AFTER swapping America for the Arbories, prolific Padiham striker Ben Allen has got promotion and a Golden Boot award in his sights.
The 22-year-old former Clitheroe Sixth Form student became a record-breaker during his three-and-a-half year scholarship across the Atlantic, scoring 50 goals for Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
However, despite offers to prolong his stay in the States, with trials in Baltimore beckoning, the pull of progressing through the English leagues proved too strong and consequently brought an end to his American dream.
On his return a conversation between former Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers defender Mick Rathbone - his girlfriend’s uncle - and then-Ashton Athletic boss Steve Wilkes culminated in a move to Edge Green Street for Allen.
“I started at Clitheroe sixth form and they had connections over in America,” said Allen. “I ended up getting a scholarship in Milwaukee near Chicago. I was there for about three-and-a-half years.
“It was great, I really enjoyed it. It was a completely different lifestyle, the standard was good and there were a few internationals out there. I played for the university and then had the option to go in to the draft system. I broke school and league records during that time with 50 goals in about 40 games. I had an offer to play out in Baltimore as well but I wanted to come back to England and see how far I could go.
“My girlfriend’s uncle, Mick Rathbone, knew Steve Wilkes because they were at Preston North End together. From there I joined him at Ashton and my first game for them was away at Silsden. I ended up scoring about eight goals in seven games. Steve then moved to Padiham in the summer and he wanted a target man so I joined up with him again.”
The Storks are currently embroiled in an intriguing battle for promotion with Maine Road, Runcorn Town, Bootle, Runcorn Linnets and Winsford United all rivalling Wilkes’s side for top spot. Meanwhile, Allen faces his own personal fight to become the division’s most potent marksman as he currently leads the charts with 31. However, Colne’s Jason Hart, Congleton Town’s Chris Smith and Maine Road’s Matthew Warburton are all hot on his tail.
“It’s been a really good season so far,” declared Allen. “As a club we were looking to push as far as we could but to be top is incredible. I’ve had a good spell recently and hopefully I can keep that going. I’m top scorer in the league now which is great.
“I’ve got 31 goals in 40 games. I’m trying to hit the 40-goal mark now and I’ve got seven games left to do it. At the start of the season my target was 30 but I’ve hit that now so I can move on. The aim is to finish top goalscorer in the league and get promoted with Padiham.We’ve got some big games coming up but we want to try and wrap it up as soon as possible.
“It would be great to get promoted. The club hasn’t been in this situation before so it’s fantastic that we’re fighting for the title. The North West Counties is a tough league to get out of with only one team going up so it would be a great achievement. It would be a special end to the season if I had a league winner’s medal and finished as the division’s leading scorer. Winning the league is the most important thing though.
“We are confident and it’s in our own hands. We are taking things one step at a time but the confidence is there. We know we can go out there and win every game we play. It’s tight at the top so we know we’re not going to run away with it. We are confident about beating any team in front of us.”
Allen’s form this term is bound to attract interest from other clubs in the summer, but the striker admits he isn’t looking past the end of the current campaign. “I’m not too shocked with my form,” Allen said. “I always knew I’d score a few goals. I think I can reach 40 goals, that’s for definite. I know I’m capable and I know I’ll take my chances if I start each game. I miss my fair share of chances but I wouldn’t be playing at this level if I didn’t.
“I’m just focussing on getting this season done and dusted and winning the Premier Division. I’m not thinking beyond that. Every player wants to play at the best standard they can. I had a four-week trial with Ayr when I got back from America but they didn’t take a shine to me like Steve did. My mind is set on getting promoted with Padiham.”
Allen added: “Steve has really helped me progress as a player. Everyone at the club has helped me massively in my career. There’s a great atmosphere at the club and that’s down to everyone involved including Steve Cunningham, Danny Craig and the rest of the staff and players. The coaches are really down to earth and really get involved. Everyone is relaxed and it’s a great environment to be around.”