By Hugo Varley
After racing to promotion from Step 4 last season, Lee Spalding identified exactly the talisman he needed to lead Swindon Supermarine into the new campaign.
Spalding swiftly got his man and the capture of experienced striker Stuart Fleetwood is proving to be an inspired move.
The 32-year-old striker, who topped the Conference goal scoring charts in 2008 with Forest Green Rovers, has led by example on the pitch at the Webswood Stadium this season and says he is enjoying his first experience of wearing the captain’s armband.
“It’s been a really good few months so far,” Fleetwood told The NLP. “When I looked around the club over the summer I was really impressed by what it had to offer. Both the ground and the training facilities are fantastic and the manager is really ambitious about what he wants to achieve.
“They do things the right way here and there is a very welcoming atmosphere, which is all you can really ask for.
“Being captain is something that I haven’t really experienced before and it took some adapting to at first, but it’s been a great learning curve.”
Fleetwood arrived at Supermarine with a distinguished footballing pedigree both in and out of Non-League.
The Welshman’s form for Forest Green during the 2007-08 campaign earned him a dream move to then Championship side Charlton Athletic, before a prolific season helped Hereford United keep their head above water in the Football League in 2010.
“I played some of the best football of my career at Forest Green and to get a move to the Championship was absolutely mind blowing,” he added.
“I can remember turning up for my first day at Charlton in my Vauxhall Corsa. It barely made it up the hill to the training ground and when I came back to my car at the end of the session I couldn’t find it because it was surrounded by massive Range Rovers!
“I didn’t play as much or progress as much as I wanted to at Charlton, but I wouldn’t swap the experience for anything. It was amazing to play alongside players who have gone right to the top such as Jonjo Shelvey.
“As a West Ham fan, being signed by Alan Pardew was also a rather special moment, even if he did think that my name was Stuart Fletcher for the first few weeks, which resulted in me getting a lot of banter from the other lads!”
A prolific spell with Luton Town followed, where Fleetwood found the net 16 times to help the Hatters reach the hallowed turf of Wembley, where they came up against York City in the 2012 Conference play-off final.
Agonisingly for the Hatters striker and his teammates, Luton fell just short of achieving promotion, but Fleetwood continues to cherish his memories of the day.
“As a child growing up in England, you always dream of playing at Wembley one day,” he reflects. “We had a great season and came into the final with a real sense of momentum, but ultimately it just wasn’t meant to be.
“Although we came away on the losing side playing a part in such an amazing occasion is something that I look back on with fondness when I think about my career highlights.”
Having embarked on short spells with the likes of Eastleigh, Sutton United and Bath City in recent years, Fleetwood is relishing the prospect of establishing himself among the Supermarine faithful.
“I had a few offers to go into coaching over the summer and I have done a bit of work with the Cheltenham Town academy before, but ultimately I want to keep playing for as long as I can,” the former Wales Under-21 international remarked.
“Playing is what I love doing and to be at a club where I feel comfortable is brilliant.
“We have done pretty well this season and have put ourselves a few points above the drop zone.
“Hopefully we can kick on and make this another campaign to remember for the club!”
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