By David Richardson
Progression is the word Chippenham Town manager Mark Collier keeps reminding chairman Neil Blackmore of – and their new signings are certainly a step in the right direction.
Last season’s National League South new boys finished a highly respectable 13th in their first ever year at Step 2.
Now the Bluebirds are targeting a top-half finish and have signalled their intent with six new signings so far this summer.
Topping the bill is former Forest Green Rovers midfielder Yan Klukowski who has returned to the club for a third spell as Chippenham fought off league rivals for his signature.
Collier has also raided Bath for strike partnership Jack Compton and Nat Jarvis while defender George Rigg has also joined from the Romans.
Experienced goalkeeper Will Puddy has signed from Hereford along with Gloucester left-back Kieran Parselle.
“They’ve all come in with experience of this division, the division above or higher,” Collier told The NLP. “Hopefully that will help us. We have a fairly tight squad of 19. We’re almost there but, like I always say, if anyone becomes available better than what we’ve got and comes within the budget, then we’ll look to take them.
“That’s the way we are. There’s often a fallout between players and clubs between now and when the season starts so we’ll keep an eye on that
“If the season starts tomorrow, as long as we’re all fully fit, then we’d be comfortable to go.
“We’re happy with what we’ve got in. Yan is a good addition and he lives locally which helps. He managed to get himself a coaching job at Forest Green Rovers which isn’t too far away from us.
“Are we punching above our weight? Possibly we are but we need to make sure we do things properly and in the correct manner.”
For much of last season Chippenham looked like they had belonged in National South for many a year.
The Southern League champions hit trouble in the middle part of the campaign, which coincided with losing striker David Pratt to Wealdstone, but recovered with seven wins in their last 11 to raise hopes for next season.
“I’m not saying it was a culture shock but it was a step a little larger than I anticipated, in all honesty,” admitted Collier.
“There seemed to be a huge gulf in the playing standards, the infrastructure of clubs, the finances.
“I think we went 24 games unbeaten in the Southern League when we won it. You turn up every week knowing you’re going to win the game. That doesn’t happen in this division because you come across so many different facets of the game and different ideas and systems.
“It does give you confidence winning football matches. On the reverse of that, when you lose, like we did last season, you go 1-0 down and you wonder whether you’re going to get a goal back. People start having doubts.
“The objective was to make sure we were competitive and stay in the division, which we did, and now we need to go again in what looks like an even more difficult division.
“People need to realise Woking and Torquay both got 40-odd points in the Conference last year, they weren’t relegated with 10 or 12. They’ll recruit well this summer, Torquay staying full-time will give them an advantage. Woking are a big Non-League club with a manager (Alan Dowson), who is experienced in the division.
“The ones who have come up I expect to be competitive. We know about Slough, I don’t know too much about Dulwich and Billericay is obviously well-documented.
“Concord Rangers have gone on record on what they’re hoping to do. Welling have a very experienced manager (Steve King) and are another club who have gone on record that they expect to be in the play-offs. Hemel, I think, have said the same.
“There’s not many places for other clubs and there are ones like Dartford and Chelmsford, who I haven’t even spoken about, and are always in the mix.
“The word I keep speaking with the chairman about is progression and hopefully we can have that. We felt comfortable in that division towards the end but we can’t get too comfortable.”