FWA Vanarama Golf Day winners

Kate Mason, one of the FWA’s newest members, was the proud winner of the Joe Melling Trophy at our annual golf day, sponsored by Vanarama, at Stoke Park on October 7th.

Kate, who left BeIn Sports to join Sky Sports News earlier this year, is relatively new to golf and was the only female player in this year’s event.

Playing in the Hayters team alongside Gerry Cox, Les Ferdinand and Jamie Weir, Kate scored 32 Stableford points, the highest individual score by an FWA member, edging Neil Silver into second place.

There was also debut success for Mike Keegan of the Mail, whose fourball won the team prize. Mike was also playing in the event for the first time, with former Barnsley chairman John Dennis, as well as Andrew Lane and Niall Ashworth from Vpar, who provided the live scoring system.

The individual non-FWA member’s prize went to Stephen Hunt, the former Reading and Republic of Ireland midfielder, who scored a superb 42 points from three-quarters handicap.

Other names from the world of football included former England internationals Steve Coppell, Kevin Phillips and Andy Sinton, ex-Scotland players Bryan Gunn and John Duncan, Matt Jansen, Wally Downes, Paul Clement, Lee Cook and Michael Gray.

The day was generously sponsored once again by Vanarama, whose team was led by marketing director Gary Lemon, and there was a presentation from Jake Martens of Prostate Cancer UK, as we remembered our great friend Ralph Ellis, who enjoyed and organised the event for so many years before he passed away last year.

Steve Bates and Gerry Cox of the FWA National Committee have taken over organisational duties. A substantial sum was also raised for Prostate Cancer UK, and further online donations can be made here: http://bit.ly/2kysOnP

For more about Vanarama visit: https://www.vanarama.com/

For more on VPAR visit: http://vpar.com/

Rodrigo Lara of Hayters TV put together a video of the event: https://youtu.be/z4ZQpdEz07k 

Jamie Weir, Kate Mason, Les Ferdinand and Gerry Cox of Team Hayters




Vinnie Jones signs up to support life-saving partnership with Prostate Cancer UK which returns for a second season. 

  • For a second successive season, the top two tiers of non-league football have been given a rebrand by Vanarama in support of Prostate Cancer UK
  • The National League are charity partners of Prostate Cancer UK and sponsors Vanarama have signed up Britain’s favourite footy hard man Vinnie Jones to lead the fight against the most common cancer in men
  • Drive to save lives: Vanarama and Prostate Cancer UK want to raise money to beat a disease that kills one man every 45 minutes in the UK
  • Six-week name change sees Vinnie urge ‘proper football clubs’ and ‘proper supporters’ to raise ‘proper money’

The Vanarama National League, which sponsors the FWA’s annual Golf Day,  has once again changed its name in the opening half of the season – all for a great cause – Prostate Cancer UK. For a second successive season, the fifth and sixth tiers of the English game, including clubs like Notts County, Barnet and Wrexham, will be known as the MANarama National League until 9th November.

The League’s sponsors, van leasing company Vanarama, long-time supporters of Prostate Cancer UK, have again agreed to use their sponsorship in support of the leading men’s health charity. Last year, in an award-winning industry first, the National League rebranded mid-season with the ground-breaking MANarama campaign raising over £150,000 to help stop prostate cancer being a killer and earning a host of industry awards. From September to November this year, the forward-thinking firm will reprise their striking MANarama branding and will be working with all National League clubs to help them smash last year’s total.

To monitor fundraising progress, Vanarama has set up an alternative MANarama League table, which will track each National League club’s fundraising over the course of the campaign. In the drive to save lives, clubs raising cash for the cause will be in with a chance to win a brand-new minibus for the next three seasons. Hollywood hardman Jones, a former Wealdstone midfielder, has been signed up by Vanarama Chief Executive Andy Alderson to support the campaign this year.

Speaking about the campaign, Vinnie says: “I am beyond proud to back this MANarama campaign. It combines two things which are so important to me; grassroots football and fighting cancer. I started playing football in non-league so I know that these clubs are at the heart of local communities. I don’t need to explain why the fight against cancer is so important for me. Non-league football is proper football and I’d urge all non-league clubs and all the proper supporters out there to raise some proper money for this brilliant cause.”

Jones was at Vanarama’s head office in Hemel Hempstead on Tuesday afternoon with Prostate Cancer UK ambassador Kevin Webber and Errol McKellar, two men affected by the disease, who will play a key role in the campaign in another industry first in October.

The former FA Cup winner was visibly touched after hearing former mechanic Errol’s story and waved off ultra-marathon hero Webber as he set off on an epic walk to the live-on-BT Sports MANarama opener between Dover Athletic and FC Halifax Town on Saturday evening (5.20pm).

Webber will be a familiar face to BT Sports viewers after delivering the match ball on the final day of the MANarama campaign in October 2018, at Halifax, so in a fitting narrative will help kick off this season’s campaign.

Vanarama Chief Executive Andy Alderson, says: “The National League is the backbone of English football and we’re delighted to once again re-name it the MANarama League in support of our long-term partners Prostate Cancer UK. For many years we’ve stood side by side in the fight against prostate cancer and want the football world to come together and raise more money than we ever have before to help beat a disease killing one man every 45 minutes in the UK.”

National League Chief Executive Michael Tattersall, comments: “We were extremely pleased with the reaction to our temporary – and historic – rebranding to the MANarama National League during the 2018/19 campaign. It was fantastic to see so much money and awareness raised to aid the fight against prostate cancer. We are proud this will be taking place over a 45-day period for a second season.

“Prostate Cancer UK are our official charity partners and we couldn’t think of a charity that better reflects our football values. This deadly disease has no boundaries, so it’s been incredibly inspiring to see Kevin Webber raise so much awareness. He’s a remarkable man doing remarkable things and we will continue to stand alongside him, and everyone affected by prostate cancer.”

Prostate Cancer UK Chief Executive Angela Culhane, adds: “Last year’s brilliant MANarama campaign really caught the imagination and we’re delighted to strengthen our long-standing relationship with Vanarama ahead of another exciting few months. The fight against prostate cancer, a disease that kills one man every 45 minutes, is a purpose worth uniting for, and this fits in perfectly with our ‘Men, we are with you’ mantra;  Vanarama, The National League and the Non-League community getting together to do something amazing in our quest. Money raised will help us fund more ground-breaking research and find the tools needed for a screening programme, in order to catch more prostate cancers early and save more lives.”

One man dies every 45 minutes from prostate cancer meaning a staggering 1440 men will die from the disease during the MANarama campaign, highlighting just how important it is that more people are made aware of the most common cancer in men.

The campaign will also encompass Non-League Day on 12 October, an annual date on the football calendar, backed by Premier League and Championship clubs which this year celebrates a tenth anniversary. The day is always scheduled to coincide with an international break and provides a platform for clubs to promote the importance of non-league football.

For more information about the MANarama campaign, fundraising activity taking place through your local non-league club and prostate cancer information, visit the Vanarama (@Vanarama) and Prostate Cancer UK (@ProstateUK) Twitter feeds and the #GiveandGo

Vanarama Column – Season wrap

Vanarama column (season’s wrap-up) – by Glenn Moore

A gripping Vanarama National League season comes to a climax at the weekend with a quintet of play-off finals to earn promotion into and out of the league’s three divisions. Topping the bill is Saturday’s Wembley clash between two upwardly mobile north-west clubs, Fylde and Salford, with the winner joining champions Leyton Orient in the Football League.

While Orient are a long-established Football League returning reborn after two seasons in non-League the Coasters and Ammies have each achieved a series of rapid promotions after being backed by millionaires. Salford, who are seeking back-to-back promotions, are better known due to their connection with, and television series on, Manchester United’s Class of 92, but Fylde’s rise is no less remarkable.

As recently as 2008 the pair were in the North West Counties League (Fylde were then still known as Kirkham & Wesham). By 2012 they were playing each other in the Northern Premier League North. Fylde reached tier 6 (National League North) in 2014, Salford two years later. Neither had been at that level before. Fylde will return to Wembley the following weekend for the FA Trophy final against Leyton Orient.

Should Fylde win they would become the first club to win both the FA Vase and FA Trophy, having won the former (open to team from tiers 9-11) in 2008 as Kirkham & Wesham. Should Orient win they will be the first to do the non-League double since Wycombe Wanderers, in 1993, under a promising young manager named Martin O’Neill.

Perhaps underlining the need to seize the moment Fylde are the only one of the five teams to fall in last season’s play-offs to qualify this year. One of the others, Aldershot, were relegated.

Sunday brings a brace of play-offs to gain entry into the Vanarama National League. Chorley, long-time leaders of the North division, overcame their disappointment at being pipped by Stockport County to earn a home tie against Spennymoor, both reaching the final through a penalty shoot-out. The southern final pits Woking, aiming to bounce back at the first attempt, against Welling. Torquay United, after a dramatic revival under Gary Johnson, won the division.

With two former Football League clubs in Torquay and Stockport coming into the division, and Notts County and Yeovil coming down, next season’s Vanarama National League promises to be a well-supported and highly competitive one. Half the section will be ex-Football League clubs.

Lower down a couple of big clubs return to the competition with Kettering Town and Weymouth earning promotion to Vanarama National Leagues North and South respectively. Dorking Wanderers, a club that began as a parks team just 20 years ago, also come up along with Farsley Celtic and the winners of Saturday’s ‘super play-offs’. Warrington host Kings Lynn while Tonbridge Angels visit Metropolitan Police (who are run and managed by police officers, but usually field ‘civilian’ players).

A record two million-plus watched the League’s three divisions with Orient the leading crowd pullers with an average 5,445. Good backing for Wrexham (5,056) and Chesterfield (4,503) helped build an average 1,975 in the National League. Stockport (4,002) and Torquay (2,508) topped the regional averages underlining when it comes to attracting fans nothing succeeds like success.

Ups & Downs

Vanarama National League:
Promoted (into Football League): Leyton Orient plus winner of Salford v Fylde (Wembley, May 11)
Relegated: Aldershot Town, Braintree Town, Havant & Waterlooville, Maidstone United
Relegated into National League (from Football League): Yeovil Town, Notts County

Vanarama National League North:
Promoted: Stockport County plus winner of Chorley v Spennymoor Town (May 12)
Relegated: Ashton United, FC United of Manchester, Nuneaton Borough
Promoted into Vanarama National League North: Farsley Celtic, Kettering Town plus winner of Warrington v Kings Lynn (May 11)

Vanarama National League South:
Promoted: Torquay United plus winner of Woking v Welling (May 12)
Relegated: Truro City, East Thurrock United, Weston-super-Mare
Promoted into Vanarama National League South: Dorking Wanderers, Weymouth plus winner of Metropolitan Police v Tonbridge Angels (May 11)

FA Trophy Final: Leyton Orient v Fylde (Wembley, 19 May)

Vanarama Column – Ground grading

Ground grading – by Glenn Moore

Balls, bibs, cones… hard hat, high-vis jacket. At most ambitious clubs in the Vanarama National League the builders are either in, or readying themselves. Each step up the pyramid demands new standards, off the pitch as well as on, and plenty has to be done before promotion is even decided.

Those clubs seeking to climb from the Vanarama National League to the EFL had to confirm by December 31 that they would be capable of meeting an exacting set of criteria covering everything from how many showers are required in the dressing room (six) to how many power points are needed in the media seats (10).

The most costly demand is usually spectator capacity, though there is a degree of leeway.

EFL stadia should have a minimum capacity of 5,000 with 2,000 of those being seated.

However, they have three seasons after promotion to attain that (similar to the deadline for Championship clubs to be all-seater) and need merely to have 1,000 seats by 30th April in their first season. That said clubs seeking to go up needed by March 1 this year to have a capacity of 4,000 including 500 seats, which most should as it is already a National League requirement. Seats, incidentally, have to be covered and have backs – benches or mere moulded bases, as seen on the continent at times, are not acceptable.

None of this should be a problem for recently relegated clubs like Leyton Orient, but those without a Football League background have work to do, especially if they have recently come up from step 2. Which is why Solihull Moors announced in February a process of rapid redevelopment of their Danson Park ground. By July 2020 three sides of the ground will be improved including a new 2,000-seat stand on the Car Park Side.

There is similar activity at Harrogate Town whose swift ascent from Vanarama National League North play-off winners to Football League promotion hopefuls has left them racing to match progress on the field with development off it. They are in a phased process of increasing the capacity of the Wetherby Road ground from 3,000 to 5,000.

The Sulphurites, however, have an extra problem. They have a 3G pitch, which may be good enough for Champions League and FA Cup, but is not accepted in the EFL. The club have thus applied for planning permission to either replace it with grass, or lay a grass pitch over the 3G surface. Sutton United, currently just outside the play-offs, would have a similar problem.

There are a litany of other jobs for promoted clubs to do by July 1 involving minimum standards for the brightness of floodlights, directors box seat provision (24 for home, 16 for away), medical back up, portable goals for pre-match warm-up, CCTV, turnstiles, public address, emergency lighting, facilities for disabled fans, and the training of stewards. Besides the six showers (or individual baths) dressing rooms must have heating, ventilation, a tactics board, fridge and massage table. Fans in each part of the ground should have access to refreshment and toilets with segregation of opposing fans.

It is a long list, though promotion also brings a decent financial windfall. Income from EFL central funds, Premier League solidarity payments, and a one-off payment from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund tallies around £1m. FSIF may also help with stand developments while EFL officials make visits and provide guidance. Nevertheless, one thing the executives and staff of any promoted club cannot afford to do is enjoy a long summer basking in the glory.

Vanarama Column – Maidstone United

Relegation but The Stones will be hoping to bounce back – by Glenn Moore

Even fairytales can have unwanted plot twists as Maidstone United have discovered. Saturday’s 2-0 home to defeat to Salford put an abrupt halt to a quarter-century of progress for the Stones, condemning them to relegation from the Vanarama National League after three years in the non-League elite.

Not many clubs survive having three managerial regimes in the course of one season and Maidstone rarely looked like being the exception being consigned to the drop with five games to play. They won eight of those opening 41 matches, and only two in 20 at the Gallagher Stadium – so much for the presumed home advantage of a 3G pitch.

Jay Saunders, the former player who had overseen three promotions, began the season in charge, but a moderate start following on from a poor end to the previous campaign meant he departed in August with the club 19th. Harry Wheeler, available after leaving Billericay, took over but lasted less than four months, by which time the Stones were 23rd. He subsequently went back to the Blues. In came veteran John Still, who guided the original Maidstone United into the Football League in 1989, and Hakan Hayrettin, but the duo were unable to reverse the slide.

One man who was able to put relegation into perspective was general manager Bill Williams. The 76-year-old played for and managed the original Stones and was at the club in 1992, the year it went bust. “I can remember vividly the heartache of us losing our team in this town,” he said. “It was a shocking day. I can’t emphasise how disappointing it is [but] we’re in a good place. We’re not going out of business or anything – we’ve been relegated.”

Co-owner Oliver Ash concurred. “Relegation is not something we would have wanted but the bigger picture is that the club is in a sound financial position and will be able to bounce back and learn from this season. We have made mistakes this year. There have been too many upheavals.”

Ash said Stones, as a community club with a self-sustaining financial model based around a 3G pitch, had found a big jump from Vanarama National League South to Vanarama National League with its much better-resourced clubs. While eager to return there was no presumption, he added, that the top flight was our ‘rightful place”. The current business model suggested they were between the divisions and he and partner Terry Casey, who bought the club nine years ago, when it had large debts and no ground, would have to look at the model.

For now the club can regroup amid the significantly lower costs of Vanarama National League South. Since reforming barely above parks level the club has climbed eight leagues, moved back to Kent’s county town having played in exile for 11 years, and built a neat stadium which holds 4,200 and even this benighted season averages 2,200.

This is actually the phoenix club’s second relegation. The first was from the Isthmian League Premier in 2011. The Stones rolled back from that, winning three subsequent promotions. They hope this one is also a temporary blip.

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on cars and vans, visit: https://www.vanarama.com/

Vanarama Column – Orient

Orient hoping for double success – by Glenn Moore

Leyton Orient are on their way to Wembley, seeking to exorcise the memory of 2014 and complete a landmark season. The weekend victory over Telford in their two-leg FA Trophy semi-final booked a place in the non-League showpiece on May 19. It is the first time the Os have reached this final and, they hope, the last.

That is because only non-League clubs are eligible for the Trophy and the Vanarama National League leaders have designs on a return to the Football League. Their Wembley opponents, Fylde, also have promotion on their minds, but are fifth in the table, nine points behind Orient. Realistically the Coasters hope to go Wembley twice in eight days as the play-off final is at the national stadium on May 11.

Once will be enough for Justin Edinburgh’s Os. They would really rather not go to Wembley with promotion at stake, especially after the torment of five years ago. Wembley is where it all began to go wrong for Leyton Orient, mid-afternoon on May 25, 2014. Russell Slade’s team of free transfer recruits had finished third in League One. A return to the second tier, for the first time since 1982, beckoned when they led Rotherham 2-0 at half-time in the play-off final. Though the Millers pegged them back promotion seemed all but secured when Orient led the penalty shoot-out 3-2 after three kicks apiece.

But Mathieu Baudry and Chris Dagnell failed from the spot, Rotherham’s final pair scored, and the Yorkshire club went up instead.

In the wake of the defeat long-serving chairman Barry Hearn sold the club to Francesco Becchetti, an Italian businessman who proved to be a disastrous owner. Slade soon departed beginning a cascade of managers over the next three years as the club suffered two relegations and dropped out of the Football League after 112 years’ tenure.

The Os first season in the Vanarama National League was one of consolidation, first under new ownership, lifelong fan Nigel Travis and American partner Kent Teague, then a new manager, Edinburgh. This season Orient have been in or around the automatic promotion place all season and Tuesday’s defeat of Fylde in the clubs’ Wembley warm-up sent them three points clear with a game in hand.

The last time two promotion-chasing clubs contested the Trophy final, in 2013, Wrexham and Grimsby both failed in the play-offs and there is concern the Trophy could prove a distraction. However, there are precedents for double success.

Since the formation of the National League in 1979 three clubs have achieved the non-League double: Wealdstone, in 1985 (before automatic promotion was instituted), Colchester United in 1992 and Wycombe Wanderers, under Martin O’Neill, in 1993. Three ‘doubles’ in 39 years is not particularly encouraging, but since promotion was expanded to two places in 2003 two clubs in the last seven seasons have won the Trophy and been promoted through the play-offs: York City (2012) and Cambridge United (2014). Should Orient be the first double winners in a quarter-of-a-century, and Fylde join them via the play-offs, their Wembley date will be one of mutual celebration. There is, however, a lot of football to be played first.

For more on Leyton Orient visit: https://www.leytonorient.com

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on cars and vans, visit: https://www.vanarama.com/

The Vanarama National League column – Wannabes

Glenn Moore looks at the contenders for promotion to the Vanarama National League.

While the attention on the elite end of the non-League pyramid tends to focus on those teams seeking to enter the Football League, the scramble to get into the Vanarama National League system is no less intense. But now, as the weeks tick by, the smoke surrounding the battle to get into the two-tier, three-division set-up is clearing with two contrasting clubs favourites to step up.

Kettering Town are older than any club in the Premier League, and all but a handful in the Football League, yet currently play in the seventh tier. Also at step 3 in the non-League pyramid are Dorking Wanderers, only 20 years old but already seeking their 11th promotion. Both are poised to be among the six clubs going up to the Vanarama National League’s regional divisions, but who joins them is far from evident.

Three clubs are promoted into each of Vanarama National League North and Vanarama National League South. In the past that meant the champion and promotion play-off winner from each of the Northern Premier League, Southern League, and Isthmian League (a competition based around London and the south-east). The six would be allocated to the North or South divisions according to geography.

However this year, as part of an ongoing re-organisation of the pyramid, there are four divisions, the Southern League top flight having split into the Premier Central and Premier South respectively. So the four title-winners will go up, along with two further teams emerging from a series of play-offs.

Barring a late collapse, coming up from Southern League Premier Central will be a grand old non-League name – Kettering Town, formed in 1872. If an automatic promotion-and-relegation system had been in place before 1987, then surely they would have reached the Football League much earlier. The Poppies came agonisingly close in the following period, finishing runners-up three times in 12 years. Since then they have had mixed fortunes, achieving prominence during Paul Gascoigne’s ill-fated managerial stint and for an FA Cup run that ended at Craven Cottage, but also losing their much-loved Rockingham Road ground and going into administration. Now, playing at nearby Burton Latimer, they are thriving and sit 11 points clear with eight matches left.

If Kettering are non-League aristocracy, then Dorking Wanderers are street urchins. They were only formed in 1999 and began life in the Crawley and District league playing at Big Field Brockham, which is literally a big field. An astonishing ten promotions later they are 13 points clear in the Isthmian League Premier Division. Wanderers play at Meadowbank, formerly home to the now defunct Dorking FC. Previously the oldest club in Surrey, Dorking disbanded and effectively subsumed into Wanderers in 2017 bequeathing them the ground, which now sports an artificial pitch and doubles up as the Surrey FA HQ.

The other promotion races are much tighter. There is a three-way tussle in the Northern Premier League between Farsley Celtic, Warrington Town and 2017 FA Vase winners South Shields. Only Farsley have played in the National League divisions, managing four years before being expelled in 2010 after suffering financial problems.

The Southern League’s Premier South Division features four contenders for the automatic spot: Taunton, Weymouth and Salisbury, all of whom are well-supported with big ambitions, and Surrey-based Metropolitan Police, who traditionally find spectators harder to attract.

For more on the Vanarama National League, visit:  http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on cars and vans, visit: https://www.vanarama.com/

The Vanarama Column – Eastleigh Football Club

The Vanarama Column – Eastleigh Football Club, by Glenn Moore

When Eastleigh owner-chairman Stewart Donald quit the club to take over Sunderland in the summer Spitfires supporters could have been forgiven for fearing the future. The insurance tycoon had bankrolled their push to make the Football League, transforming the Silverlake Stadium in the process. However, ownership rules meant he would have to wind up his investment in the Vanarama National League club and non-League history is full of meteors who crashed to earth after a benefactor departed.

However, there was no sudden firesale of players and the team began the season well, allaying concerns. Until, that is, there was further disruption in October when manager Andy Hessenthaler left to return to Dover and three directors, including Mark Jewell, the chairman, stood down, Jewell due to ill health. Worries increased when, despite there being more than 70 applicants to replace Hessenthaler, the club appeared to have taken the cut-price option by appointing his assistant Ben Strevens.

Strevens played more than 600 senior matches, nearly half of them in the Football League for Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, Brentford, Wycombe and Gillingham. He was subsequently part of Eastleigh’s 2014 promotion into the Vanarama National League and had a couple of brief spells as a caretaker manager. However, this was the 38-year-old’s first full managerial role.

It may, or may not, have been a cost-conscious decision – the club suggested the salary had attracted several notable candidates. More importantly it has proved the right one. Strevens has not just been a steady hand on the tiller, he has built on Hessenthaler’s foundations so well the Spitfires have soared into the play-off places.

Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Salford, which enabled Eastleigh to leapfrog their much-fancied hosts into fifth, was their fifth successive win. After losing their first league match under Strevens the Hampshire club has lost just three of the subsequent 18, two of them to Wrexham and Solihull Moors, the top two.

Although Eastleigh continue to rely heavily on seasoned ex-Football League pros, including Chris Zebroski, Oscar Gobern and Mark Yeates, they do not have the high-profile names of the team that reached the FA Cup third round in 2016, such as James Constable and Dan Harding. While chief executive Kenny Amor recently told Solent Sport ‘the budget is quite large’, he added ‘we have managed on a shoestring compared to before with a much smaller squad’. Paul McCallum, 25, has emerged as a key player scoring 21 goals in what is easily the most prolific season of a slow-burning career.

Amor said “in our wildest dreams we could not have imagined making the play-offs”, but now there is more than just ambition on the line for a team that was in the Wessex League as recently as 2003. Promotion brings extra costs but also significantly greater income, which would make a big difference to a club facing, indicated Amor recently, further adjustments without Donald’s largesse. It is likely the club will move towards a squad based more on young, hungry, local players rather than former Football League veterans.

The Vanarama Column – Wrexham AFC

The Vanarama column  – Wrexham, by Glenn Moore

Having four managers in a year is not usually associated with success, but Wrexham may prove an exception. The fan-owned club handed the reins to assistant manager Graham Barrow in December after Sam Ricketts, himself only appointed in May, moved to Shrewsbury Town. It seemed a sound choice as Barrow had enjoyed a successful spell as caretaker but it did not take long for the veteran to decide the altered dynamics associated with being No.1 were no longer to his liking.

He stepped down and in has come Bryan Hughes, a 42-year-old of much more limited managerial experience but with a long association to the club. A teenaged Hughes began his career at Wrexham in the mid-Nineties and was a key figure in the club’s 1997 FA Cup run. A busy midfielder he went on to have a decent career, twice winning promotion to the Premier League and playing more than 150 matches in the top flight for Birmingham City, Charlton Athletic and Hull City.

On Saturday his second spell at the Racecourse Ground began with a win over Dagenham & Redbridge that moved the Red Dragons into the top three of the Vanarama National League. More than 5,000 were present to welcome back Hughes and with the club moving within two points of the only automatic promotion slot the promotion dream is back on.

When Hughes played for Wrexham they were the best team in Wales. Indeed, they were as recently as 2001. That season, with Denis Smith in the dug-out, Darren Ferguson leading on the pitch, and a burst of goals from a non-League discovery called Lee Trundle, the Red Dragons finished 10th in what was Division Two and is now League One. Swansea were heading for the fourth tier after relegation, replaced by Cardiff City, promoted from the basement behind Brighton. Newport County were in the Southern League.

However, Wrexham went down in 2002 and while they briefly bounced back to the third tier they soon began a precipitous slide that involved two relegations in four years and a period in administration. They have now been in the Vanarama National League since 2008. They made three trips to the play-offs in the first five seasons plus an FA Trophy win in 2013, but have subsequently been mired in mid-table.

Meanwhile Cardiff are in the Premier League, Swansea, after enjoying seven seasons in the top flight, are in the Championship, and Newport, having climbed out of non-League, are established in League Two and making headlines in the FA Cup.

While football in South Wales has prospered it has been a bitter decade for North Wales, but there are signs of a revival. Average gates are, astonishingly, at their highest in more than 30 years and in March the national team returns to the Racecourse Ground for the first time since 2008.

Hughes, whose only previous managerial experience consists of a few months as joint-boss at Scarborough Athletic, is aware he has been given ‘a wonderful opportunity’. With the Vanarama National League title very much up for grabs it is one he hopes to seize.

for more on Wrexham, visit https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/

For more on the Vanarama League, see: http://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk

For great deals on cars and vans lease and hire, see https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/

Vanarama National League column – Danny Rowe

By Glenn Moore

Football is brutally ageist. Once a player passes his mid-twenties, unless he is already a success, his chances of career progression decline rapidly. Clubs, with an eye to sell-on fees, are generally reluctant to pay high prices for anyone who would be nearing 30 when their contract ends. Even the poster boy for late developers, Jamie Vardy, was only 25 when Leicester City paid £1m to take him out of non-League. He was a gamble, but the likelihood was he would continue to improve, although few expected Vardy to be such a success.

Add a few more years, however, and players are thought to be, if not quite over-the-hill, certainly nearing the brow. And yet, in an era of conditioning coaches, nutritionists and all-round enhanced professionalism it seems rash to write off a player who could have another five years in him.

Consider Danny Rowe, briefly a team-mate of Vardy at Fleetwood Town. Rowe is the most prolific scorer in the Vanarama League having scored more than 150 goals for AFC Fylde in the past five seasons. This has been noticed. Oldham bid £50,000 for him in summer 2017. Cheltenham bid £175,000 in summer 2018. On both occasions Fylde, only a dozen years out of the West Lancashire League, turned the bids down. Though Rowe is keen to play in the Football League he accepted the decisions and kept on scoring. The dream of both player and club is to go up together.

At the weekend Rowe scored goals number 20 and 21 this season as Fylde won 2-1 at promotion rivals Solihull Moors. That followed the 48 goals in Vanarama National League North in 2016-17, which propelled the Coasters to promotion, and 28 goals last season as Fylde reached the play-offs.

If Rowe seems in as much a hurry as his club it is with good reason. Time is not on his side. On January 29 Rowe enjoyed his 30th birthday, a questionable landmark in an industry which confers veteran status on 30-somethings.

However, in playing terms he is not so ancient. A prodigious scorer as a boy, so much so he joined Manchester United at 11, Rowe quit the game at 16, released by United after falling out of love with the grind. He took up a joinery course and played for fun, at amateur level. Soon the goals began to flow again. Fleetwood signed him, but while he did OK on loan to Droylsden and Stockport he failed to score for Fleetwood. They preferred Vardy, though Rowe occasionally played alongside the future England international in 2012. 

It wasn’t until Rowe arrived at Fylde, in August 2014, that it clicked. “He’s found a place where he is comfortable and his goalscoring record over the last for or five years has been outstanding,” said Fylde boss Dave Challinor after Saturday’s win. “He has ice in his veins. His calmness in and around the box is amazing. He is not bothered if he misses a chance and rarely celebrates when he scores – he just sees it as what he is there to do.”

If Rowe and Fylde win promotion to the Football League, it will be just reward.

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