DEFIANT manager Tommy Brookbanks has boldly told fans of crisis-hit Hucknall Town: “I don’t expect us to get relegated again.”
Supporters are approaching the new season, which kicks off on Saturday August 13 with trepidation after the most traumatic summer in Town’s history.
The Yellows reverted to amateur status, lost a host of players and nearly went to the wall over a massive VAT debt of £84,000 that brought the club to its knees.
But Brookbanks insists the mood in the camp is more optimistic than he dared hoped for after relegation from the Evo-Stik League, Premier Division in his first season in charge last year.
“A lot of people think we will be cannon fodder because of the situation we are in,” he said this week.
“But that could well play into our hands a bit. Having played and managed at this Division One South level, I am sure we will be competitive.
“We certainly won’t be cannon fodder and we might surprise a few.
“I am making no predictions because a precedent has not been set for competing at this level without wages. It is a whole new venture.
“But I can promise that we will give everything. We have shaped well in pre-season and rest assured, the lads who have stayed are genuinely interested in playing for Hucknall Town and in saving Hucknall Town.
“Hopefully the fans will respond in the same manner. We have had a lot of good feedback from the people of Hucknall and I hope that will be reflected in our gates.
“Also, as always with my teams, the fans will see lots of good football.”
Even though they continue to be plagued by problems, Town are determined to halt the dramatic decline they have endured since appearing at Villa Park in the FA Trophy final in front of thousands of Hucknall fans and the Sky Sports TV cameras.
They have finished in the bottom four for four seasons on the trot, suffering two relegations, and have now dropped to their lowest level on the non-league ladder for 13 years. Last season’s demise capped a run of just 14 points from 23 games.
Among the well-regarded players to have left Town since last term’s drop are goalkeeper Ross Whalin, defenders Martin Ball, Grant Brindley and Fabian Smith, midfielders Dion Chambers and Josh Burge and striker Tyeisse ‘TJ’ Nightingale. Full-back David Boafo might also be on his way out.
But Brookbanks has brought in a wealth of fresh face. And they have looked good in recent pre-season friendlies, plundering 20 goals in four games.
The latest win was on Saturday August 6 against Nottinghamshire rivals Radford, whom they hammered 5-1 thanks to a hat-trick from new striker Nick Ghislanzoni and a goal apiece from Nathan Watson and Joe Pheasant.
The match was played on a 3G surface at Southglade Leisure Centre in Bestwood — because The Yellows’ first opponents tomorrow, Romulus, have installed a similar artificial pitch at their home ground.
Romulus are one of two teams in the division based at the same venue in the Birmingham suburb of Sutton Coldfield, which is at the heart of Aston Villa country.
Formed as recently as 1979, The Roms finished tenth in their first season in the division last term. But they have big ambitions this term to challenge for a place in the promotion play-offs.
“We have had them watched twice and they are a big, strong unit,” said Brookbanks.
“However we feel we can get at them at the back with our pace.”
Town’s first home match of the new season follows on Wednesday August 17 when they tackle Leek Town, who finished a disappointing 16th in 2010/11.
The Yellows are desperate to start on a victorious note because they have not won a home league game since November 13 last year!
“We will have Leek watched on Saturday in their first game against Carlton Town,” Brookbanks added.
“Leek have always been a big non-league club, so their expectations will be high.”
Brookbanks has added one last new signing to his squad in winger Aidan Brady, who played under him at Carlton. But he does not anticipate many more in the coming weeks.
“I am anxious not to upset the balance in the dressing-room,” he said.
“We have to remember these lads have accepted the situation we are in. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.
“They are playing out of sheer loyalty to me and to Hucknall Town. They are lads who are better than the situation we are in. Don’t expect us to get beaten every week.”
BROOKBANKS starts the new season with a three-match ban from the Town dugout after being sent off during the league cup quarter-final defeat at Bradford Park Avenue in March.