NEWPORT Pagnell manager Darren Lynch believes he can follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and lead the club to United Counties League success this season.
Lynch is getting set for his first steps in football management after taking over from Terry Shrieves who resigned at the end of last season. And after helping the Swans to a third place Premier Division finish as a player last term, Lynch now thinks he can do the same as manager after being given the chance to do so by chairman Geoff Cardno.
“I was gutted when Terry said he was leaving. What he did at this club and with the resources he had was practically a miracle,” said Lynch.
“I’ve learned a lot from him and other managers I’ve worked with and I’m sure we can carry on his good work. I’ve kept the nucleus of our squad together and added a bit more quality too, so I’m very confident that we’ll challenge at the top again.”
Lynch knows the Willen Road club through and through having spent more years there than at any other of his clubs. Born in Milton Keynes, he worked his way up through Newport’s junior ranks before making the step up to Bedford Town, then Kettering Town – under Paul Gascoigne – and Cambridge City.
He only scored a handful of goals for Kettering in their Conference North days before breaking his leg and being forced to drop down the non-League pyramid. And it’s at Newport where Lynch enjoyed his best goal-scoring form, netting more than 100 goals for the Swans in three seasons back at the club.
A knee injury has now forced him to hang up his boots, but Lynch had already planned to spend more time on the bench than on the pitch this season. And he has a more than capable replacement in the scoring stakes with 37-goal man Daren Dykes signed up for the new season after turning down offers to join big spending St Neots who beat Newport to the UCL Premier title last year.
“He could have gone up a level and picked up a lot more money, but he wants to stay with his home town club. Who says there’s no loyalty in football any more?” said Lynch.
“We’ve also signed Dom Lawless from Padbury who should bang in lots of goals so hopefully we will be a force again. The most important thing is that we continue to make Willen Road a fortress and we’ll build our success on that.”
Pre-season friendly results have been encouraging, but Lynch faces a baptism of fire in charge with a testing start to the season. The Swans welcome Boston Town on Saturday before Peterborough Northern Star visit on Tuesday.
And a busy first week concludes with an FA Cup extra preliminary round trip to Witney United on August 20. But after playing more than 40 games himself last season, Lynch says his side are up to the challenge and can’t wait to get started on Saturday.
“Boston are always a tough side to beat but we want teams to fear playing at Willen Road again and I’m sure they’re a lot more scared of us than we are of them,” he said.
“A few clubs have been spending money and you have to look at the likes of Kings Lynn to be up there again after missing out last season but unlike in previous years we are considered one of the teams to fear in this league and I want to keep it that way.”
Olney Town boss Neil Griffiths says his side need to push on from last season and challenge for the UCL Division One title.
The Nurserymen eventually finished fourth last season after topping the table for the majority of the campaign, with AFC Kempston going on to clinch promotion to the Premier Division.
But Griffiths believes his men will learn mistakes from last season and challenge at the top of the table again after adding some extra quality to the squad. After an encouraging pre-season, the Nurserymen kick-off at home to Northampton Sileby Rangers on Saturday before travelling to Wootton.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Griffiths. “Player recruitment has taken us a little longer than we would have liked, but we now have players in place who will help us improve on last season.
“We’re wiser for our experiences from last season and have strengthened in the areas we needed to. The UCL is a tough league and consistency in performance along with a winning desire will be key to being successful this year. But I genuinely believe we have the players at the club to do that for us.”
Stony Stratford Town
Stony Stratford have big ambitions off the field, but it’s on it that the club needs to generate some momentum most.
The Ostlers Lane outfit have been given planning permission to build new changing facilities and are in the process of raising £80,000 needed to start work, although a further £100,000 plus will be needed to complete the job.
Stony’s thriving youth set-up is behind the club’s desire to improve facilities, and four new junior teams kick-off for the first time this season. But Stony also want big changes in their senior first team who will remain in South Midlands League Division One in 2011-12 after a huge stroke of luck.
They finished rock bottom of the table last season after picking up just six wins in 40 league games. But because other clubs have withdrawn from Division One, while Division Two champions Padbury United have gone out of business after losing their home ground at Buckingham Town, Stony will keep their place in the league.
Gary Marling managed Stony for most of last term but has now handed over the reins to Chris Miller to take more of an active role in the club’s commercial push, spearheaded by new chairman Rob Fisher.
He says Stony’s long-term ambition is to become the city’s first FA recognised Community Standard club, but having a successful senior men’s team is crucial in achieving that goal.
He said: “Our determination to secure funding from local businesses to improve the club’s facilities and become the city’s first Community Standard club comes from the support we have and continue to have in Stony.
“There’s a real desire here to see this club flourish and our successful ladies, Sunday League and youth sides show we have the potential here. There are so many young people wanting to get involved with the club and we need to make sure we’ve got the appropriate facilities.
“Having a competitive senior team will help too. To be honest we could have had no complaints about being relegated if we had been, but maybe this is the luck we needed and we can make the most of it.”
South Midlands League
Stony kick-off their Division One season at home to Wodson Park on Saturday while New Bradwell St Peter begin with a trip to Kentish Town.
After a terrible start to last season, Peters recovered very well to finish half way up the table, but will hope for a lot better than that this term under manager and former player Gary Flinn.
Also after drastic improvement are the city’s three Division Two sides – Bletchley Town, MK Wanderers and Old Bradwell United who occupied three of the bottom five places in that league last term.
Wanderers had the worst of it – going the entire season without winning – but will be out to rectify that when they host Pitstone & Ivinghoe in their first game on August 20. Bletchley entertain Totternhoe and Old Bradwell visit The 61 FC (Luton).
North Bucks League
Tuesday night sees the start of the new North Bucks League season with games being played in two of the league’s four divisions.
Several new teams will be taking to the field this term in what looks set to be the most competitive season for many years, with Wolverton Town in particular hoping for a good season.
It’s been an exciting few months off the field for Wolves who will play home games at their new Greenleys home this season after agreeing to lease the facilities from the Parks Trust. Previously the home of Milton Keynes Rugby Club, the Field Lane ground will now be used by the Premier Division outfit and known as The New Park.
Another club to look out for are Celtic MK who go into their Intermediate Division campaign full of confidence after securing the Division One double last time out. They beat Stewkley in the Trophy final to add to their league title and are likely to be a force in the second tier too.
MK Sunday League
New City Heating has again thrown its support behind the Milton Keynes Sunday League – and it looks like being an exciting season with 24 teams battling it out in two divisions.
Last year saw the Sunday League start with three divisions, but after a couple of clubs fell by the wayside, a restructuring seemed to be needed, and that’s what has happened.
Four new clubs have now joined for the 2011-12 season and the opening round of games get underway on September 3. And while there has been plenty of new interest in the league, one side who won’t be taking to the field again are Steven Eagell Toyota.
They upset the odds back in May to lift the Knockout Cup by beating Premier Division champions Stony Stratford, but Toyota have suffered from administrative problems and have now withdrawn.
They were Stony’s closest challengers and with most of their old squad turning up at new clubs, the reigning champions may well face tough competition from elsewhere.
Indeed, chairman Ron James said he hopes the Sunday League will become even more competitive next season as he continues to lead its regeneration.
“Things are looking up and we’re ahead of where we normally would be in terms of preparations for the new season,” he said.
“Hopefully we’ll see a very competitive two divisions and the onus is on the rest to try and topple Stony. We get started with the first round of Knockout Cup fixtures in the first week of September and hopefully it will be a good season.”