AFC Fylde are back in the working environment ahead of the new National League North campaign, which is set to commence on Saturday 14th August.

The Coasters’ first team, who sat second in the National League North before its curtailment last season, reported back to Mill Farm last week to resume light training. The schedule will see all players participate in three sessions a week to help maintain strength and conditioning. 

First Team Manager, Jim Bentley, has been working alongside his coaching staff to put together a pre-season programme, recruitment plan and retain list; a process that he considers an important part of the season. Talking to about the decision to bring the players back in, Bentley said:

“We’ve gone from training at full tilt to the season being postponed, so as staff we decided we didn’t want to switch off and fire back up again after a long break. Other clubs will do that, put the lads on furlough and come back, but we felt we had a duty of care to look after our players from a psychological perspective, looking after their mental state and keeping them engaged after a really tough end to the season. They are all desperate to play football and love coming in to train. We were conscious that if we take that away from them it can have negative effects.

“We have carefully devised a programme that we feel gives the players the right balance of football and downtime between now and the start of pre-season. For five weeks the players will be training three times a week, before giving them a couple of weeks off which hopefully coincides with the relaxation of the travel ban.

“We have to also be mindful that these lads can’t go away in July or August when the kids are off school, so we have to take that into consideration and allow them to go away once the travel ban is lifted.

On 21st June the players will return to full-time training, giving the players over seven weeks to get up to speed for the 20/21 campaign. Prior to their return, Bentley is having to work through his ‘to-do’ list, with the retain list a priority. He explained:

“In recent days, myself, the chairman and the chief executive have been discussing the retain list, negotiating contract renewals and looking at some recruitment options for the coming season.

“It’s a really important stage for us, and we’ve had to make some really difficult decisions on players. We could have sat them down at the end of their contracts but I thought it was better that we did it ahead of time to give those leaving the chance to go on loan or train somewhere else. It wouldn’t have been fair to throw them into the rat race in May, along with every other out-of-contract player.

“Pre-season games are something else that we’re looking at. There are some really exciting plans that we’re collectively working on, so hopefully, we can welcome the fans back to Mill Farm in style, with some really good games. The staff in the offices are looking at ticketing for the new season; advertisements; new kit; the academy programme. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and we’re hoping all the effort that we’re putting in pays off in the new season.”

The former Morecambe man has enjoyed some fruitful pre-seasons during his management career, none more so than last season at Mill Farm. The Coasters got off to a fantastic start to the 2019/20 campaign with seven wins on the bounce, helping them stay at the top end of the league table until its postponement in March. Bentley insisted that, although it isn’t everything, pre-season provides the perfect opportunity to lay the foundations for the next nine months. 

“A good pre-season doesn’t guarantee anything, but it encourages best practice. You want to create a good, structured, organised, hardworking environment. The main thing for me is getting the players as fit as possible; getting them embedded into the group and philosophy; and, touch wood, avoiding any injuries.

“We were pleased with how last season’s pre-season went, adhering to strict regulations and navigating our way through a unique pre-season programme. We started well, winning the first seven games, so we will be looking to replicate that as much as we can.

“Physically, socially and mentally we have to make sure we are geared up for the first game of the season – that’s what we are working towards now.