Football had been played in Fleetwood before a more definite picture emerged in the 1880s. Fleetwood Rangers was the first of a number of incarnations. There have been three grounds and periods of success interrupted by the effects of two World Wars, the 1927 Flood and continuing financial pressures. Defeat in the 1985 FA Vase final at Wembley failed to dampen the spirits of over 7000 fans who made the journey. For many of them, there would be another chance to head to the capital nearly thirty years later.
The club reformed as Fleetwood Wanderers in 1997 and became Fleetwood Freeport just after the start of the 1997-98 season. The Highbury ground had been empty for a couple of years with almost all the facilities vandalised. A number of willing volunteers set about clearing up. After much effort, the club was accepted for membership of the North West Counties League. At the start of the 2002-03 season, it reverted to its former name of Fleetwood Town. The away defeat at St Helens Town, at the end of March 2003, marked the debut of a young defender, Nathan Pond. Pond was to become a true club legend over the coming years. He had been brought in from amateur football in the Preston area by manager Tony Greenwood.
Chairman Andy Pilley's love affair with Fleetwood Town started, appropriately, on Valentine's Day. He was invited to watch the home game against Glossop North End on 14th February, 2004. Fleetwood won 2-0 and Pilley was elected Chairman at a board meeting three days later. After finishing third in the North West Counties, a failed ground grading denied Fleetwood promotion to the UniBond League First Division. It was a blow that only served to make the ambitious Chairman more determined and promotion was achieved at the end of the following season.
Twelve months later, the club were celebrating a second successive promotion. It was a dramatic last day as a 5-1 victory over Brigg Town snatched promotion from Kendal by the narrowest of margins. Second place meant automatic promotion to the UniBond Premier Division.
Eighth position left Town just short of the play-offs in 2006-07 but consolation came in the shape of the League Cup final victory over Matlock Town. The Premier Division title and promotion to the Blue Square Conference North was achieved in 2007-08. It was another last day denouement. A draw against Frickley Athletic was enough as rivals Witton Albion lost to Worksop Town.
The following season started badly and Fleetwood were bottom after nine games. Manager, Tony Greenwood, was replaced by Micky Mellon in September 2008. Under Mellon there was a recovery to a finishing position of eighth and an FA Cup run which ended at home to Hartlepool United in the Second Round.
Promotion was achieved the following season, 2009-10, but only after a titanic battle with Southport. This involved a controversial episode which developed from Farsley Celtic's inability to fulfil their fixtures. Ironically, the decision to expunge points gained from Farsley's games meant that one of the most remarkable goals seen at Highbury was taken from the record books. In January 2010, Jamie Milligan spotted the Farsley goalkeeper off his line and scored from inside his own half. The filmed action on You Tube took Fleetwood Town's name around the world with millions of 'hits'. Southport secured the automatic promotion place with Town second. The play-offs beckoned and Fleetwood triumphed with victory over Alfreton Town. They also reached the FA Cup Second Round once again, this time exiting away to Northampton Town.
Fleetwood arrived at the top table of non-league football and their 2010-11 Blue Square Conference Premier League fixtures kicked off with a 1-1 draw at Rushden and Diamonds. They overcame two early losses by losing just once in 18 matches. A strong set of results towards the end of the season took them to fifth and another play-off situation. Town went down heavily to AFC Wimbledon over two legs.
The 2011-12 season started modestly with just two wins in six games. It was to end in triumph as Fleetwood won the title, and a coveted Football League place, with a club record 103 points. Jamie Vardy was the talisman as a twenty-nine match unbeaten run proved decisive. Vardy had been signed from FC Halifax and scored 31 league goals. Town reached the FA Cup Third Round for the first time but lost 5-1 at home to Blackpool.
With Vardy now at Leicester City, Fleetwood began their Football League career in August 2012 with a goalless draw at home to Torquay United. By November, Chairman Pilley faced his next managerial sacking. Micky Mellon left the club after a home FA Cup defeat against Aldershot and with his team sixth in League Two. He was replaced by Graham Alexander, a legendary player with Preston and Burnley, but relatively inexperienced as a manager. Stuttering form left Fleetwood in thirteenth position in their first season in the Club of 92.
There were plenty of twists and turns in the 2013-14 season. There was progress in cup competitions and an automatic promotion could still be anticipated at a late stage in the season by the Cod Army. Their team fell short with fourth place and 76 points, five points behind the automatic spots. Play-offs beckoned once again. Two tense semi-final legs against a resurgent York City produced just one goal, from ex-York player Matty Blair. Fleetwood were Wembley-bound for the first time since the 1985 FA Vase final. Their opponents were Burton Albion and the game was decided by a free kick from Antoni Sarcevic which deceived the Burton goalkeeper. It gave Fleetwood a sixth promotion in ten years. There was little rest for Conor McLaughlin who became the first serving Fleetwood Town player to represent his country when he played for Northern Ireland in Uruguay just five days later.
The 2014-15 season opened with a 2-1 win over Crewe Alexandra. Nathan Pond's appearance meant that he had represented Fleetwood at seven different levels and it earned him a place in the Guinness Book Of World Records. There were some big teams at this level and grounds which would have comfortably seated the whole of the town of Fleetwood with room to spare. The 2-1 victory at Sheffield United in March 2015 was arguably Fleetwood's biggest away league win. David Ball's equaliser at home to Preston North End three weeks later earned him a Ballon d'Or nomination, only the second Englishman to do so, after Wayne Rooney. Despite losing in the first round of all three cup competitions, Fleetwood made a solid start to League One, finishing tenth with 63 points.
There was another managerial casualty in the early part of the 2015-16 season with Graham Alexander sacked after his side lost 5-1 to Gillingham. There had been just two wins in the first ten games. Andy Pilley turned to former Scottish international and Coventry City manager, Steven Pressley. Results were inconsistent and the side were involved in a bottom eight survival bid. On 20th April, 2016, Sir Alex Ferguson opened the new multi-million pound training ground at Poolfoot Farm in Thornton. The penultimate game of the season, at Walsall, saw Nathan Pond break the club appearance record held by Jack Ainscough. It was Pond's 422nd game for Town. League One membership was secured on the last day of the season when Fleetwood beat Crewe Alexandra 2-0, finishing 19th on 51 points. It was only a second win in thirteen attempts for Pressley's side and the manager was to pay the ultimate price.
Pressley's departure came relatively late as the 2016-17 season approached and pre-season matches had all but finished. They included a high-profile game at Highbury against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool. A 26th July departure date for Pressley left little time for new appointment, Uwe Rosler, to settle in but the former Manchester City striker was to make an immediate impact.
Rosler's side had mixed fortunes through the first part of the 2016-17 season and lay 13th in League One when Southport came to Highbury for an FA Cup First Round Replay in November. Fleetwood won 4-1. During the game, the manager changed to a three at the back and kept the system, with startling results. Of the next eighteen games, twelve were won and six drawn. By early March, Fleetwood lay second behind Sheffield United and were attracting yet more attention in the football world. It was the club's highest ever league position. Yet again, the Cod Army were living the dream. Character and resilience brought success when performances were below par. Vital points were gained with late goals at AFC Wimbledon, at home to Southend and an own goal conceded by Oldham Athletic at Highbury.
A 4-2 defeat at home to Bolton on 11th March was a setback and Fleetwood had to settle for fourth place and the play-offs. It was a remarkable position nonetheless. There was little to separate Fleetwood and Bradford City in the play-off semi-final. The Yorkshire side went on to Wembley with the only goal coming from a corner in the first leg, at Bradford.
The 2017-18 season began on a high with three successive wins. Results then dipped and Uwe Rosler lost his job after a 3-0 defeat at Doncaster on 17th February left his side one place above the drop zone and only separated by goal difference. Before then, there had been an enticing FA Cup Third Round match to look forward to with former Premier League champions, Leicester City. The game finished 0-0 moments after Fleetwood had hit a post. The away leg ended in defeat by 2-0 and was notable both for the much-anticipated appearance of former Cod, Jamie Vardy, for Leicester as well as the first goal to be scored in English football using VAR.
Five days after Rosler's departure, Andy Pilley appointed experienced manager, John Sheridan, to execute a rescue act. It proved to be an inspired choice with Sheridan galvanising the team. Five wins and three draws in the next nine games meant that safety was assured well before the end of the season. For Sheridan, however, his stay was brief. Mission accomplished, he was replaced by Joey Barton, moving into his first managerial post.
Back in October 2017, local lad Billy Crellin had been part of the England U17 World Cup winning squad. He played in goal against Iraq. Towards the end of the season, in March 2018, Life Vice-President, Ted Lowery, passed away, leaving a club in mourning for a great servant. Another club legend, Nathan Pond, moved on to Salford Town after 498 appearances, a club record which may never be beaten.
Barton brought in experienced players with Premier League experience and backed youngsters. On 11th August, Nathan Sheron became the first academy player to make his EFL debut and, later the same month, James Hill became the club's youngest-ever player when he played in the Carabao Cup against Leicester City. Barton's team reserved some of their best performances for higher-placed teams. A 5-0 win at Scunthorpe was Fleetwood's biggest EFL win while the 1-1 draw at Sunderland was played out between sides which were 120 places apart just ten years earlier. Perhaps the biggest success in the eyes of the faithful was the 3-2 win over Blackpool on 27th October. It was Fleetwood's first victory against their neighbours. Fleetwood ended the 2018 calendar year in 11th place.
Barton gave youth a chance over the second half of the season. Midfielder Barry Baggley became the youngest player to represent Fleetwood in the EFL when he came off the bench at Walsall in March, age 17 years and 57 days. James Hill, qualified as the youngest to start a game, age 17 years 102 days, when he lined up in defence at Bloomfield Road in April. Another youngster, Ryan Rydel, played five times at left back towards the end of the season. There was a welcome win at AFC Wimbledon after two previous defeats this season and notable home victories against Charlton Athletic, the club who were to eventually go up through the play-offs, and Sunderland. Fleetwood came from behind to beat the Black Cats 2-1 and secure one of the biggest results in their history. The season ended at Wycombe a week later with Fleetwood finishing eleventh in League One, on 61 points.
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