Blackstones have been working hard and longer in pre-season training than anyone else around as the team look to forge a new identity under incoming manager Phil Gadsby.
The former Langtoft United boss takes the step up from the PDFL Premier to UCL Division One after Stones endured a terrible season last year, not winning a league game in 2015.
Gadsby has brought in Talal Karama as assistant manager, who played for Langtoft last season and has had a successful playing career with teams including Ramsey, winning the PDFL Premier, and March Town.
He has also brought in Andy Sharpe as coach who joined Langtoft half way through last season and specialises in coaching goalkeepers.
Gadsby said: “Pre-season started over three weeks ago for us and we were probably one of the first clubs in the area to start. I felt, this season, it was important we started a few weeks earlier than usual for a number of factors none more so than myself, Talal and Sharpey all being new to the club.
“We wanted enough time to weigh up who we’d retain from last season, who’d be available to bring in and give people time to start to gel and get used to our methods.
“We’ve tried to keep pre-season as interesting as possible by mixing the training up to include elements of fitness training, ball work and weekly circuit training sessions down at Rhino’s gym in Stamford, which have been a really good way of not only getting fit but building team spirit.
“I’ve been massively impressed with the level of commitment the lads have shown this last month, numbers to training have rarely dropped below 22 and everyone’s looking sharp and seems to be buying into what we want to achieve.”
And what is that? Gadsby said: “This season for us is all about getting Blackstones performing at the right end of the table again and reflecting the hard work that goes on off the pitch, we want to build a side that excites fans and brings more and more people to Lincoln Road each week.
“ We’re not taking anything for granted as there are some really strong sides in this league but I’m confident we can achieve the goals I’ve outlined to the committee and move the club forward.”
Stones’ squad is shaping up nicely and there are some more additions on the way.
Gadsby said: “We’re keen to build a squad with the right mix of experience and youth, players don’t necessarily have to be 30+ to be deemed experienced we’re attracting lads that have played in the UCL for a number of years but are still only in their mid to early twenties, when you combine that with players stepping up from the PDFL Premier that are hungry to make a name for themselves then, in my opinion, it makes for a good mix.”
Gadsby has managed to bring a few familiar faces back to the club, with the likes of Adam Scotcher, last season’s top scorer, returning from Deeping Rangers, attacking midfielder Sam Strange and the Staffieri brothers Arno and Addie, a midfielder and striker respectively, returning to Lincoln Road.
Gadsby said: “We’ve also got some good young talents in 18 year-old defender Dom Poli, 20 year-old midfielder Kieran Arthur, Sam Thompson from Deeping Rangers, 21, and 18 year-old defender Jack Salt, all signed on who are all below the age of 22.”
As expected the former Langtoft boss has brought across a contingent of his Vikings team. Defenders Jacob Smitheringale, Adam Sparks, Calum Parker come in while in midfielder Nicky Butler, Ben Porter Liam Buttery move across. Rhys Ford and Dan Evans, who scored 21 goals in 24 games last season in the PDFL Premier, have also made the switch.
Gadsby said: “Having managed these lads for a couple of seasons now I believe they are all capable of making the step up to life in the UCL.”
“We’ve been able to bring in goalkeeper Lee Crockett, who I believe is a fantastic acquisition for the club, as far as keepers go I’d say he’s right up there with the best of them and will add some more experience to our squad, whilst also bringing in experienced UCL players Matty Simpson (defender) from Peterborough Sports and Jones De Souza (winger) who was playing at Bourne last season.”
Blackstones have also secured a few players on dual registration, including: Steve Mastin, Billy King and Ian Bradbury.
Blackstones have seven friendlies, starting with Netherton United on Tuesday, lined-up before they start the league season on August 1, at home to Rushden at 1.45pm as part of the Groundhop celebration which sees fans travel around as many grounds as possible in one weekend.
It should mean a bumper crowd at Stones’ first game of the season as the new look side try and end the club’s 22 game run without a win.
Gadsby said: “Having a couple more friendlies than usual allows us to get a proper look at everyone that has trained and make a bit more of an informed decision as to who will make the final cut.”