Fleetwood Town dare to dream about sixth promotion in nine years
Monday 26 May 2014
Fleetwood Town’s president, Jim Betmead, could be forgiven for pinching himself when he gazes out from Wembley’s royal box before today’s League Two play-off final.
After all, the 65-year-old is the man who restored the Lancashire club to life after its liquidation in 1996, restarting in the second tier of the North West Counties Football League.
“It was just the tumbleweed that was missing,” he says of the then derelict Highbury Stadium he and a team of volunteers set about making fit for purpose. “The grass was waist high, the stands were in need of urgent repair. When I re-formed the football club, if I’d said we were going to go into the Football League, they’d have carted me away in a straitjacket.”
Today, Betmead may actually see Fleetwood go one better, for two seasons after their historic promotion to the Football League, they will climb into League One with victory over Burton Albion.
Fleetwood, a club who took their red-and-white colours from a trawler company, had already folded once before in the 1970s, just as the local fishing industry started to decline. Yet the climb of the “Cod Army” began in earnest after the 2003 arrival of chairman Andy Pilley, a wealthy local businessman who has spent £10m on transforming their fortunes. Pilley invested £4.5m alone in an impressive new main stand and on the pitch there have been five promotions, starting with the North West Counties First Division title in 2005. Their Wembley squad today includes one survivor of that first step, defender Nathan Pond, who made his debut in front of a crowd of 81 people. “What Andy has done has been an absolute dream – he has just taken us on this magical journey,” adds Betmead.
Besides a chairman with deep pockets, Fleetwood also have a bright young manager in Graham Alexander. He is 18 months into his first management job but has considerable play-offs experience: during more than 1,000 playing appearances, he lost finals with Scunthorpe United and Preston North End before winning Premier League promotion with Burnley at Wembley in 2009.
“For me it’s about repaying the faith put in me by people this season and last,” said the 42-year-old, who last summer was able to bring in vital experience in captain Mark Roberts – a League Two play-off final winner with Stevenage – and midfielder Steven Schumacher. His opposite number Gary Rowett, by comparison, actually lost his two best players after Burton’s play-off semi-final defeat 12 months ago. Where Burton may have a “1 per cent advantage” according to Rowett is from the fact they train at St George’s Park, where there are three pitches “very similar” to Wembley’s, although they may well need this against a club Nigel Worthington, manager of Fleetwood’s semi-final victims York, described as the “Manchester City of our league”.
Betmead prefers a different parallel. “I played in the Northern Premier against Wigan and look at what they’ve done. We’ve rubbed shoulders with them once before, so who knows?”
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger 'optimistic' of making signing, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Edinson Cavani linked
Manchester United have two days to seal the transfer of the summer, Arsenal need to panic, Jose Mourinho right to blast Chelsea reluctance
Celtic supporters mock Fenerbahce fans' threatening 'knife' pictures with their own versions - featuring spoons and bananas
Swansea 2 Manchester United 1 player ratings: Was Andre Ayew the Swans' star man or did Bafetimbi Gomis steal the show?
Anthony Martial to Manchester United: United 'open talks' with £36m Monaco striker as Javier Hernandez joins Bayer Leverkusen
- 1 VMAs 2015: Was Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' awkward acceptance put-down real or staged?
- 3 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 4 Chaos breaks out in courtroom as father attacks killer of three-year-old daughter
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up