Joe Fagan’s legacy at Nelson Football Club is the perfect portrayal of ambition and aspiration in footballing circles.
The former Admirals player/manager, who started his affiliation with the club back in 1951, guided the Blues to the Lancashire Combination championship in his first season in charge before helping Liverpool become English and European champions during a historic treble-winning campaign in 1983/84.
Blues boss Mark Fell has some way to go to rival Fagan’s prestige, but winning the club’s first title in 62 years was a start. Now, as the club plans to honour Fagan with a new stand at Victoria Park by the end of the season, the one-time Whinney Hill coach is intent on adding to his North West Counties First Division trophy after adapting to life in the Premier Division.
“We’re getting there and we’re enjoying it,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the step up took us by surprise but we didn’t anticipate the physicality of the league. I wouldn’t say there’s a huge difference in quality but there’s more of a culture of hard work and physical battle. We weren’t prepared for that at the start.”
Nelson started the season with three defeats in their first five league outings but have climbed to sixth in the hierarchy following a sequence of eight victories in 10 fixtures.
“We’ve won eight of our last 10 league games so we seem to have found a solution and answer to it,” said Fell. “We need to try and claw back some ground now. We’re 18 points off top with two games in hand and we’ve still got to play the top three home and away.
“There’s definitely scope for us to get in amongst it. We just can’t afford to drop any more silly points. It’ll be a difficult task, we’ll be rank outsiders to do it, but we are still in with a shout.”
Fell has injected enthusiasm, drive and energy back in to a club that spiralled out of business just over four years ago. He’s adopted an ardent, yet methodical and realistic approach that has allowed the club to thrive once more.
Ahead of games with high-flying duo AFC Liverpool and 1874 Northwich, with a Lancashire Challenge Trophy second round tie with Clitheroe sandwiched in-between, Fell said: “Our next three fixtures could be pivotal to our campaign. They’re vital. We’ve got AFC Liverpool who are fourth and there’s big links between the two.
“We’re hoping to honour Joe Fagan with the new stand at the stadium and he’s obviously a popular figure in Liverpool. We’ll be hoping to leapfrog them in the table though.
“We’re really looking forward to playing Clitheroe. It’s a good chance for the lads to test themselves against a team in the league above. They are going really well and Simon Garner has turned things around up there. It’s a good local derby for the fans as well. It’ll be a great opportunity for us as underdogs.
“1874 Northwich are in the mix too. We beat them twice last year and we’ve kept the nucleus of that squad so they know what it takes to beat them. If we can get results from those games then we won’t be too far away. We just need to keep winning games and we’ve found a way of doing that now.”
Winning has seemingly become habitual for the Blues. Last term, on their way to glory, Fell’s side secured a club record of 14 league wins which culminated with a 4-1 win over Rochdale Town. That relentless attribute could help Fell realise his goals again.
“We’ve had a mixed start to the season and we’re sixth in the league,” he said. “There’s certainly more to come from us. We’ve got great character and there’s plenty of ambition at the club. It’s important that everybody is united in what they want to achieve.
“I don’t just want to function and sit in the North West Counties. We want to be climbing the pyramid. We want to provide the town with a successful football club. We need to keep progressing and we know it can be done. There’s blueprints all over the place from clubs that have done it.”