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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Fleetwood Dreams Don't Stop Yet

Nobes takes a look at the club on the Lancashire coast making waves with their rapid rise up the pyramid.

Fleetwood Town boss Micky Mellon is at a club with big ambitions

Despite the summer coming to an end, now, it seems, is an especially good time to be beside the seaside.

Particularly, that is, if you're on the Lancashire coast. There's not been this much of a buzz on the Fylde since the Wakes Weeks.

Blackpool's promotion to the Premier League last term, naturally, caught the headlines. However, just down the road, neighbouring Fleetwood's own elevation seemed to get lost amidst all the Tangerine ticker tape.

While the Bloomfield Road outfit's climb from the basement division of the Football League to its highest platform has been meteoric, Fleetwood's rise has been even more rapid - if not as high profile - as the Seasiders'.

The Fishermen were playing in the North West Counties Football League as recently as 2005. However, they're now rubbing shoulders with
ex-Football League outfits of the pedigree of Grimsby and Luton.

Last season, the men from the Wyre took the race for the Conference North title, appropriately enough, down to just that. However, a final day win wasn't enough to edge out coastal rivals Southport.

They showed terrific character in responding to that near miss though. Recovering from a 2-0 first leg defeat in their play off semi with Droylsden to win 3-1 in the second, they progressed to the final on penalties.

There they beat Alfreton to secure a fourth promotion in six years - and enter Non League's highest tier for the first time in their history.

The last promotion came under the guidance of former Blackpool midfielder Micky Mellon - in just his first full season at the helm.

When he had taken over in September 2008, Town had been struggling at the foot of the division. An improved second half of the campaign saw them comfortably finish in 8th though.

Mellon is the club's first ever full time manager - reflecting the increased investment and professional aura around the club.

Indeed, under chairman Andy Pilley, Fleetwood are a club showing the financial clout required to muscle in with the big boys of the Conference Premier.

They were reported to have the biggest budget in the Conference North last term and assembled a squad that included ex-Aston Villa man Alan Wright.

They also invested in equipment to protect their pitch during the winter months which allowed them to steal a march on opponents who saw their own matches called off due to the heavy snow.

Along with Wright, this season's team is full of ex-League players with the likes of Magno Vieira, Lee Thorpe, Anthony Barry, and Ian Craney all with vast League experience - and likely to command big wages.

Re-developments are in progress at Highbury - including a new main stand

Before last weekend's 1-1 draw at Crawley - a side whose own spending makes Town's look like merely small fry - opposition manager Steve Evans was full of compliments about their opponents.

Evans described the Lancashire side as "a top team at this level" and predicted they will finish somewhere in the top five of this term's Conference. High praise for a side new to this level of the game.

Their start to the season has been impressive, too. They sit just outside the play off positions and have already seen off established names such as York and Mansfield on home soil.

While romantics will revel in Fleetwood's success story though, it would be remiss - and naive - to not concede that it has been a rise largely fuelled by a huge investment of money.

In that respect, it is a story no different to that of days gone by. After all, it wasn't so long ago that then money bags Grays Athletic were knocking on the door of the 92 club.

The fate which befell the Essex outfit who are now playing in the Isthmian League Division One North - the eighth tier of the English game - is one that should provide a warning to Town.

However, it is unlikely to. The club are pressing ahead with a £4 million re-development of their Highbury Ground - including a new 2,000 all-seater main stand reflecting the grand plans they have.

Mellon has already been vocal about how he would like to see three promotion places from the Conference instead of the existing two. For Fleetwood, it's next stop Football League.

It is reminiscent of the rise of Rushden & Diamonds. The Northamptonshire outfit climbed all the way up to League One through the financial aid of benevolent benefactor Max Griggs before slumping back down when the cash ran out.

Cynics will, unsurprisingly, suggest that Fleetwood's future will depend on where they are when money becomes tight. After all, it is always the case when a club is promoted beyond its natural level.

Crowds at Highbury are averaging around the 2,000 mark - no doubt helped from increased away attendances as well as picking up supporters riding the crest of their multi-promotion waves.

However, Fleetwood find themselves in a highly competitive region - surrounded by Premier and Football League clubs of much greater stature. Without the money, could they ever properly establish themselves in the Football League?

It is doubtful.
Indeed, history proves that, with unsustainable ascension, the quicker the rise, usually the even faster the fall.

You get the feeling that members of the Cod Army - as their fans are known - won't care for now though. Blackpool may have the Pleasure Beach, but nothing can match the wild ride Fleetwood supporters are currently enjoying.

That's the thing with rollercoasters though - every rise is followed by a fall. That's something Fleetwood should learn from their neighbours.

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