Prestwich Heys have been promoted to the North West Counties League Premier Division as part of a restructure of the non-league pyramid.

The change has been in the planning for the last two seasons but had been delayed by the Covid pandemic. The FA invited applications from the top three sides in each division over the last two years based on a points-per-game ratio.

Heys' results over the last two years saw them able to apply as the third best ranked team in Division One North and this week received confirmation of their promotion – alongside Lower Breck and AFC Liverpool. Bury AFC will remain NWCL Division One North.

Manager Matt Barnes praised his "unbelievable" players after seeing their efforts in the last few years pay off.

“I’m absolutely delighted on the promotion it represents lots of hard work put in by all involved,” he said. “A mention has to go to Joffy (former manager Jon Lyons) whose hard work also made this possible, we have got the club where we want to be!

“The players have been unbelievable and some fantastic memories have been made. Now it’s time to make new memories.” Since joining the league in 2016, Heys have been in the hunt for promotion each season, coming closest in 2018 when they missed out in the play-offs.

Their efforts have been hampered by the pandemic which has seen the last two seasons curtailed. However, their results in those campaigns under Jon Lyons initially and then Barnes have now been rewarded.

Heys Chairman Neil Gilmore added: “We are delighted as a club to have secured promotion to the NWCFL Premier Division. It is a testament to the hard work by everybody involved with the club over a number of years.

“We are now looking forward to the future and hope this promotion will enable us to attract a bigger fanbase alongside additional investment and sponsorship.

“I would like to thank everybody who has made this possible.”

Heys can now look forward to playing at the highest level of football in their history. The most eye-catching fixtures will doubtless be against Macclesfield FC who have been placed into the Premier Division following many changes at the club since they were relegated from the Football League as Macclesfield Town a couple of seasons ago.

Fans can also look forward to some local derbies against Avro, Irlam and Wythenshawe Town which will evoke memories of the meetings between the clubs in their Manchester League days.

The step up and restructure means less travelling for Heys as nearly all their opponents are based in Lancashire, Merseyside and Cheshire making fixtures - particularly night games - more accessible for all.

In addition, Premier Division status has historically guaranteed entry into the FA Cup.

The Northern Premier League is incorporating a new eighth division being introduced to Step 4 of the non-league ladder, which means the addition of 20 new clubs.

There will be three divisions at Division One level, with Ramsbottom United competing in NPL West alongside 1874 Northwich, Bootle and Warrington Rylands who have all been promoted.

Radcliffe Borough remain in the NPL Premier Division which has not been changed.