It’s going to be tough up north again for King’s Lynn Town
- Credit: IAN BURT
The fans of reformed King's Lynn Town had to get used to something different last season – and to many it came as a shock.
The Linnets have pretty much had it all their own way since the club rose from the ashes of financial ruin in December 2009. Yet, after back-to-back promotions, that near-complete domination came to a halt for Town at Step Three. For once supporters weren't cheering their troops towards a title challenge. Because the new generation witnessed a campaign where Town finally found their level.
Gary Setchell has worked wonders guiding Norfolk's biggest semi-professional ship through the choppy waters of a painful rebirth up to the Evo-Stik Premier Division. Lynn's boss deserves equal credit for landing an 11th-placed finish last term. So he'll know as well as anyone that more difficult tests will come in the same set-up this season.
Lynn's boss, who takes his troops to newly-promoted Ramsbottom United for this afternoon's curtain-raiser, said: 'We learnt a lot last season. That if you're not at the races it's going to be a tough game. Going on the road for away games at this level, because of where we are situated, is difficult. Other managers can't believe how well we do with the travelling we have to put in.
'I've learnt that each team is very well organised and all have got one or two special players. We have to play at our maximum level every week to compete. Last season was a good learning curve. I won't be saying we're definitely going to finish higher than 11th, that would be crazy with how tight this league is. But of course we're looking to improve. We'll finish in the position that we deserve to finish in.'
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Setchell's honesty endears him to the large majority of fans who understand that the Linnets are now no longer a massive fish in the streams of the UCL Premier Division. They are seen as a 'new' outfit, finding their feet, among some of the biggest set-ups the part-time game in this country has to offer. One of those is FC United – formed by disaffected Manchester United fans – and their inability to get out of the Northern League's top-flight should serve to remind fans how difficult it is to break into the Conference set-up.
'We went up from Step Five to Three and it was dangerous to think we were just going to keep on going,' said Lynn's manager.
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'Speak to FC United. They're having their seventh crack at trying to get into the Conference. If you compare King's Lynn and FC, with all the hoo-ha that comes with them in terms of their facilities, fanbase and the players they can attract, and they're still in the Evo-Stik Prem.
'I think they'll win it this season, they're all geared up to that with the new ground on its way. I'd say FC are the stand-out side. Stourbridge have done very well in the Southern Prem. But as for the rest, well I'd say there are 15 to 16 teams, including us, who can finish anywhere between say first to 15th or 16th.'
While the man at the helm knows how tough the task is at hand, you'll never prevent him from squaring up to the challenge. One thing you got from Lynn – even when they weren't understandably winning every game during their maiden Premier campaign – was 100pc effort. Expect more of the same this term.
New players Jackson Ramm, David Bridges and Michael Frew have shown enough flashes of quality and grit in pre-season to suggest they can be key figures at The Walks. The returns of Ross Watson and Steve Spriggs, initially on a three-month loan, are shrewd signings and will increase the morale around the camp.
But perhaps the best business of the summer came when Town managed to hang onto George Thomson, wanted by Chester, and former Norwich City star David Bell. The talented midfielder turned down a host of Football League clubs to stay with the Linnets and will be a key component in his side's engine room – as well as becoming the man who has taken on the role of being captain following the depature of consistent defender Ryan Clarke.
Setchell said: 'With Belly's experience, how the other players respect him and look up to him, it was a bit of a no-brainer really. He gets around the dressing room, he's really good with the younger players. And he's always having a quiet word in people's ears. He's a good role model for the football club. I could have chosen other players. Quigz (Dan Quigley) is at the other end of the spectrum to Belly. He's got all the other qualities a captain needs. Then you've got Bridgo (Bridges), who has lots of experience. And then there's Ross who is a former captain. There's lots of leaders in our squad.'
Setchell added perhaps the final piece to his admittedly small in quantity, but high in quality player-pool, when he snapped up defender Sam Brooks, 24, on Tuesday. His arrival appears to signal the end of Quigley's brief stint as a centre-back.
'Sam adds competition for places but gives us scope to put Quigz back into midfield,' said Setchell, who will assess the fans' favourite's fitness ahead of today's fixture.
'Quigz is a terrific centre-half and if I had another centre-midfielder to do his role I'd probably play him at centre-back. Sam's aggressive, a good talker and what he lacks in natural speed he more than makes up for in desire.'
Brooks is a perfect fit for a group that is ready to do battle. With the right level of support from the terraces, Lynn appear to be in good shape to once again trade blows with their big-hitting opponents in the fiercely competitive world of the Evo-Stik Prem.