JASON AINSLEY has mastermind Spennymoor Town’s rise, closely involved in all but one of their years in existence which began in the second division of the Northern League at Step 6, and tomorrow they play for a place in the National League at Step 1 – a spell of over 600 league and cup games.

The previous club, Spennymoor United, went bust in 2005 near the end of their Evo-Stik Premier Division season, when they failed to fulfil their fixtures. Ainsley had also played a big part in their success in the mid-1990s as a player and had tasted promotion and FA Cup success with them before going to play abroad.

However, a new club, Spennymoor Town, was formed following the demise of Evenwood Town, who moved to Spennymoor in the summer of 2005 and changed their name.

With a new chairman, Alan Murray, and manager, Ken Houlahan, they started from scratch, and finished eighth in the second division of the Northern League without really threatening promotion.

Before the start of the second season, former Middlsbrough midfielder Jamie Pollock was appointed as manager, and approached Ainsley to be his assistant.

“I was playing for Horden at the time, and I thought the job would be ideal, because Jamie still wanted me to play, and that there would be no pressure on me.

“We won the second division on the last day of our first season at Penrith, thanks to a goal by Tom Jones in the dying minutes, but we were only certain because Seaham Red Star, who could have beaten us to the title, lost their game.

“We had 150 supporters behind us, and I remember most of them went back to Penrith’s clubhouse and celebrated with us.”

Pollock resigned after promotion, and Ainsley stepped up.

“During that summer I was summoned to see the chairman and was told the players had to take pay cuts – I said that they couldn’t because they hadn’t even been paid yet! We had some very good players then such as Craig Gott, Craig Ruddy, Anthony Peacock, Jamie Clarke and Keith Finch.

“We had a great Vase run, and we were drawn away at Bideford in Devon in the fifth round. The chairman talked about withdrawing, because we couldn’t afford the bill for the bus. I spoke to Brad Groves, who was the manager of Hetton Lyons whom I was playing for on Sundays, and he said that he would fund the bus and an overnight stay. Brad was more into Sunday football at the time and was keen on winning the FA Sunday Cup.

“That was the start of his involvement and he took over as chairman eventually.

“One of our great strengths at the club has been our team spirit. Bedlington were one of our main rivals, and they made offers for several of our players, but they all stayed loyal to the club, which was great.

“When Brad came along, we put all our players on contract, which was a bit unusual at the time in the Northern League. Certain players were on contract at certain clubs, but not virtually a full team!

“We had some great players in the Northern League, who were consistent week in and week out; players I knew I could rely on such as Kallum Griffiths, Steve Capper, Leon Ryan, Bobby Moore, Anthony Peacock, Craig Ruddy, Keith Grayson, Lewis Dodds, Gavin Cogdon, Mark Davison and several others. They were all a big part of the club.”

With Groves involved, Moors dominated the Northern League for several years, apart from one: season 2012-13.

“We won the Northern League three years in a row between 2010 and 2012, picking up 100, 103 and 97 points, and when we passed those figures with 109 in 2013, Darlington beat us to the title!

“We won the FA Vase instead that year by beating Tunbridge Wells. We had some great games on the way to Wembley, none more so than the semi-final away to Guernsey. There had been some really heavy rain, and when we got there the night before, the match was very much in doubt because of all the water on the pitch – so in the morning the club got a helicopter to fly over the pitch to try and dry it out! It was thanks to Andrew Stephenson that we got through.

“We had to kick-off on the Saturday evening for the return game because of their flight times and TV coverage of the game back in Guernsey, and went through.

“The final was a very nervous one. We missed a load of chances and only scored one, Tunbridge Wells got back to 1-1, then Rasher (Keith Graydon) scored the winner from an Andrew Stephenson pass. I didn’t really enjoy the game until the final whistle.

“There was always lots of pressure around winning the Vase, because we’d assembled a very good team and Whitley Bay, from the Northern League, had already won it three years in a row, so there were high expectations of us.

“We hadn’t taken promotion to the next level because Brad felt that the infrastructure wasn’t in place, but we felt that everything was right for us to move up when we won the Northern League again in 2014.”

Moors went up to Level 4 in 2014, the Evo-Stik First Division North, and they again came up against Darlington, who again enjoyed the upper hand.

“It was a sickener losing to them in the play offs. For a neutral, it was a very good game, but it was very difficult for a manager,” added Ainsley. “The game was poised, and I can always remember that if Kallum Griffiths’ shot from 40 yards went in, instead of hitting the bar, then we would have gone through. Instead, Liam Hatch came off the bench and equalised for them, then David Dowson scored the winner. I went to the play off final when Darlington played Bamber Bridge in the final, and many Darlington fans patted me on the back.

“After we lost to Darlington, we ended up in the play offs again the following season, 2015-16, when we finished second, and we played Burscough in the semi-final on a night when it snowed.

“We then played Northwich, who had always given us a hard game, and beat them 2-0.”

Moors were a strong force to be reckoned with, as they carried all before them.

“We had a great run in the FA Cup in the Evo-Stik Premier season, we beat Chorley and Lincoln United to get through to the first round, and we were drawn away to MK Dons. We gave them a huge scare before we lost 3-2. We were so close to causing an upset. That run made up for when Telford United beat us in a fourth qualifying round replay a couple of years before. We were 2-0 up at our place going into stoppage time, but they came back to draw 2-2, and then we lost the replay 3-0.

“We got into the play offs again at the end of the 2016-17 season, and this time we played well and beat Nantwich and Stourbridge to win another promotion. The lads showed some great character in the closing weeks of the season because we had so many games to play. It was a great achievement, because Stourbridge were a very good side, with a very good manager. I can remember that Dan Lowson pulled off an excellent save at 0-0 to keep us in the game.”

That play off victory put Moors into the National League North, Step 2, the highest league they have played in, either as Town or United.

“I thought we started the new league really well. We were up against clubs who had been in the Football League not long before that, such as Stockport County, York and Kidderminster, so to beat Stockport 1-0 in our first game of the season with a great goal by David Foley – it was a day to remember.

“We were so close to the play offs last season. We won the last game of the season, but Bradford scored with the last kick of their game and took the last play-off place. We had played so many games in a short space of time because of the state of our pitch.

“This season, we have improved. We’ve finished fourth, had a great season apart from the first five games and the month of March, and done the double over York to put ourselves in a great position.”