RUGBY TOWN: Heading north in league switch

New manager Gary Mills and operations manager Neil Melvin
New manager Gary Mills and operations manager Neil Melvin

Longest unbroken run in Southern League coming to an end

Rugby’s 32-year unbroken tenure in the Southern League structure looks like it is coming to an end, after the F.A. announced the provisional allocations of clubs for Steps 1-4 of the non-league football pyramid.

The listings are still subject to ratification at the forthcoming annual general meetings of the relevant league competitions, but Town have been switched over to the Northern Premier League (NPL) Division One South along with local rivals Daventry.

A similar transfer for the club was mooted at the same stage in 2011, although in the end they were transferred back to the Southern League – but such a late reversal seems unlikely this time round, meaning their position as the longest continuous serving club currently in the league will be over.

Valley Operations Director Neil Melvin reflected on the proposed change: “It’s going to be a new experience for everybody concerned – the fans, officials and a lot of the players.

“However in the past, we have performed relatively well against NPL teams in the various cup competitions, so hopefully Gary (Mills) can put together a squad that is going to be competitive for the new season.

“I would have thought that another reversal of the provisional listings is improbable for us, with Daventry the more likely club switched back if required due to its geography, but all will be confirmed at the Southern League and NPL meetings in the middle of June.”

The change will see a number of brand new trips for Town – including to the oldest club now playing association football Sheffield F.C., who were founded in 1857.

The upcoming campaign marks the start of Valley’s 60th season, and Melvin is under no illusions that the transfer of leagues will be testing.

He continued: “There will certainly be a lot of unknown quantities, and there’s no doubt it’s going to be tough for us.

“There’s the three teams (Leek, Newcastle and Gresley) that missed out in the division’s play-offs last season, Belper down from the NPL Premier and by the looks of it two very ambitious clubs making the move up to this step of the pyramid.”

Those two promoted clubs are Basford and Shaw Lane, with the former having included ex-Aston Villa and England international Lee Hendrie in their playing squad last season and the latter joining the league on the back of three successive promotions since their 2012 formation.

Full list of NPL – Division One South provisional clubs: Basford United, Belper Town, Carlton Town, Chasetown, Coalville Town, Daventry Town, Goole, Gresley, Kidsgrove Athletic, Leek Town, Lincoln United, Loughborough Dynamo, Market Drayton Town, Newcastle Town, Romulus, Rugby Town, Shaw Lane Aquaforce, Sheffield, Spalding United, Stafford Rangers, Stocksbridge Park Steels, Tividale.

# New Valley boss Gary Mills has had a busy first week in charge at Butlin Road, securing verbal commitments to stay from five key members of last season’s squad.

The quintet of keeper Neil Collett, defenders Mason Rowley and Craig Kelly, and midfielders Lewis Rankin and Lewis McBride have all indicated a return to Town colours for the 2015/16 season – although league registration forms cannot be completed until next month, and Mills is hoping to retain some other members of last year’s squad, ahead of adding some new faces over the summer.

Of those already confirmed Rowley, Kelly and McBride accounted for four of the main player of the year awards in 2014/15 – with Rowley topping the players’ and supporters’ votes, Kelly sharing manager Dave Stringer’s nomination and McBride scooping the Media Star Man award.

Rankin and Collett are both ex-Coventry City academy players who joined in the second half of last season, with Rankin finding the net five times in eleven league starts and Collett registering three clean sheets in his eight appearances.

The club’s two contracted players last time out Alex Gudger and Seb Lake-Gaskin both look likely to be leaving though, with the popular club captain Robbie Banks also moving on by dropping down one level to Coventry Sphinx.