Why Ian Culverhouse’s King’s Lynn Town thoroughly deserve another promotion
- Credit: Archant
Head of sport Chris Lakey takes a look at King’s Lynn Town’s amazing season, when the newcomers ended up winning promotion... again
Season 2019-20 will be one to forget for many clubs, but for King’s Lynn Town it is all about enjoying the moment.
It has taken weeks of uncertainty following the suspension of games in March, but the decision to anoint Lynn as National League North champions means successive promotions have pushed the Linnets to within one huge step of league football - just a decade after they were re-printing the stationery and getting used to life under an owner who freely admitted he had forgotten more about his number one passion - speedway - than he knew about football.
But what Buster Chapman did know was about creating something, and he ensured King’s Lynn Town Football Club would rise from the ashes of the club that couldn’t pay its tax bill and was wound up by the High Court.
Chapman was awarded a 25-year lease of The Walks and set about making it a better placed to watch your football. On the pitch, Lynn moved through the gears before the club changed hands, Chapman handing over the keys to Stephen Cleeve in May, 2016.
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The following February, the popular manager Gary Setchell was sacked by Lynn. It didn’t go down well in some local circles, but Cleeve pulled a rabbit out of the hat days later when he unveiled the new manager: Ian Culverhouse, the former Norwich City player and assistant manager.
It was a game changer.
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In his first full season, 2017-18, Lynn finished runners-up in the Southern League, missing out on promotion after losing the play-off final to Slough Town. A year later they were promoted to National League North after beating Warrington in a super play-off final - and now they’ve done it again, against all odds, albeit in unusual circumstances.
While the National League’s final decision on the sporting issues of their three divisions will be questioned, mainly by those who ultimately missed out, there are many who will see Lynn as worthy ‘champions’, even though they didn’t end the season on top. The simple points per game calculation put them there - had it been a weighted PPG the outcome would have been the same.
Some will argue Lynn had an easier run-in than York, but the beauty of football is that is continues to amaze - no one can predict how many points any team would end up with. So whether you had to play only bottom half teams or only top half teams, there is no way of calculating how many points your team would win. And that is why PPG was the only option.
Incidentally, Lynn were due to face four top-half sides ion their remaining 10 games, while York had five in their last eight.
Lynn didn’t actually end their season in good form, by some distance, losing four of their last six games, including their last two at home (to ninth-placed Guiseley and bottom side Bradford Park Avenue). Should that have been a factor? No: current form is hardly relevant three months on.
So, getting to the nuts and bolts of this Lynn team, why has it been so successful, especially as league newcomers?
Culverhouse is clearly a massive factor: he and his assistant, Paul Bastock, are like chalk and cheese, but work well together. Players need that: not necessarily good cop, bad cop routines, but men who will being different views and ideas and demands to the table.
The manager isn’t a tinkerman, but he enjoys the cerebral challenge of football, trying to outwit his opposite number, having a plan for every eventuality, ones that don’t stop at Plan B either.
His players have to be bright enough to absorb and understand it, so he has collected a mixture of experience. Ryan Jarvis, Adam Marriott, Michael Gash, goalkeeper Alex Street - they’ve all been around for a while. At the other end of the scale there’s Sonny Carey, “a footballer” says Culverhouse with a knowing look, and Ross Barrows, Aaron Jones, Chris Smith and Jordan Richards, then livewire Chris Henderson, Rory McAuley, Michael Clunan and Ryan Hawkins. Dayle Southwell is still a relative newcomer, although experienced, while the Norwich City connections paid off with the cameo from loan player Simon Power, but Alfie Payne and Sam Kelly never really showed their true potential.
But in his squad there was variety. And ability.
Marriott is a magnificent scorer, Gash his perfect foil. Jarvis is the steadying rock in midfield, Henderson a livewire impossible to mark at times. Richards and Barrows are cultured and strong, McAuley a beast, Smith a fine acquisition. Clunan missed far too much of the season with injury - but his absence confirmed what we all knew: what a good player he is.
Most of the squad has re-signed, some have moved on, Alex Brown has come in – all ready for a new challenge, a new league. A whole new ball game.