West Allotment Celtic are preparing for another season in Northern League division one.
The Benton-based outfit had the lowest playing budget of the division’s 22 teams last season, but defied the odds to stave off relegation by four points.
Thanks to Wade Financial and a number of other generous sponsors, West Allotment are now in a better position to strengthen the playing squad.
Manager Jon McDonald has done just that in recent weeks, snapping up former Blyth Spartans and Whitley Bay defender Stuart Bramley and ex-Spartans and Darlington forward Shaun Reay.
Goalkeeper Chris Bannon, recently an FA Vase and NFA Senior Cup winner with North Shields, has returned to the club, while McDonald has managed to retain the services of Michael Hall and Ian Lee.
“Financially, the club is in the black for the first time in a long time,” said Wade Financial’s David Dodds, who also serves as commercial director at West Allotment.
“We see the financial base growing, making us stronger, it obviously enables us to offer the management team more, therefore attract some better players and retain some of the good players that we already have.”
Allotment have enjoyed a productive pre-season, keeping four clean sheets in six games.
They kicked off with a 2-0 win over Team Northumbria, where new boy Reay netted his first goal in Allotment colours.
The green and whites then comfortably saw off Ashington Colliers, Daniel O’Reilly netting a brace in the 5-0 victory.
A goalless draw at Ryton & Crawcrook Albion and a last-gasp defeat against North Shields followed, before McDonald’s men returned to winning ways at Alnwick Town, Stephen Young (2) and Craig Hindmarch on target at St James’ Park.
Allotment rounded out their pre-season programme with a draw at Billingham Synthonia, showing great determination to come back from 3-1 down in the dying embers of the game.
“The lads have looked good in pre-season, and the squad is more settled than this time last year,” said programme editor Craig Dobson.
“New signings like Bramley and Reay come with great pedigree and experience, while retaining some of the senior members of the squad - not least captain Ian Dunn and midfield master David Henderson - shows that the club is moving in the right direction.”
It’s not just on the field where Allotment are improving. Behind the scenes, assistant first team coach Richie Mitchell has been growing the club’s youth development system.
The comprehensive set-up now caters to boys between the ages of nine and 15, and from next season onwards, two girls’ teams will be playing under the West Allotment banner.
Allotment now have all of the tools in place to bring young talent through the ranks.
With the club’s finances in good order, the team can now look towards the season opener on Sunday, August 7, when they face Consett in the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup, playing the tie at Heaton Stannington’s Grounsell Park at 1pm.
“Everyone associates the FA Cup with giant-killings and unexpected magic, but financially, the potential rewards are massive,” said Dobson.
“Even making it through the first two rounds against teams of a similar standard can bring in thousands of pounds’ worth of prize money.
“We hope there’ll be a good turnout on Sunday afternoon, and a valuable win to boot.”
With the club progressing on and off the pitch, the committee are cautiously optimistic about their chances this coming season.
“With South Shields coming up with a lot of funds behind them, and Ryhope too, it’s going to be a tougher league,” admits Dodds.
“To stay in that division would be a target, and I think this year, to look for some good cup runs, both in the Vase and the FA Cup.”