A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today
Only a member of the Football League since 2012, 15 years after the club’s formation, Fleetwood Town are an unlikely success story.
It’s not just the six promotions in ten years. It’s not the fact that Fleetwood is one of the most isolated and smallest towns in England to support a Football League club, without a train station to its name. It’s not even the equally unlikely and parallel success story of ex-Fleetwood’s Jamie Vardy, who left a non-league club to become England’s most celebrated striker and Premier League champion in 2015-16.
Fleetwood’s key achievement, in a town that failed as a transport hub, failed as a tourist resort and failed as a fishing port, has been to reverse 90 years of failed tries to lift a local football team to league status.
First, in 1908, there was Fleetwood FC. Then, in 1977, there was Fleetwood Town, Mark I. Each made the Northern Premier League, each then fell by the wayside.
By 1997, though, along with a third attempt at a local football club, Fleetwood Wanderers, being initiated, the town was seeing its long derelict Wyre Dock being transformed into a marina, retail hub and housing development: Fleetwood Freeport.
The North West Counties League newcomers took its name then, as had their predecessors, began a gradual climb up the divisions from a tenth-tier start.
The new club became Fleetwood Town in 2002 and, released from the shackles of sponsorship involvement, began to take off. Behind the rapid rise was self-made Fylde man Andy Pilley. When he arrived in 2004, Highbury Stadium, home of Fleetwood football since 1939, was falling to bits and attendances were in the low hundreds. Within ten years, Pilley and his Fleetwood club had had their stadium completely rebuilt and were raising the League Two trophy at Wembley.
Steadying the team at centre-back through all six promotions was Nathan Pond, ‘Pondy’ to all, whose multi-divisional career with The Trawlermen earned him a world record.
The campaign of 2007-08 coincided with the rebuilding of Highbury Stadium and culminated with promotion to the Conference North, the final game with Frickley extending Fleetwood’s unbeaten run to 14 games.
Hiring their first full-time manager, former Burnley youth team coach Micky Mellon, Fleetwood reached the Second Round of the FA Cup, breaking the 3,000 attendance barrier for the visit of Hartlepool, before embarking on a neck-and-neck struggle with Southport for promotion to the fifth-flight Football Conference in 2009-10.
Losing at their local rivals 5-0 on Boxing Day, beating them 4-0 at home on New Year’s Day, Fleetwood lost out to eventual champions Southport on the final day of the season – but won the play-off semi on penalties, then the final against Alfreton.
Reaching the Conference play-offs after just one season, the Trawlermen were outclassed by AFC Wimbledon but, with Jamie Vardy in rampant form, won the league with 100-plus goals in 2011-12. A 6-0 win at Southport for the now traditional New Year’s Day fixture was particularly satisfying for the club’s ever-growing supporters, the Cod Army.
With Vardy sold to Leicester for £1,700,000, a record for a non-league club, Fleetwood left behind the Southports and the Wrexhams to begin life as a Football League club in August 2012 – with a 0-0 draw with Torquay.
After a decent debut campaign in League Two, the Trawlermen made the play-off final in 2014, settled by a single 30-yard free-kick from Anglo-Italo-Serb Antoni Sarcevic, later named as League Two Player of the Year. For Nathan Pond, then in his testimonial year, another promotion only embellished his remarkable journey with Fleetwood, all the way from his debut in front of a crowd of 81 in the North West Counties League.
Funding a new training complex, Fleetwood cut the budget for playing staff but still survived the first seasons in League One, narrowly failing to make the play-off final in 2017. After manager Uwe Rösler then failed to maintain league consistency, Joey Barton was made his eventual and controversial appointment.
Despite an assault charge hanging over his head, the former Manchester City midfielder still took Fleetwood to another play-off semi-final in 2020. Conceding two goals to Wycombe in the first six minutes of the home leg, then a red card just after the half-hour mark, the Trawlermen threw away a season’s good work.
As Barton’s legal problems continued, he was let go in January 2021, ex-Blackpool’s Simon Grayson taking over.
The field of dreams – and the stands around it
What was once Fleetwood’s crumbling, semi-derelict home now comprises four modern stands of 5,300 total capacity, half-seated, with roofed terracing at each end. The main Parkside Stand, with its semi-circular roof, contains executive boxes, the club offices and conference facilities.
All of this was built in four years, from 2007 onwards. In an eye-catching quirk, the old main stand still survives, grimly facing the back of its larger replacement and used mainly for storage.
The Highbury Stadium – it’s on Highbury Avenue, no connection between teams in red-and-white – was first home to Fleetwood FC in 1939. The 2007 opening of the first new stand, the Percy Ronson, named after a Fleetwood player from the 1950s, was the first major development since. It now houses away supporters.
Home fans stand opposite in the Memorial Stand, named in memory of those who lost their lives in conflict or at sea. Visiting fans may also be allocated the nearest sections of the all-seater Highbury Stand to their end – if travelling support is light, then these few hundred seats may suffice on their own. Away fans access standing places through turnstiles 1-3 where Hatfield Avenue meets Highbury Avenue, and seated ones through turnstiles 1-2 by the club shop. All are welcome in popular Jim’s Bar behind the Memorial Stand.
Going to the ground – tips and timings
Fleetwood has no train station. The main arrival point is Blackpool North. The Blackpool tram runs from nearby North Pier (every 10-12mins, 40min journey time, £2.80) – it’s a 5-7min walk down Talbot Road – to Fleetwood Stanley Road near the stadium.
Quicker and arriving slightly closer to the ground, bus 1 (every 30mins) from North Pier (end of Talbot Road/Square) takes 30mins to reach Hatfield Avenue. Bus 14 (every 12mins, Sun every 20mins) is more frequent and goes from alongside Blackpool North on Talbot Road to Poulton Road/Highbury Avenue in Fleetwood, 5mins from the stadium, journey time 40min. Fleetwood Taxis (01253 872 000) quote £15-£16 from Blackpool North station.
The sat nav code for the Highbury Stadium is FY7 6TX. Miraculously, there is a reasonable amount of free street parking around the ground. Alternatively, there are 700 free parking spaces available at waterside mall Affinity Lancashire (FY7 6AE) on Anchorage Road, the former Freeport Fleetwood centre. It’s also close to the Fleetwood Stanley Road tram stop, no more than ten minutes’ walk from the stadium.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
The ticket office (01253 775 080, firstname.lastname@example.org) is behind the main stand on Park Avenue. There are also online sales.
There no turnstile transactions – on the day, visiting supporters should use the away ticket office at the junction of Highbury Avenue and Hatfield Road. The main one will also be in operation.
Standing places in the (home) Memorial Stand and Percy Ronson away end are £22, £17 for under-25s, £7 for under-16s, £1 for under-5s. For a seat in the Highbury and Parkside Stands it’s £24, over-65s/under-25s £19, under-16s £8, under-5s £1.
what to buy
Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts
There are two club shops, one behind the main Parkside Stand (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, match days), the other at the club academy at Poolfoot Farm (daily 9am-10pm) on Butts Road, just south of town.
The second choice after the Arsenal-like home kit of red shirts with white sleeves, away tops are black with red trim. Fleetwood’s anchor motif also features on stickers (‘Come On You Cod Army’), coasters, scarves and air fresheners.
Where to Drink
Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors
Nearby Cod Army haunts are usually OK to welcome away fans too – it isn’t that long ago that Fleetwood were a non-league club and so a familial feel still lingers. This may not be the case for derby games with Morecambe or Blackpool.
Trawlermen fans coming from Thornton and Cleveleys, halfway between Blackpool and Fleetwood, enjoy a pre-match pint and a gawp at football action at the Gardener’s Arms, steaks, burgers and kids’ menus an optional extra. It’s by the stop for the 14 bus that runs from Blackpool North right to the ground. Also close to here is Poolfoot Farm, the FTFC training complex on Butts Road, where the PIzza Calcio and beer garden are open seven days a week. Fleetwood Mac burgers, pastas and English breakfasts are served along with themed pizzas (Pondy Pepperoni, Red Hot Vardy), plus standard beers and spirits. TV football features everywhere and tables look over the training pitches.
Nearer the ground alongside the Affinity Lancashire mall, the Three Lights is a family-friendly pub/eatery popular with shoppers and handy pre-match with kids in tow. It’s a 10min walk to the ground via Denham Way and Broomfield Road.
Longer-established haunts include the large, lively Strawberry Gardens, a favourite with the Cod Army and real-ale aficionados, but at pains to extend its welcome to away fans. Its restaurant once run by Fleetwood-born TV comedian Syd Little and his wife Sheree, it’s decorated with Fleetwood flags and memorabilia. It’s a 10min walk to the ground, either straight down Elm Street opposite and later right to Birch Street/Park Avenue, or cross the road take the second left, Birch Street, and straight down.
Slightly closer to Highbury Stadium, the Royal Oak (171 Lord Street), still known as Dead ‘Uns by locals, stands by the tram tracks is two stops from the ground. It’s another real-ale favourite with TV football and often a rock covers band at weekends.
At the other end of Poulton Road from the Strawberry Gardens, Queens is a firm Fleetwood favourite, Big Benny the landlord keeping the boisterous regulars in pre-match order. Decent selection of beers and TV sport.
At the ground, the large, modern match-day Jim’s Bar behind the Memorial Stand gets busy from noon onwards (5pm for evening kick-offs). Unless it’s a derby game, away fans are welcome. Dotted with TV screens, it offers drinks promotions for early arrivals and encourages lengthy post-match imbibing. Hot food, too.