Abbey Hey FC was formed in 1902 in the Abbey Hey district of Gorton, some three miles away from the centre of Manchester. During their formative years and through the two World Wars, the club was disbanded and reformed on a number of occasions. Starting in the Church Sunday Leagues, they progressed through the Manchester Amateur Leagues during the intervening years but the club really came into it’s own in the 1960s after it took in the players of the Admiralty Gunning Engineering Department (AGED) following it’s closure. Alf Gentry, the Manager of Abbey Hey at this point, decided that with the influx of new players he would step down in favour of the AGED Manager, Danny Danson. Alf, who had been for many years the prime mover of the club, stayed on in a senior position and shared in the success that the club would have in the coming years. The new players made up the backbone of the club during the decade with some staying on after their playing careers had ended.
Most notable of these was Allan Vaughan, who occupied the positions of Treasurer and Secretary. Ken Brown also stayed on; becoming manager after Danny Danson had retired, and won numerous honours culminating in 1978 with the club deciding to apply for a position in the Manchester League. The application was successful and the following year the club began playing in the 2nd Division of the Manchester League, achieving promotion in their first season.
Reaching this position meant that the club had to find an enclosed ground suitable for playing their home games. The nearest ground available at the time was in Chorlton at Werburghs Road. The ground was owned by a car dealership (Lookers) but was being used by a local school. It was agreed that if Abbey Hey FC carried out some improvements, such as installing showers in the dressing rooms, they could rent the ground. After two years, Lookers reneged on the deal and the club was forced out, this time to a ground nearer home at Godfreys (the area was named after a prominent local Councillor, Godfrey Erman, who donated the ground to the local populace of Abbey Hey for their use as a recreational area).
The next eighteen years were fairly successful with the club winning the Gilchrist Cup under Managers Jim Whittaker and Dave Denby and a League title but this ended when Abbey Hey FC were told that as from the start of the new season they would not be allowed to use Godfreys. This despite the large amounts of money that they had spent on drainage and despite assurances when they had taken over the derelict ground that as long as Abbey Hey had a football team this would be their ground.
A temporary home, at the old English Steel ground, was arranged on a season to season basis with the owners at theme, Clayton Analine but after only 2 years, the ground was sold to a local builder who required the land to build houses on. During the two years the club were based at the ground, negotiations with Crossley Motors Ltd had been taking place to buy a disused ground they owned in Goredale Avenue, Gorton. Unfortunately, the land was not in good order and was becoming an eyesore with fences falling down and people using it for fly-tipping. Contractors working for the council had tipped 1,000 tons of hardcore onto the car park to prevent access to the ground.
Matters had reached an impasse between Abbey Hey FC and Crossleys when Manchester City Council stepped in, They informed Crossleys that if an agreement was not made with the people that they were dealing with, the ground would be the subject of a compulsory purchase order. This tipped the scales in favour of the football club who were asked to make an offer for the ground which was promptly accepted. Legal representation and a bank loan were quickly arranged and in 1984 the club at last had their own home.
The bank loan was paid off and the ground was improved including having the fly tipped hardcore removed from the ground. These improvements to the ground could only have been achieved by the hard work and dedication of the committee, who not only raised the money to carry out the improvements but also carried out 90% of the work themselves.
Jim Clark was to join during these turbulent times as manager, a position he was to occupy for the next 18 years. The club went on to gain success in the Manchester League during the late eighties and early nineties, winning the Premier Division Championship on five occasions during this period.
In 1997, after finishing 2nd in the Manchester Premier Division, the club applied for membership of The North West Counties League. Following a ground grading visit by League Officials, the club was accepted into the 2nd Division for the 1998 season. Abbey Hey’s first season in the North West Counties League couldn’t have been more exciting. Although Fleetwood Freeport had taken the Division Two title, the runners-up place was still to be decided. On the last Saturday of the season any one of three clubs could have taken second place, but it was Abbey’s 3-2 win at Darwen that clinched promotion to Division One in their first season in the league.
Promotion to the 1st Division meant that the club had to install floodlights. True to form, they designed, ordered, erected and wired them within a couple of months. The biggest job during the ground improvements was the building of the new clubhouse and dressing rooms. Planning permission was given with the majority of work once again being carried out by the clubs own members. To finance this project, low interest loans were taken out from The FA with the remainder of the money achieved through fund raising schemes.
In their first season in the top flight, Abbey Hey had a tremendous start, topping the table at one point early in the season, but a drop in form saw them finish mid table. Still, a highly creditable first season in Division One and they had more than proved themselves worthy of their rapid rise from the Manchester League to the NWCFL Division One.
2000/01 again saw Abbey finish in a comfortable mid table position, proving that the season before had been no fluke, but the following season started with a run of poor results including some heavy defeats. The second half of the year saw an improvement which lifted the club away from any relegation threat but at the end of the season, manager Jim Clark decided to resign. This ended an eighteen year stint in management in which he had overseen many of Abbey Hey’s finest moments.
Jim’s replacement for 2002/03 was Tony Hancock, previously Woodley Sports Reserve Team manager, who also brought Paul Kirkham from Woodley as his assistant. It was their first attempt at management at this level of football and Abbey Hey’s final position of 13th showed that they rose to the challenge. During the season, Calum Dempsey won the NWCFL player of the month award for September and goalkeeper Liam Higginbottom won the October safe hands’ award. However, at the end of their first season in charge, Tony and Paul left the club to retun to Woodley Sports as managers of the first team. There was some celebration as Abbey Hey reached their 100th birthday and also reached the 3rd round proper (last 64) of the FA Vase. The club has played in the FA Cup for the first time since the turn of the millennium, but have only won one tie, a victory over Bamber Bridge on penalties in 2002-03, to reach the First Qualifying Round for the only time.
Jim Vince took over for 2003/04 but after a good start to the season, things went wrong. Despite only losing five out of their last ten games, the club ended second from bottom, only avoiding relegation due to the changes made to the non league structure. Jim Vince opted to resign and Chris Bailey took over knowing that a major team rebuilding job was required.
In 2004 ten members of the committee were given long service awards for their 25 years of service in Grass Roots Football by The Manchester FA. The 2005/2006 season improved their best league finish by two places, but both the team and the club then started to struggle. A lack of both financial backing and foresight saw the club slowly drop down the league table in the following seasons until 2009/10 saw them eventually hit rock bottom.
In 2009/10 Abbey Hey was half way through the season with only 4 points to their name and in the basement position in the league after 25 games. However, following the appointments of Barrie Walker as Manager and Andrew Harris as Assistant Manager in November 2009, Abbey Hey made several new signings with the likes of Jon-Paul Lewis, Gareth Wager, Daniel Cocks, John Hardy, Darren Evans, Lee Knowles and Nathan Finnigan joining the club. This signalled a turn in fortune for the club as they picked up 30 points in the 2nd half of the season however it wasn’t enough and they were relegated from the North West Counties Premier Division.
The form in the second of the season saw Abbey Hey going all the way to the final of the Vodkat League Challenge Cup beating the likes of Ashton Athletic FC and Bootle FC along the way. Abbey Hey beat Winsford Utd 3-0 in the final and lifted the trophy.
Walker and Harris made the decision to blood young local talent, realising that this would serve the club well in the future but that it would take time to reap its rewards. Abbey made a slow start to life in the NWCFL First Division 2010/2011 and departed all cup competitions at the initial stages. However, October signalled a change in fortunes and wins at Atherton Collieries, Daisy Hill and Wigan Robin Park pointed to a brighter 2011. The introduction of quality players such as Antal Tompos, Luke Gibson and Martin Pilkington started to pay dividends though the results did not always reflect this. Unfortunately, the team’s home form was to be their downfall as far as progressing up the league table although the team were usually beaten only by the odd goal.
For the 2011/12 season, Walker’s youth policy started to pay quick dividends as the team has made an excellent start to the league season, remaining in the top four of Division One from day one. Though a run of poor results saw them exit the NWCFL Challenge Cup, FA Vase and 1st Division Trophy they did take the notable scalp of Evo Stik North team Radcliffe Borough in the first round of the Manchester Cup. The season really stepped up a gear as they moved into 2012 with Abbey at one point pushing Wigan Robin Park and Norton United for one of the two promotion places. Though they were to ultimately finish in 3rd place, the season had been an undoubted success as Walker had built a promotion challenging team in just 2 seasons.
The 2012/13 campaign started better than anyone at the club could have imagined as the team went unbeaten in the league for the first 3 months. Although unsuccessful in the FA vase, they would eventually reach the latter stages of the FA Cup qualifiers and a plum tie at FC Halifax via fantastic wins at St Helens Town and Sheffield. Rarely stepping out of the top two in Division One, Abbey continued to rack up league wins whilst also moving thru the Challenge Cup, Div One Trophy and Manchester Premier Cup rounds. The first team success was also matched by the newly introduced youth team set up. Both Under 17s and 18s topped their respective Youth Alliance Divisions during the year and impressed many with their style of play and application. As the months progressed a few of the older youth players started to appear in the first team, boding well for the future. Come April and a win at Northwich Villa eventually sealed promotion back into the top flight of the NWCFL ladder.