When last Fleet fans travelled north in a game at this level, it was to Gateshead in the sure and certain knowledge it would be our final match at Step One for quite some time. Indeed, for many of us, we thought it might be our final ever away match, period. Four years on and plenty of water has passed under the bridge to bring us to the point where we can once again embrace the top flight of non-league football.
It’s a whole new ball game in the National League, with plenty of clubs competing there who weren’t on our fixture list in 2012/13. And for Daryl McMahon, who has spent the last eight years in the Conference/National South, it will be another learning curve in his two-year-old management career.
Having become more than familiar with teams in the South, does the prospect of the unknown present any problems for the Fleet boss?
“We know a lot of the players at this level already,” McMahon told FleetOnline. “But with some of the Northern sides we have to do a lot more homework. The Southern sides we know pretty well because the same sort of players move in between different leagues and teams and we do always go and watch games where we can. We have seen a couple of Northern sides over the last two seasons when they come down to play the likes of Bromley and Maidstone, me and Steve Gritt and David Jupp do that when we can. But certainly we’ll need to do more detailed homework now, in particularly on those Northern sides.”
Fleet will have had Saturday’s opponents watched but McMahon doesn’t expect an easy ride, despite Guiseley’s two recent escapes from relegation. “I’m sure they’ll look at a team just promoted from the league below and they’ll look to make a statement at home in the first game,” he said. “They’ve had us watched but every game at this level is tough, it’s a tough league, it’s a league full of well-organised and fit teams and I’m sure Guiseley will think the same as us, that we’re not going to give them an easy game either.”
With Saturday’s game followed by a rapid turnaround and the big Kent derby v Maidstone United, Fleet fans have been eyeing up the fixture calendar eagerly. But for McMahon, the order of fixtures isn’t something he particularly concerns himself with.
“I’m not really one for that whole poring-over-the-fixture-list thing,” he said. “I think a lot of people contacted me straight away when the list came out because of the Leyton Orient game as I played there for a little bit and won promotion with them, so that’s probably the only one I looked for. And obviously Guiseley and Maidstone being the first two as we have to think about them right now. I don’t look too far ahead, we’ve just got through the pre-season friendlies which have really prepared us for that first week which is all we’re really looking at and concentrating on at the minute.”
At the outset of last season, McMahon was adamant that his side would forget all about their promotion final defeat and not mention it during preparations for 2016/17. This time around, with a final win under their belts, is that also to be consigned to the past?
“We were tremendous last season and we want to continue the run we were on, so of course that’s not a memory we’re just going to forget about. In that sense, we don’t want to forget last season because we’ve worked hard to get to this level and performed well in the big games when we had to. But once the season starts, last year’s success is gone and we’re trying to create a new chapter now. From that sense we move on. We’re playing a whole new league of different teams and we can only look forward.”
As far as new teams go, Guiseley are one of the newest in the sense that they are one of only four National League sides that we have never played before. Having escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth two seasons running, the bookies have predictably not rated their chances of success very highly this time around. But new chairman James Ferguson stated in the summer that the club’s ultimate goal was the Football League and he was preparing to put the infrastructure and a self-sustaining model in place to achieve that.
Just three days ago, they announced four new signings from amongst their trialists and in all have recruited eight players this summer. They include goalkeeper Joe Green (Scarborough Athletic), Reece Johnson (North Ferriby United), Callum McFadzean (Alfreton Town), Kevan Hurst (Mansfield Town), Alex Purver (Leeds United), Frank Mulhern (Huddersfield Town) and Lee Molyneux (Morecambe). And, perhaps more memorably, Wayne Rooney’s brother John has signed from Wrexham. Through the exit door this summer went goalkeeper Dan Atkinson, striker Michael Rankine plus Joel Logan, Adam Boyes, Jake Cassidy, Jordan Preston, Javan Vidal, Simon Walton and Derek Asamoah.
Like McMahon, Guiseley boss Adam Lockwood is an up and coming young manager who, at 35, is still named in the playing squad. He told his club’s website: “It’s always nice to start at home, it is good for the club as well. Ebbsfleet have come up and assembled a very good squad, they’ve earned the right to be at this level and I’m sure that they will hold their own. All the games at this level are tough and it won’t change this season, in fact it will probably be tougher.”
Nethermoor Park – 10 miles north-west of Leeds – holds 4,000 people and the club’s average attendance was 1,035 last season. This is Guiseley’s third season in the National League after five years in the Conference North. Previous to that, they played in the Northern Premier, Northern Counties East and Yorkshire leagues.
Advance tickets can be purchased online here.