Pic: Steve Mclellan
IF AFC Fylde had their way, then Danny Rowe would have been lining up in their colours a long time ago.
Back then they were in their former Kirkham &?Wesham guise, playing in the West Lancashire League and they wanted to take a striker off the hands of league rivals Blackpool Wren Rovers.
“I had offers to leave loads of times when I was at Blackpool Wren Rovers,” Rowe says. “I actually had offers from Fylde, who were Kirkham & Wesham then.
“At the time they were in the same league and they tried to sign me. Even when they went up they still tried to sign me, but I just didn’t want to do it at the time.
“It’s a lot different now to what it was then. Obviously that was in the West Lancs, now the National League North with the stadium they’re in – it’s completely different.
“But I have good memories of that level. I was playing with my mates, we had some good battles and I enjoyed doing it.
“It was what I needed, in some ways. When I first went there from Man United it wasn’t a good feeling. But, as time went on, I enjoyed playing with my mates at that level.”
Rediscovering his love for football on his own doorstep was exactly what he needed after five years at Old Trafford. For many youngsters, life at a big club can all get a bit serious and Rowe admits his enjoyment levels dropped.
“That’s what happened with me really,” Rowe says. “It got serious when I was young. As I say, you kind of don’t realise the club you’re at and you take it for granted. When it’s taken away from you, you do start to realise.”
Rowe is talking about what it’s like for many footballers in Non-League who have suffered setbacks and how there can be a way back from the bottom.
“Most people at this standard have been at a good club,” Rowe says. “When I was a kid I was at United, Sam Finley was at Everton, Richie Baker was at United with me.
“Everyone’s been at good standards so players at this level have obviously had things where they’ve been released for different reasons. You have to find your feet again.
“I was as a 15 or 16-year-old released from the club I support and in my eyes are the biggest club in the world. It’s a bit of a shock to the system.
“But it’s the same for anyone. You find yourself having to go to different clubs on trial, which you’re not always used to, and it’s hard.
“It’s good being at a big club but when you’re a kid, in my opinion, you take it for granted. You don’t really think you have to do much and think you’ve made it. When the day comes and you get released it’s very different.”
From the West Lancashire League, Rowe went to Kendal Town where he was picked up by Fleetwood Town, then on their way to the Conference Premier title.
A loan spell at Stockport County meant he didn’t play a part in the Cod Army’s title win and he left when they were in League Two, playing at Lincoln City before eventually, finally, finding his way to AFC Fylde.
Keep going like he is and Rowe will no doubt achieve his goal of playing in the Football League. The 28-year-old brings new meaning to the word prolific.
Already in the league this season he has hit the net 40 times as he closes in on Damian Reeves’ record of 43 with Altrincham.
Rowe’s haul has put Dave Challinor’s side top of the league and well on the road to the title after two consecutive seasons of disappointment in the play-offs.
So what’s the secret? Rowe thinks it’s pretty simple. Having not only the best team, but the best squad.
Boss Challinor signed well in the summer. Former Barrow, Colchester United and Stevenage midfielder Andy Bond arrived and he also added Football League experience with defender Tom Kennedy.
Brendon Daniels came from Harrogate and exciting talent James Hardy, who used to be at Manchester City, joined with the belief he needed to play games for his development.
Then during the season they forked out a five-figure fee to sign England C midfielder Dan Bradley from league rivals Alfreton Town. At the beginning of this month, David Morgan made the move from Nuneaton Town.
“The likes of Bondy, TK, they’ve added experience to the side,” Rowe says. “Then James Hardy is a good talent. He was having a great season up until he got injured. I play with him in a front three, I like playing with him. He’s got good vision and great quality.
“There’s a good mix. Braddas is probably a bit different to anything else we’ve got. He’s given us a bit extra. He brings a lot of energy and does a lot of running.
“Then we’ve got Sam Finley in midfield who creates, breaks a lot up, has energy – throughout the side there’s a good balance to the team. We’ve got a bit of everything.”
That extends off the pitch too. This season the club moved into their new 6,000 capacity Mill Farm home. Based a short hop from the M55, it has a sports bar, restaurant, 3G pitches, conference facilities, a supermarket and petrol station.
Attendances have shot through the roof, rising more than 200 per cent on last season, and the club are well on track to achieve a lofty goal set by ambitious chairman David Haythornthwaite.
“It’s good all round,” Rowe says. “The only negative is it makes teams raise their game when they come to play against us. They’re not used to playing in that sort of stadium, but it’s great for the atmosphere. It’s the best stadium in our league by a mile. It’s good the club’s got a chairman who’s got it done and ready for us.
“But it’s probably more for the way the club is going. The old place was more of a UniBond ground. When you were playing against big clubs it wasn’t quite ready for them coming with quite a lot of fans. You look at the stadium now and it’s ready for the Football League.”
Successful businessman Haythornthwaite has never hidden his plans as he pumped in the funds. As a club they’ve taken plenty of stick for having ‘2022’ stitched onto their shirts. That’s when they want to be in the top 92.
Many laughed, but if they can see their title quest through this season then they will be just one step away. Lots of that is down to boss Challinor, who chose to leave his previous job at Colwyn Bay to drop two levels to a then-Step 4 Fylde.
Having impressed Haythornthwaite with a handwritten letter as part of his application, the former Tranmere Rovers defender delivered an instant promotion before another two seasons later.
Last summer the players became full-time and Rowe says they all want to be part of more success.
“Everyone at the club, everyone outside the club, even if the chairman denied it, knows what the ambition is,” Rowe says. “The chairman wants to get the club to the Football League and I can’t see any reason why they won’t.”