad can come good. The Norton United situation was extremely sad because it was circumstances out of the club’s control. In terms of controlling that and what should and could be done is that it has to be made harder for people who don’t have honourable intentions coming into the game to do so.
The fit and proper persons test is nowhere near strong enough, there isn’t the testing of the capabilities and intentions of people coming in to run clubs but what we can do is make it clear it isn’t a hobby, it’s a serious business and the crucial message is that it isn’t about paying big money to a striker, it’s a series of building blocks.
That message is slowly but surely getting across, but there is a long way to go before we get to where I think we should be”
And if the worst comes to the worst Harris is proud of the league’s abililty to support clubs who have suffered.
Several clubs have gone through the process and have regrouped in the Evo-Stik League before moving up the pyramid.
And Harris is more than comfortable with the league’s ability to do so.
“We have become a recovery room for clubs who have hit hard times above us, sometimes through no fault of their own. They come to us, regroup or in some cases start again and kick on from there. Darlington (pictured below) are going through great strides now as I mentioned and that is wonderful to see.
So we work with clubs and help them get it right, if they are new clubs too, make them realise this is big boys football and we embrace all of that”
Ahead of the new campaign Harris chose to look further into the future, as he looks to take the Evo-Stik League on to the next level.
One key area has been identified by league officials and that is supporting clubs with sponsorship.
“I hope, at that point, the league is of the size it is now. That none of our clubs go up or down the pyramid because of financial situations and that our clubs are ran in a sustainable and responsible fashion.
I want the NPL to be the league where the clubs recieve the biggest amount of sponsorship, supported by the league. There is never enough money around to run a non-league club, it is always tough and my ambition is that the NPL can provide our clubs with the assistance, the backing, the support, to develop things like community programmes to help them go on to bigger and better things”
And if last year can be replicated the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, led by Harris, could be in for another successful twelve months on and off the pitch.
Interview: Mark Carruthers