Colne FC manager Steven Cunningham is most certainly an excited figure ahead of the forthcoming 2019/20 BetVictor North West campaign.
The Lancashire-based side travel to Droylsden, Manchester to kick off their 2019/20 campaign. There’s a degree of excitement, expectation and enjoyment surrounding the Reds’ supporters that create and family-like atmosphere around the club from the players to the voluntary staff that work tirelessly behind-the-scenes.
I was fortunate to catch up with ‘The Gaffer’ ahead of this weekends friendly in Colne as the Reds host local neighbours Padiham in an action packed fun day as all the supporters gather for a pre-season bash at the Sovereign Play Stadium.
After what’s been a ‘busy’ summer at Colne Football Club, Steven Cunningham and club chairman Ryan Haigh have most certainly had their ‘hands full’ in terms of transfer-market activity. The hole that was left following the departures of top scorers Alex Curran and Brad Lynch have most certainly been filled.
“Yes, it was sad to see two young talents leave the club, but I’m also immensely proud at the same time to see both Alex and Brad move on to bigger and better things.
Cunningham also went on to say: “The plans were already in place prior to those departures, and I’m very excited in regards to the squad that we’ve assembled.
“We’ve had a fantastic pre-season training camp so far, and we’ve built a solid foundation with both the new signings and retained players at the club. Both me and Kyle are excited ahead of the new campaign as it could be a ‘special’ one.”
From an attacking perspective, both Steven Cunningham and Ryan Haigh stated their intent to bring in a flourish of attacking prowess, and they most certainly delivered on that promise with the likes of Sefton Gonzales, Max Hazeldine and Aidan Chippendale all joining the club within a matter of days.
“We identified our targets very early, towards the back-end of the previous campaign.” said Cunningham.
“Those new additions certainly offer myself and Kyle so much flexibility in our line-up in terms of attacking options. I feel that Sefton [Gonzales] could be difference in us sealing promotion or not following last season. Hopefully now that we’ve secured his services, he’ll get us ‘over the line’.”
As well as the amount of attacking prowess that Steven Cunningham and his assistant Kyle Hall have at their disposal, the capture of Liverpool-based centre-back Andrew Hollins is a signing that has pleased a lot of the clubs supporters and everyone involved at the Football Club.
Hollins impressed at the back-end of last season during a loan-spell from Southport, and Cunningham was ‘delighted’ to see Hollins put pen-to-paper on a permanent basis.
“Andrew is a real talent. Said Cunningham. “After two successful loan spells, I was delighted that Ryan, the chairman was able to secure a deal with the ‘big man’ for his services.
“He plays with a ‘relaxed’ style on the ball and allows us to play the ball out from the back, but also he’s very commanding. We believe that we have two of the best young centre-backs in the league with Hollins and Matty Makinson who are both aged under 20.”
Over the past few weeks, the squad regrouped to partake in several pre-season fixtures, and last Saturday at the Sovereign Play Stadium, Cunningham’s side saw off a strong Chester side in a 2-1 victory in what was a ‘captivating’ display which certainly impressed ‘the gaffer’.
“The performance on Saturday was a real benchmark to assess where we’re at. Said Cunningham. “We’re trying to create a ‘new’ style of play, and the lads executed the game-plan expertly which gave us a lot of confidence.
“We have a number of new faces onboard at he club, but they seem to have settled in like they’ve been with us for years. If we can build on that display moving into the forthcoming season, then it could be an ‘exciting’ campaign for the supporters.”
During the summer break, the coaching staff and the supporters had chance to reflect on what was a ‘successful’ 2018/19 campaign. Cunningham was full of praise for his young side on their efforts during the previous campaign.
“I think we showed that our model of offering ‘young lads’ a chance to develop and progress via Colne Football Club was the biggest success.
“Overall, I think the size of our club and the location where we’re situated, means that for three years running, we’ve ‘punched well above’ our status. In two out of three seasons, we’ve reached the play-offs, and in the other campaign, we’ve missed out by just one goal.
“We can look to build on that consistency and hopefully we’ll learn from that experience from the previous campaigns, and go ‘one step further’ this time around in what’s shaping up to be our toughest campaign yet.”
With the quality all across the pitch from defence-to-attack, the family-like atmosphere at the Lancashire-based club has left supporters excited ahead of the forthcoming campaign. And, the new additions to the current squad have already started to jet well with their new team-mates.
“Considering the amount of ‘fresh faces’ at the club, the atmosphere in the dressing room and around the club is one of ‘excitement’. We’ve had a good start to our pre-season preparations, but we’re a long way from the ‘finished article’.
“The season as we know it is very long, and I realise that nothing is won in pre-season, it’s won over 38 weeks, but I’m confident that if we can maintain this level of performance, then we could have a very good season.”
Over the previous few seasons, the clubs social media content has impressed the clubs supporters and even rival clubs and its supporters. Cunningham is also a huge admirer of the clubs social media activity which includes in-depth post-match analysis, match highlights and much more.
“The clubs social media is something that we’ve always ‘set the standard’ at. Even during our time in the North West Counties league. The quality of the content is second-to-none in non-league football. We’re lucky enough to have media team that we have at our disposal.
“From video content, promotions, HD photography, match reports and podcasts, we have every angle covered which allows the supporters to get direct access to life inside Colne Football Club. We’re immensely proud of the work that the team puts in behind-the-scenes.”
Leading up to the big kick-off at Droylsden on August 17, Cunningham wants to use the final remaining pre-season fixtures to get his players into ‘competition-mode’.
“Our first league match is not too far away now, and I feel that we have our identity and the lads understand how we’d like to play, both with and without the ball. It’s now about making sure that each and every player understands their roles and responsibilities.
“The remaining pre-season fixtures allows us to get into ‘competition-mode’ as they’re tough games and they’ll set us up for August 17 at Droylsden.”
During Cunningham’s six-year reign at Colne Football Club, three players have been with him for the duration of his journey thus far. Skipper Alex Coleman, a former Burnley youngster who leads by example is a player that ‘the gaffer’ is full of admiration for along with Simon Nangle, who just like Coleman, has made over 200 appearances for the club. Notably, Lee Pugh is another long-term servant for the club with over 150 appearances racked up.
“Over the years, I’ve had some ‘very talented’ lads. We’ve had some big names ‘come to Colne Football Club, but in terms of loyalty and commitment, they don’t come much better than Alex Coleman, Simon Nangle and Lee Pugh. All three players to-date have shown the same love affair for the club as I have, and that’s rare.
“We’ve enjoyed a great journey so far, and I’d like nothing more than to see those lads achieve another promotion, but also to see out the project that we started, and play in the new stadium once completed. It’s been six years in the making.”