2020/21 Preview – Fleetwood Town

Host of Express FM’s Football Hour and pundit on Pompey Live, Jake Smith continues his look at each League One club ahead of the new season.

Intro: The delightful sounds of Captain Pugwash COULD be one of the first things Blues fans hear upon their return to attending away fixtures in the New Year – Pompey make the long trip up to the Fylde Coast on January the 16th.

DISCLAIMER: I have no idea when fans will be allowed back, it’s anyone’s guess at this stage.

Supporters who have visited Fleetwood’s Highbury Stadium as a result of following Portsmouth in recent years will be familiar with the club’s annoying goal music, which stands out as one of the worst in the Football League (Although any form of goal music in itself is somewhat cringey, though that’s just my pointless opinion).

Pugwash is somewhat of an icon around those parts and his appearance after every Fleetwood goal stands to succeed in winding up opposition fans, so fair play I say to whoever decided to implement that feature!

Fleetwood Town were officially formed in 1997 as Fleetwood Wanderers, however in three previous incarnations the club’s history dates back to 1908, when ‘Fleetwood’ were established. The club play their home matches at Highbury Stadium, situated on the tip of the Fylde Coast in Lancashire, just down the road from once noisy neighbours Blackpool.

The Fishermen are relatively new to life in the Football League. Their promotion as champions of the Conference Premier in 2012 earned supporters EFL football for the first time in the club’s history, and they haven’t looked back since.

Just two years later, Fleetwood gained promotion to League One after Play-Off Final success against Burton Albion – that achievement marked the club’s 6th promotion in just 10 seasons, capping a meteoric rise from the North West Counties League Division One.

Contrary to what some may believe, the nickname of Fleetwood Town is NOT the ‘Cod Army’, instead that is the term used to describe fans of the club. ‘The Fishermen’ and ‘The Trawlermen’ are however recognised as official nicknames.

Home Ground: Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood (Lancashire), 286 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 5,327

2019/20 Table Position: 6th (League One) – 60 points after 35 games with an average of 1.71 points per-game.

Overall Head-To-Head Record: Fleetwood Town Wins: 3 – Draws: 1 – Portsmouth Wins: 5

Previous Meeting With Pompey: Portsmouth 2-2 Fleetwood Town, 10th March 2020, League One

2020/21 Fixture Dates:

Tuesday 15th December, 2020 – Fratton Park

Saturday 16th January, 2021 – Highbury Stadium

Manager: Former Premier League bad boy Joey Barton remains in charge of Fleetwood Town, with whom he signed his first managerial contract back in the summer of 2018, having retired from playing after a whole year out of the game.

The now 37-year-old, who was known as a strong, no nonsense top-flight midfielder, was released by Burnley in May 2017 following an 18-month playing ban being handed to him the month prior.

Barton never shied away from controversy during his 15-year long playing career, within which he featured for the likes of Newcastle United, Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers, and that continued through into his first season in management.

On April the 13th, 2019, an investigation was launched by South Yorkshire Police after Barton was accused of assaulting opposition manager Daniel Stendel in the tunnel at Oakwell, following the conclusion of Fleetwood’s 4-2 defeat away at Barnsley.

He was bailed until the October, when he pleaded not guilty to the charge of causing actual bodily harm and a provisional trial date was set for June the 1st this year.

Since linking up with Fleetwood over two years ago, Barton has taken charge of exactly 100 competitive matches, winning 38, drawing 30 and losing 32.

One To Watch: Veteran forward Paddy Madden will once again be a player tipped to cause problems for League One defences next season.

The 30-year-old Irishman joined the club in 2018, having previously spent four years at Scunthorpe United, where he netted 52 times in 167 games.

Among featuring for the Under-18, Under-19, Under-21 and Under-23 Republic of Ireland teams, as well as making one appearance for the senior side in 2013, Madden has played for Football League outfits Carlisle United, Yeovil Town and the aforementioned Scunthorpe, starting his professional career in the League of Ireland at Bohemians in 2008.

Paddy Madden is likely to sport the No. 17 shirt once again for Fleetwood next season.

Signing of the Summer (So Far): Jordan Rossiter was, supposedly, linked with a move to Portsmouth earlier this month, but unsurprisingly that never took off and the 23-year-old instead put pen-to-paper to sign a one-year deal at Fleetwood, where he spent last season on loan.

The midfielder, who joined permanently from Rangers on August the 3rd, has been descried as an “authoritive central midfield presence” by coaches at the Liverpool academy, where he came through the ranks as a local lad.

Rossiter joined the club aged 6 in 2003 and had previously ran out in the Anfield Junior League from the age of 3. He remained in the academy for 11-years, signing his first pro-contract in 2014.

He spent two years registered to Liverpool’s senior team but only managed one appearance, failing to secure a loan move within that time either – departing for Rangers in 2016. Rossiter spent four years at Ibrox but once again found regular game-time limited, featuring just 10 times for the first-team.

Loans at Bury and Fleetwood seemed to really kickstart the Scouser’s senior career, who has found the Football League as somewhat his level since first featuring in January 2019.

Keep an eye out for the No. 16 next season – the youngster has a lot to prove at Highbury this season.

Season Expectation: Having reached the League One Play-Offs via the unweighted points-per-game system in 2019/20, I would expect Joey Barton’s side to be pushing for a similar result by the end of May ’21.

What could stand in Fleetwood’s way though is the weight of expectation being piled on the three relegated Championship sides, who are all likely to be at least pushing for the Play-Offs despite their own off-field struggles.

The likes of Sunderland, Ipswich, Oxford and Pompey should also be considered, all providing what is lining up to be an intriguing battle for promotion.

Fleetwood fans will be hoping for more of the same from September when league action returns, although could consider a top-half finish a success due to the volume of sides expected to challenge with them – One thing is for sure, it’s going to be tight again!

My Predicted Finish: 5th

What on Cod’s Earth? – Knappers’ Thoughts

If you had to search for someone who lives, breathes and bleeds football, you wouldn’t have to look further than the Fylde Coast.

“I love football and love Fleetwood.” – those are the words of Fleetwood supporter and aspiring pundit Ben Knapman, who is well-known within the football/social media community for his weekly Cod Vlogs. Ben determines the weak-link he believes could hold his team back this season: “We need to bring defenders back to the club.

“We lost Callum Connolly, Lewis Gibson and Harry Souttar, who are back at their parent clubs. Two or three defenders are needed as well as a winger and a striker.” – Ben stressed.

On the other hand, the 18-year-old is pleased with the business completed so far during the transfer window: “We have signed Jordan Rossiter on a permanent deal after his successful loan spell, despite unfortunately getting injured. Callum Camps is, in my opinion, our best bit of business yet – he will add goals from midfield.

Fleetwood have also secured the signings of goalkeeper Joel Coleman, who is expected to provide healthy competition for Alex Cairns for the No. 1 spot, and promising defender Morgan Boyes on loan from Premier League champions Liverpool.

Ben is also not afraid of the newly-implemented salary cap, explaining why he thinks it won’t affect his side: “It will suit us as each club will spend around the same. We’ve done business like normal and it’s been very shrews. We still have the loanees we can add too.”

Describing the key influences behind Fleetwood’s sudden surge up the football pyramid and into the 92 for the first time in 2012, Ben pointed out the incredible work done by Andy Pilley: “We’ve got a great ethos at the club and a fantastic chairman who will invest in the playing squad, as well as making great decisions and investing in a new £10million training ground.

“It has been a superb rise and still, to this day, it feels amazing to be playing the likes of Portsmouth, Sunderland, Ipswich and Blackpool in league fixtures.” – the YouTuber continued.

“The club is based in a small town of about 26,000, competing in the third-tier against a lot of clubs whose grounds hold more than Fleetwood’s population.” – Ben highlighted when asked what makes his club so unique.

30-year-old striker Paddy Madden is set to enter his fourth term at Highbury and supporters are still expecting the same consistent return they have witnessed since January 2018: “He scores 15+ each year and can take a team from 12th to 6th, he also has a good work ethic and works very hard from back to front – for a striker, he’s very good defensively. Madden is one of the best in this league without a shadow of a doubt.”

The Cods Vlogs presenter is not feeling too confident, however, of his side matching last season’s Play-Off finish: “Top 10 is always my goal and if we get the Play-Offs it’s a plus. I think we are two or three additions away from challenging again.” – he explained.

“I’m going for 11th. We’ve still got Ched Evans, Paddy Madden and Josh Morris, as well as some other great players for this division.”

Regardless of his mid-table prediction, Ben is looking forward to another campaign with Joey Barton at the helm: “I love Joey, he’s a top bloke when you get to see and know him. He’s got something special about him, if you give everything for him, you will succeed and he will make you a better player.

“He’s had his faults but he’s been amazing for us and has changed the mood around Highbury for the better.” – he went on to illustrate.

What pleases the young Fleetwood supporter is the manager’s ability to blend in the right level of young faces in the squad with those more experienced, to create his winning formula: “He has a good record over his two years and has brought youth and experience in, as well as giving players who maybe lost their way a bit a chance – Glenn Whelan being one who has been unbelievable since arriving in January.

“Hopefully, we can have a successful season next year!”

You can follow Ben on Twitter – @Benknappy    

Photo: Joe Pepler

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