Former Norwich City man at the heart of Lowestoft’s play-off success
- Credit: James Bass
As Lowestoft overcame a difficult start to their season something felt different among the squad at Crown Meadow.
From the turn of the year there was a belief that, despite all the heartache that three play-off final defeats engenders, that this could finally be their year.
There was no real reason to logically think so. They were operating with a smaller squad and a reduced budget to previous seasons but, freed from the expectation that so much success in a short space of time creates, it suddenly felt like Conference football could be within their grasp.
No-one at the club spoke about it – they daren't for fear they had misread the signs of success. However, director of football Craig Fleming finally let the cat out of the bag on the morning of their 3-0 win over AFC Hornchurch on Monday to joint boss Micky Chapman. The former Norwich City defender couldn't keep it to himself any longer – this was going to be Lowestoft's year.
'I've had this feeling and it has just built and built and built,' he said. 'For the last couple of months I've not had any doubts we would do it. I've kept it to myself until today when I told Chappo. There has just been a belief about the boys.
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'I've seen it before when we had a bit of success at Norwich. They just had it – most people that I've spoken to since noticed that there was something different about us. As we started chalking up the wins I think that they just started to believe.'
The club has certainly come a long way since joint bosses Micky Chapman and Ady Gallagher asked fitness coach Dave Carolan to put on a few coaching sessions ahead of the Blues' trip to Wembley in 2008 in the FA Vase.
Fleming was brought in shortly after and he has taken a more hands-on role as the club progressed through the leagues and he believes Monday ranks alongside anything he has achieved in the game as a coach so far. 'It's right up there. Since I've come on the coaching side we've won a couple of titles, Suffolk Cups and the first round of the FA Cup and stuff like that but this is the best for me since I retired from football.
'From everything that's gone on this season this is the best without a doubt.'
So much of Lowestoft's success can be credited to Fleming whose title of director of football perhaps doesn't do justice to some outside of the club to the level of his involvement.
His contacts within the game and standing as a former player has attracted the calibre of player that Lowestoft needed to make the progress they have through the non-league pyramid.
Joint bosses Micky Chapman and Ady Gallagher would be the first to acknowledge the massive role Fleming has played in the Blues' rise.
All three know it's only going to get tougher next season when they are allocated to either Conference North or South when the National League System committee meets later this month.
The management must decide which players they want to take forward and the players themselves will also have to choose whether they want to commit the time and effort required whilst holding down a full-time job in many cases.
After the euphoria has died down Fleming admitted some tough choices will have to be made by those in power at the Meadow. However, the 42-year-old sees no reason why the win over Hornchurch has to be the highest point in the club's history.
'It will be very, very difficult (next season) but we've got to try and keep progressing,' he said. 'It's a huge step up with the budget and the geography of our place. It's going to be very difficult but with this positivity and this set of players, if we keep that togetherness, then anything can happen.'
Fleming and Co. have certainly demonstrated that this season.