King's Lynn Town's year of highs and lows dominated by an outside force

Vanarama National League North Champions, King's Lynn Town

National League here we come! King's Lynn Town are crowned champions - Credit: Ian Burt

It's been a year like no other for King's Lynn Town - Chris Lakey looks back at 2020

King’s Lynn Town’s 2020 is officially over – ended prematurely by something that has caused it to be one of the most incredible seasons in the club’s history. 

There will be a debate as to whether the events of a decade ago, when the old club disappeared to be replaced by the one we have now, would ‘beat it’. But while Buster Chapman’s takeover and successful rebirth was an excellent venture, the current situation is all moulded by one of the biggest global events in history. 

When assistant manager Paul Bastock revealed on Christmas Day that he had tested positive for Covid-19, Lynn again became part of that worldwide story: of life disrupted by the pandemic. That Bazza appears to be ok is great news for those who follow the Linnets, but it hasn’t always been that way for hundreds of thousands of others, which is why 2020 will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. 

For fans of King’s Lynn Town, it is time to look back on a year which, despite the backdrop, has been truly amazing. 

The first three months

Lynn players celebrate Adam Marriott's goal against Boston United

Lynn players celebrate Adam Marriott's goal against Boston United on New Year's Day 2020 - Credit: Ian Burt

Ten National League North games. Five wins. Four defeats. One  draw. Form: W-W-W-W-L-L-D-W-L-L. Then it was over: a week after everyone else stopped, the National League called a halt, with 10 league games to go. Among those played were the brilliant 3-0 win at Boston on January 1 that kicked it all off, and two and a half weeks later, a 1-0 win over closest rivals York City at The Walks, in front of a staggering 4,019 fans. Yes, it got a littler nervy towards the end - the 18-month unbeaten home run ended by Kidderminster and successive home losses to Bradford Park Avenue and Guiseley, but when the league decided to work out the tables based on a points   per game calculation, Lynn leapfrogged leaders York to take top spot, the title and a place in the National League for the first time. It was celebrated by a presentation evening, without fans, at The Walks in July.  Better than nothing but just a taste of things to come. 

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The season so far 

Dayle Southwell celebrates his goal with Sonny Carey

Dayle Southwell celebrates his goal against Yeovil - Credit: Ian Burt

Lynn’s opening game was live on BT. A 2-2 draw with Yeovil was excellent, as was the following midweek win at Maidenhead. But everyone knew it would get harder, and it did. Heavy defeats at Solihull and Sutton, but good back-to-back win over Barnet and Dover. It’s been a mixed bag. Arguably the best display was the goalless draw against Torquay – it was a brave 4-4-2 line-up, full of passion and verve against a team who had scored on every game this season. But not this time: spurred on by 625 fans, it ended goalless. Lynn deserved to win. And that might well have fed into the game against Notts County (home and away) and Chesterfield (away) - but Covid decided it was not to be. 

Bringing it home 

Kyle Callan-McFadden applauds the fans at full-time

Kyle Callan-McFadden applauds the fans at full-time after the home draw with leaders Torquay - Credit: Ian Burt

Ramming home the point of how far Lynn have come in a short space of time is a fixture list that contains the likes of Torquay, Notts County, Yeovil, Chesterfield, Barnet, Halifax, Stockport, Wrexham and Dagenham & Redbridge. Lynn are actually above Barnet and Yeovil in the table, within touching distance of Dagenham, Aldershot and Chesterfield. They may be part-timers, they may lack the financial clout of many of their rivals, but Lynn are punching above their weight. And it’s brilliant. 

The FA Cup 

sonny carey at port vale

Sonny Carey after scoring a late winner at Port Vale - Credit: Ian Burt

Lynn’s participation was again affected by Covid, but not in the home camp. This time it was Notts County who had to forfeit the fourth qualifying round tie at The Walks. Lynn drew Port Vale away and really turned it on against the League Two high flyers, winning with a late Sonny Carey goal. Next up was a trip to Portsmouth, high flyers but this time in League One. It was all too much: the gulf was there for all to see and Lynn lost 6-1. But it was the best 6-1 defeat you will see for a while. They came out with a lot of credit. 

Summer blow 

Michael Gash Picture: Ian Burt

Nice to see you're back ... Michael Gash - Credit: Ian Burt

Lynn needed every bit of help they could get in the National League, but losing Adam Marriott and Michael Gash for a big chunk of the season so far was a huge blow. The strikers are a major part of Lynn’s success in recent seasons. Marriott was injured in the opening pre-season friendly at Stowmarket, Gash then fell ill in August and has only just returned to first team action. At their best, fit and healthy, they trouble any defence. The good news is, they are getting there: Marriott is consistently looking sharp, while Gash’s influence on the pitch and on his team-mates stands out like a sore thumb. But how they were missed! 

Jeepers keepers 

Alex Street. Picture: Ian Burt

Alex Street - the writing was on the wall once he lost his place - Credit: Ian Burt

Alex Street is a Lynn legend – the words of team-mate Aaron Jones, no less. After the first two games of the season (a draw and a win) he was dropped, and the end of a long association with the club was imminent. Street didn’t want to be back-up to Norwich City loanee Archie Mair, so left to join former Lynn boss Gary Setchell at Bedford Town. The jury remains out on his exit, but Ian Culverhouse and Paul Bastock are adamant that the criticism - of the decision and/or of Mair - from Street’s social media pals is unwarranted. And they’re right. Street is also a brilliant keeper. But this is football, and he man in charge has to be trusted. Lynn also lost Chris Henderson, who dropped own the leagues to play for Gorleston – he couldn’t commit to Lynn’s demands in a new league. He left, reluctantly, but his contribution to the team’s success should never be under-estimated – a brilliant player who will probably prove more of a loss than Street. 

Life in the National League

Kyle Callan-McFadden applauds the fans at full-time

Kyle Callan-McFadden applauds the fans at full-time after the home draw with leaders Torquay - Credit: Ian Burt

So, apart from Covid, no fans, income issues and trawling the length and breadth of the country, what’s the National League like? Well, the class is apparent: many of the other clubs are full time, many opponents are more streetwise, as observed by the manager on numerous occasion.  Even the ‘strugglers’ are big, bruising players with the vital footballing sixth sense. It was always going to be a steep learning circle, but there are signs that the players are getting used to the demands. Kyle Callan-McFadden is starting to show why Lynn pursued him for so long, Rory McAuley is a force of nature, Aaron Jones is back after injury to resume after a brilliant start to the season, so there’s reason to believe the defence is getting sorted. Culverhouse  has players for every position, just about, and while Jamar Loza’s exit earlier this month was a disappointing surprise, he was soon replaced by Michael Gyasi from St Ives Town. The squad has a lot of permutations, the bench has few weaknesses. It’s a good squad that just needs to survive to be a success. 

And the manager? 

Ian Culverhouse on the sidelines. Picture: Ian Burt

Ian Culverhouse on the sidelines - Credit: Ian Burt

It’s been tough, but he’s been around the block too many times to get upset about it. Yes, he can be a bit chippy to the media after some games, but who wouldn’t when you’ve seen your best laid plans ruined? He’s still by far the best manager Lynn have had for a while. Long may that continue. 

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