By Stephen Howard
PRESTWICH Heys president, Martin Johnston, received the Lancashire FA’s long-service award last week marking his 30 years at the club.
Johnston joined Heys as secretary in the summer of 1984 at the request of the then new manager John Torkington.
The pair knew each from Sunday football where Johnston had enjoyed long service with Red Lion in the Salford Sunday League.
Heys were competing in the North West Counties League at the time of Johnston’s arrival and he also found himself in the midst of an FA Cup run that took Heys through three ties to the second qualifying round where they lost to Southport.
Ground grading issues saw Heys leave the NWCFL in 1986 and join the Manchester League but Johnston was to soon face the biggest challenge of his tenure at the club.
In 1991, the lease on Heys’ famous old ground at Grimshaws, on Heys Road, came to an end and the club had to relocate to their current base at Sandgate Road.
It proved a difficult transition and Johnston, now acting as chairman as well, had to steer the club through a difficult season which saw them play their home games on neutral grounds, placing huge financial pressures on the club as a lack of gate money added to the cost of the move.
Overseeing a committee of just six with Neil Sankey, Gary Wilcox, Gary Mills, Carol Craddock and the late Mike Feeney, Johnston and his colleagues dug deep to keep the club afloat.
The club finally opened the doors at Sandgate Road on April 4, 1992 when a Mel Imoh goal saw them beat East Manchester 1-0.
The hard work Johnston put in to keep Heys afloat at that time was recognised in 1992 by the Manchester League, who awarded him their Secretary of the Year award.
As the club established firm foundations at Sandgate Road, Johnston stood down as secretary and chairman in 1996, but took the role of club president and legal secretary.
The outstanding memory of his time at the club is the trophy-laden spell between 2003-2007 when Adie Moran steered Heys to a host of honours, including three successive Manchester League titles.
Johnston puts down his longevity to remaining positive and good self-motivation and he is still looking to help create new memories.
His wish is to see Heys return back to the North West Counties League and he believes the club is as close to doing that as it ever has been with a new look off the field, management structure and the exciting young team assembled by boss Jon Lyons.