There has been an unfamiliar name on top of the UniBond (formerly Northern Premier) League for most of the season. Bamber Bridge, in their first term in the league's top flight, are four points clear of the pack and have yet to be beaten.
This is a remarkable achievement for a club which, as recently as 1990, were playing in the Preston and District League. They advanced to the North West Counties League that year, and climbed through its divisions to reach the Northern Premier in 1993. Last season they were promoted from the First Division as runners-up behind Blyth Spartans - and beat Premier Division opposition to win both the League Challenge Cup and the Lancashire FA ATS Trophy (the county cup).
Bamber Bridge have done all this without a wealthy backer paying big wages. "Hard work and team spirit has got us this far," the club chairman, Dennis Allen, said yesterday. "We don't have a board of directors, we're a members' club with a management committee who have no monetary input apart from membership fees. We pay what we can afford from gate, advertising and bar income - we're small fry compared to neighbouring clubs like Chorley.''
Only two of the club's players have Football League experience: Nigel Greenwood, whose brother Tony is the manager, was once with Preston and Bury, while Steve Senior served Wigan. "We've kept a nucleus of players as we've risen," Allen explained, "and four of our lads have been with us since the Preston and District League days. We've not spent more than pounds 3,000 on players since we joined the pyramid.''
There will be no promotion celebrations this season, however, even if Bamber Bridge win their league, for the restrictions of their Irongate ground have ruled out an application to join the GM Vauxhall Conference. "We've come so far so quickly we haven't had time to sort out the ground," Allen said, "but we've put in an application for lottery funds for that purpose.''
Tomorrow's visitors to Irongate are Mel Sterland's Boston United side who, along with Guiseley, are poised four points behind Bamber Bridge, waiting for a slip-up by the leaders. "We've had a good run," Allen said, "but it's getting harder - everyone is trying to knock us off our perch."