Cod Army Will Party Nothing Like It’s 1999!

In the next few days, Fleetwood Town will almost certainly be promoted to the Football League.
They have pretty much cantered to the Conference title under Mickey Mellon and their impressive little Highbury stadium, most of it spanking new, will host League Two football in 2012-13.
It’s a remarkable story and one that I was party to a little insight into along the way.
I covered Town’s home games for a couple of agencies and papers for a season or two after they were promoted to the conference North in 2008.
But by that time they were considerably further up the ladder and more powerfully resourced than the club I first visited round about 1999 to cover a Great Harwood game for the Accrington Observer.
It was a dark, cold, dismal, rainy night, it must have been between November and February and any details of the actual match have faded in my memory like dozens of others.
But I do remember thinking: “My word, this is the bitter end.”
Having located the ground, despite the fact that the floodlights failed to illuminate the skies any more than the street lamps, I took in the overall decrepitness of the ground before going in and feeling relieved that there was a bit of a clubhouse down one side that you could shelter in, ensuring that only the actual 90 minutes of the game would have to be spent outside.
I bet there were less than 50 on.
I asked myself several times was it worth it, racking up a few quid in expenses by watching two North West Counties league no-hopers slug it out?
By the next time I went to watch Fleetwood, the club had been out of business, relaunched and named after a retail park, taken over by a millionaire and promoted a few times under Tony Greenwood.
New stands were springing up and the famous new bar behind the goals had twenty-odd huge flat screen TVs installed – even one in the urinals so that you needn’t miss any highlights or updates even while, erm, pointing Percy etc…
I watched a Friendly in bright July sunshine against Blackpool but discovered that the old fishing port has its own micro-climate as I shivered throughout as the wind whipped in off the seas through the gap where the old stand was being demolished.
As if any further reminder of local meteorological vagaries were needed the first league game of the season against Hucknall a few weeks later was off due to a waterlogged pitch – it was fine when I set off from Preston but a quick and spectacular deluge saw the pitch rendered unplayable.
I watched a few notable Cup triumphs, saw the team promoted to the Conference Premier League but doubted that even Andy Pilley’s incredible backing would see them follow Lancashire neighbours Accrington Stanley and Morecambe into the league.
Happily, I was miles off as usual. I’m delighted for the folk there and hope the townspeople of the port which has dwindled in importance as a fishing or tourist centre can continue to support the side.
And congratulations to my old buddy Derek Thomas, the Press Officer who was always so helpful when I visited.
While Great Harwood are no more, like several other clubs at that level back then such as Darwen and Rossendale United, Fleetwood Town incredibly have progressed, inexorably and unimaginably that cold winter night, the opposite way.
Well done the Cod Army – enjoy the party!

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