There is a new name on the League Two fixture list this season. Not too many in the division will know much about newcomers Fleetwood Town, but they better start learning pretty swiftly. The Cod Army, as they are commonly known, have enjoyed a meteoric rise through non-league football and the journey looks unlikely to end yet.
It’s fair to say 2011/12 could not have gone any better for the Lancashire-based outfit. They enjoyed an FA Cup run into the third round for the first time in their history, seeing off the likes of Mansfield, Wycombe and Yeovil before drawing local rivals Blackpool. Unfortunately, they buckled under the pressure of playing the biggest game in their history, losing 5-1 to Ian Holloway’s boys. This wasn’t to deter them from the rest of the season; Fleetwood enjoyed a 29 game unbeaten run before sealing the title with two games remaining. Chairman Andy Pilley told the BBC that promotion to the Football League was the ‘culmination of many years’ hard work’ and that their success would also represent a huge economic boost for the town.
The Cod Army’s rise to the Football League has been swift. Last season was their fifth promotion in eight years. They almost reached the elite 92 in 2011, but were denied in the Conference playoffs by a rampaging AFC Wimbledon side, with whom they will renew rivalries with next season. Much credit has to be directed towards the Chairman. Andy Pilley has ensured his side have received much financial backing, not to mention the development of Highbury Stadium to host a side fit for League football.
The mastermind behind the rise of Fleetwood is former Blackpool midfield Mickey Mellon. The fact he originally juggled the job part-time between managing Fleetwood and Burnley’s u15’s and 16’s is testament to how far the club have come. Despite being a former Tangerine, the Fleetwood faithful have forgiven him for this minor indiscretion. The Cod Army were bottom of the Conference North when he took over in 2008, but he led them to a creditable eight place finish that year before sealing promotion to the Conference the following year, after beating Alfreton Town in the playoff final. The boss is lucky to have a strong squad at his disposal and he has already made a number of eye-catching signings. Former Northern Ireland international Damien Johnson will provide steel and experience to the midfield having enjoyed a career in the Premier League with Blackburn and Birmingham, while Mellon has also snapped up Jon ‘the beast’ Parkin following his release from Cardiff City. This piece of business is certainly a coup for the Cod Army, Parkin is still capable of making an impact at a higher level and has troubled defenders throughout his career with his unassuming style of play.
However, the side have also lost of couple of players that inspired them to promotion. Striker Magno Vieira scored 31 goals in 64 games for the club, but he has decided to join the developing project at Forest Green Rovers instead of trying his hand in League Two. More disappointing is the departure of free-scoring forward Jamie Vardy. He caught the eye last season, bagging 34 goals in all competitions, a record that ensured many bigger clubs had identified him as a possible target back in January. Vardy’s exit was inevitable and he has joined Leicester City in a deal potentially worth £1.7 million to the club, a huge amount of money for a side competing at this level. Vardy will leave the club with the best wishes of everyone involved with Fleetwood, but the team most certainly could have done with a player of his calibre in the starting XI come August.
The excitement levels are starting to rise around Fleetwood as the new season creeps ever closer. The release of the fixture list will see Mellon’s men take on Torquay first at Highbury, a tough ask considering their opponents reached the playoffs last time around. The draw for the League Cup has also thrown up another eye-catching tie, this time against four-time winners Nottingham Forest. This may seem a tall order for Fleetwood at the moment, but given their level of progression over the last couple of years, who can rule out the possibility of that being a permanent league fixture in the future?