Speaking to the Vanarama National League, AFC Fylde fan and media volunteer Jack Connor puts his neck on the line.
The new season is nearly upon us – what have the fans got to look forward to?
I think the fans have got a great season to look forward to. In my opinion the league isn’t as strong as last year and after steady progression in our first two years in the National League, I really believe everything is set up for a big assault on the title this season.
Plenty of impressive incomings this summer so far, but how important is it to keep a hold of Danny Rowe? Were you surprised there hasn’t been more interest in him?
It’s been massive keeping Rowey obviously. Some 180 goals in five seasons tells you all you need to know about his importance and input into the team. There has been some interest over the years, but I don’t think it’s ever been sustained from any particular side. We’re more than happy to have him and hopefully he has his best year at this level yet.
Losing play-off finalists last year, how confident are you that the Coasters can take the next step this season and is it a failure if they don’t?
I think Chally [Dave Challinor], the coaching staff, playing staff and particularly the chairman would probably see it that way as they have incredibly high standards and won’t take being second best lightly. For me the pressure is always on the big ex-Football League sides like Chesterfield, Wrexham and this year, Notts County. If we don’t go up, we have another two years to match our 2022 target and it’s about becoming a sustainable club as well.
There’s been plenty of deals done at Mill Farm this summer but what deals have caught your eye?
I think the best business we’ve done is giving Serhat Tasdemir a big chance with Peterborough in the Football League. We received a substantial six-figure sum which will have undoubtedly helped with bringing players in the other way. Jordan Williams is my pick of the summer transfers. He’s in his peak years, has National League experience with Barrow, works hard and has a lot of pace – he reminds me of Jack Muldoon during his time with us.
What will the squad take from last season’s disappointment to help them this year?
I’m hoping that the disappointment that we suffered at Wembley has remained with the players still here and that we use that to drive ourselves going forward this time. We lost a play-off final to North Ferriby United in 2016 to get promotion to the National League and the year after we went and won the title. Hopefully it’s the same outcome this time.
Who do you fancy to be your more eye-catching players?
I think Nick Haughton will be a big threat as he was a lot last year. Kurt Willoughby has bags of pace and will want to prove himself at a higher level and the physicality of Alex Whitmore could be a big weapon from set pieces.
Who do you fancy for a promotion push?
There are three, potentially four sides who I think will be right up there with us. Wrexham are always there or thereabouts and their struggles with finding a 20-goal-a-season striker has really hurt them at times over the last two years. Solihull are strong and have spent money on the playing squad and facilities and clearly want promotion soon, Harrogate have shown progression year-on-year for some time now and are one of the most exciting teams to watch at this level. If they recruit further, Chesterfield could potentially be up there too.
Are there any grounds you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?
I’ve only got two new grounds to visit this year. Meadow Lane and Huish Park and with it being the bigger, more high profile and much more local away day, I think it has to be Notts County. It’s fairly early on in our season at the end of September and we should take a decent number over to the East Midlands.
What is a must-win game for AFC Fylde this season?
If there’s a game that guarantees promotion, then that! Unsurprisingly, the likes of Stockport and Chorley spring to mind as well as Solihull as we’ve had some tasty rivalries with them over the last few years.
If you could pick one player to sign from your National League rivals, who would it be and why?
It’s a tricky one. We probably need one more out-and-out central midfielder and for me the best I have seen at this level are Jamey Osborne at Solihull and Luke Young at Wrexham. Osborne reminds me a lot of Sam Finley, someone who can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and dominate it, has an eye for goal and just has that x-factor about them. Young is very different, very solid and you know you’re going to get a seven out of ten minimum every time.
Who could be a dark horse this season?
I don’t think they’re a massively surprising pick but if they can hit the ground running Torquay could find themselves in the play-offs this year. They have arguably the best manager in the division in Gary Johnson (Challinor is definitely one of them if he’s reading this). They’ve also kept Jamie Reid who is a really promising young striker and brought back Jake Andrews on a permanent deal after he did really well for them last season, Armani Little looks a handful too.
And finally, where will AFC Fylde finish the season in the league?
It’s a little bit biased, but I really believe everything is in place for us to go one better this season. We’ve recruited extremely well and have terrific strength in depth that we didn’t have as much of last season. I really think we’ll do it this time.