It was early July last year and I found myself in the beautiful SALZKAMMERGUT region of Austria and heard that Fleetwood FC were training at the beautiful SPORTSCHULE OBERTRAUN www.obertraun.bsfz.at, the most stunning location on earth.
I jumped on the train and arrived at BAD ISCHL Station, crossed 4 train tracks and slid down an earth embankement to the picturesque OKO-BOX STADION, home of SV BAD ISCHL in the 4th regional Austrian league. I wasn't much of a contest with manager Graham Alexander using many trialists in the 8-0 victory.
Two days later I took the regional Sudostbayern train from my base in Traunkirchen to the end of the line in BURGHAUSEN the walled city with an ancient castle and medieval streets on the Salzach River. In the Marktplatz I found 8 Cod Army fans, including chairman Andy Pilley and son Jamie at the Auguster Brau outdoor cafe. A few biers later I jumped into their van and took them to Wacker Arena, spacious home of WACKER BURGHAUSEN of Germany's Bundesliga 3.
To the sound of 'Sweet Caroline' on the loudspeaker, fans paid 5 Euros to enter with large biers 2.50 Euros. Again lots of trialists and the locals won 1-0 with a 78th minute pk. The club have 6,000 sports members playing many sports but they havej just finished a doomed season coming second from bottom and relegated to the Bayern Regional League.
When local businessman Andrew Pilley decided to take over at Highbury Stadium, 8 miles up the coast from Blackpool in 2006 he entered the delapidated stadium, opened a window and it fell out. His first match in charge in the Northwestern Counties League, 9th tier, 81 souls showed up. The club had already gone bust twice in recent years and he poured £10 million or more into the project, mostly into stadium infrastructure and staff.
Today after a 1-0 triumph at Wembley Stadium over Burton Albion , 6 promotions in 10 years find them in Division 1, ready to face big clubs home and away such as Sheffield United, Preston North End, Coventry City. Obviously stadium expansion is a priority as is their academy, which has already been approved. Manchester born Antoni Sarcevic scored the dramatic winner from a 35 yard free kick past goalkeeper Dean Lyness flapping at thin air with 15 minutes left on the clock.
The Football League had three play-off finals in as many days over the Bank Holiday weekend with QPR defeating Derby County in the £90 million match in front of 87.000 fans to reach The Premier League. On Sunday Rotherham United over Leyton Orient on pk's to reach The Championship and then Fleetwood Town from the fishing port of only 27,000. Quite a weekend for The Cathedral of Football.
Chairman Pilley is in the energy business and runs it from the main stand at Highbury. The most important 'team' at any club is the trust between the chairman and the manager. Graham Alexander played over 1,000 league matches in various divisions for Scunthorpe United; Preston North End, Luton Town and Burnley, and through his Scottish father played 40 times for Scotland. It is a very solid bond and is likely to continue. After only two seasons in The Football League pyramid, the next aim is to maintain a decent finish in Division 1 and then to strive for The Championship.
The 42 year old manager is less than two years younger than Chairman Pilley who celebrated his 44th birthday in The Royal Box on Monday. WHAT A PRESENT !!!