The current incarnation of Fleetwood Town FC was formed in 1997, although there have been several previous incarnations, the first dating back to 1908.
The club come from the famous fishing town of Fleetwood on the North West coast of England, around seven miles north of Blackpool in Lancashire. Fleetwood FC as they were originally known became members of the Lancashire Combination in 1910, where they remained until 1968 when they became founder members of the Northern Premier League.
'The Trawlermen' to give them their original nickname, had moved into their Highbury Stadium home in 1939. Crowds were low during the clubs years in the NPL and they folded owing to financial difficulties in 1976. The club were re-established in 1977 as Fleetwood Town FC as they were admitted to the Cheshire County League from where they played Blackpool in the FA Cup First Round in a game switched to Bloomfield Road. The Seasiders ran out easy 4-0 winners, before two years later the North West Counties League was formed where Town were founder members.
In 1985 Town reached Wembley in the final of the FA Vase, where they were defeated 3-1 by Halesowen Town. Two years later the club were placed in the newly extended second tier of the Northern Premier League, and before long they were promoted to the Premier Division. However, it proved to be a step too far and they once again folded owing to problems of finance in 1996.
A new club Fleetwood Wanderers FC were formed as a replacement for the 1997-98 campaign in the North West Counties League, but before the season started they changed their name to Fleetwood Freeport FC in acknowledgement of the new sea front development in the town. A promotion was achieved and in 2002 the club decided to use the historical Fleetwood Town name.
Around the same time, a local man Andy Pilley began his own company, Business Energy Solutions from the fall out of the utilities deregulation. In 2003 he bought the club and began pumping in money in the hope of fulfilling his dream of taking Town all the way to the Football League.
Successive promotions under manager Tony Greenwood saw 'The Cod Army' reach the Northern Premier League Premier Division by 2006,as the first phase of the development of Highbury began. Two years later the title was secured meaning promotion to the Conference North in front of the highest average home gate in the division of 721.
Former Blackpool midfielder Micky Mellon took over as manager after a poor start to the season, with his role becoming full time a few months later. Town reached the FA Cup Second Round for the first time ever that season, with Hartlepool United ending their run at Highbury in front of a record crowd at the time. Crowds gradually increased as new players were introduced to the club.
In 2010 Town reached the Conference National as they defeated Alfreton Town in the Highbury Play Off Final in from of another new attendance high. For the new season in non league's elite, the playing staff were made full time, with Pilley's cash being splashed on several new signings. It all paid dividends as The Cod Army reached another Play Off Semi Final. On this occasion League bound AFC Wimbledon thrashed them 6-1 on aggregate.
All the time the playing staff and Highbury was being heavily invested in, and the 2011-12 season saw a serious promotion assault as well as a fine FA Cup run. Mansfield Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Yeovil Town were all dispatched before Town were awarded with a dream home draw in Round Three against Blackpool. As in 1980 the senior club walked away with the honours in a fine 5-1 victory which drew a new stadium record crowd of 5,092. Promotion was sealed at the end of the season as League football arrived at Highbury Avenue.
The Cod Army's debut season as a member of the 'ninety two' saw boss Micky Mellon depart to be replaced by Graham Alexander with the team finishing in mid table.
Fleetwood Town will compete in Football League Two in the 2013-14 season.
Wednesday 1st February 2012
I had stayed in Blackpool the previous evening while on a couple of days break after working night shifts. It was a crisp but beautiful morning by the seaside and Blackpool had never looked better.
I had been to three non league clubs in the town before 9am, owing to my insomnia and after a bight to eat, I headed for the promenade to catch a bus to Fleetwood. I would have taken the tram, but apart from test vehicles they were closed for track renovation. Instead I got a seat on the upper deck on the coast side looking forward to my ride. I was surprised when I saw that journeys could take up to an hour according to the timetable, but I soon found out why.
I think I was the youngest person on board by about twenty years. At every bus stop there was a queue of pensioners waiting to board. They took what seemed like an eternity to shuffle on and get their ticket. I had inadvertently chosen the first bus after 9.30am, meaning it was the first free bus for those with pension cards. They'd all obviously seen the weather and piled out of their hotels after breakfast for a cheap day out.
|The old stand still in use behind the Highbury Stand|
I was relieved that I was ahead of schedule, although we quickened up once we'd dropped half the bus off at Cleveleys. My IPhone was very handy as I followed our progress on the map app, meaning I knew exactly where to get off. I alighted along Hatfield Avenue and was delighted to see the gate opened. I went inside to take my photos as the groundsmen were removing the protective covers from the pitch.
Highbury Stadium was a very impressive ground for a club that were members of the North West Counties League not many years previously. The near end had some flat open standing and then the covered terracing of The Percy Ronson Stand. Down the near side was a narrow stretch of standing in front of the Highbury Social Club and then the all seated Highbury Stand. The Memorial Stand was a covered terrace at the far end, but the crowning glory had only been completed less that a year previously. The Parkside Stand had a single tier of seating, with two layers of boxes above. The first set had the offices of Chairman Pilley's BES company inside and the upper level had a balcony of seats for patrons. The stand was covered with a striking semi circular roof.
I got chatting to a couple of the very friendly groundsmen, who were a credit to their club. They assured me that Pilley was a good guy who was football mad. They welcomed him after they had some previous men at the helm who they didn't think too much of. I asked what was next for the stadium? They just chuckled and said, "Who knows with Pilley in charge!"
I was then taken for a look behind the Highbury Stand by one of the gents. Amazingly the old wooden grandstand that was set back from the pitch when there was once a speedway track at the stadium, was still intact. I was told that the changing rooms were used by the Academy players when the had matches on the pitches behind the ground. I was also told about how the social club was now privately owned and was members only after the old club sold it off, meaning away fans have nowhere to drink at the ground because Jim's Bar is under the home end. Pilley had offered cash to buy it back, but had so far been rebuffed. I had the feeling that he'd eventually get his way so that he could extend the stand and provide extra facilities.
I said my thanks and goodbyes. I was told to return soon. It had been a lovely half hour. I chatted to a lovely lady at the bus stop, who like most people I met over my couple of days in Lancashire was a credit to the area.
The journey back to Blackpool was far quicker than the outward ride. I entered the Tower building and enquired about going up in the lift, but I thought £12 was too expensive. Instead I came across the ballroom and sat upstairs for a few minutes, marvelling at the incredible old building and the joy of the dancers of all ages down below. There was something about it that made me so proud to be British.
I walked back to the station through parts of Blackpool that were nice, and others just a few years ago that were an eyesore. The old place certainly needs some investment, but there's still nothing like seeing that wonderful magical Tower for the first time in ages.
Fleetwood Town 1 Cheltenham Town 1 (Tuesday 26th February 2013) Football League Two (att: 2,013)
I had originally thought that I was going to this game after completing my night shifts, but I had taken my eye off the ball. I had been allotted the first week of the new leave pattern, so who was I to argue?
My room had been booked at the North Pier in Blackpool Travelodge well in advance for just £19.99, as had my rail tickets, even if the return wouldn't be used as I headed to Scarborough later in the week. My journey meant a change of trains in Preston, where I wandered to Deepdale and was treated to an impromptu stadium tour.
After some training on the wide expanses of Blackpool beach, including bowling at the sea wall in preparation for my forthcoming cricket tour to Thailand I washed and changed before taking the tram to Fleetwood. The afternoon had been beautiful, but it was already getting cold as the night drew in.
My match ticket had been purchased in advance and cost just £12.50 for a place on the terrace behind the home goal. Once I had collected that and bought a very impressive match programme I headed for Jim's Bar underneath the home end. The facility was first class, with plasma screens everywhere as well as plentiful barstaff serving the thirsty punters. It was top class.
Before kick off I needed some food, and the excellent quick service at the kiosk meant I was soon tucking into a very good and generous portion of pie, chips and gravy. I took my place in the top corner of the stand to enjoy it.
The visitors from Gloucestershire were the better side throughout the first period. They were quicker and stronger and went into the lead with a twenty yard shot from Marlon Pack. The home keeper Scott Davies was having a good game, and he needed to. The bar had plenty of unimpressed members of the Cod Army at half time. I enjoyed a 'wee dram' for medicinal reasons as the temperatures continued to drop.
Jon Parkin came on for the second half and immediately started using his considerable physique to good effect, while using his impeccable ball control to set up his team mates. He got under the skin of the Cheltenham defenders at the same time and let them know that they were in a game.
Fellow substitute Junior Brown headed home from a corner to restore parity, and despite plenty of huffing and puffing, that was the end of the scoring. The visitors would probably feel that they should have won the game, but they failed to capitalise when well on top.
I headed for the tram, and it was greeted with great joy when it arrived to get the fans out of the bitter cold. I called in at both Wetherspoon houses located close to my digs on my return to Blackpool; The Albert and the Lion and The Layton Rakes, playing spot the customer in one and avoiding the drunk Irishmen in the other.
Blackpool really is tired in places, but the sight of The Tower still gets my pulse racing. I had enjoyed ticking off another venue and the sea air.
The black and white images of Highbury have been taken from text books.