One season into our existence as a senior club and according to chairman Dave Mantle, it’s so far, so good for Ilkeston FC.
In August 2011, we were hopeful but not expectant of challenging at the top end of Evo-Stik NPL Division One South as we launched into our first full season. To go on and seal promotion at the first attempt through the play-offs after finishing third was, therefore, a terrific achievement.
That triumph was backed up by the reserves notching a Central Conference League and Cup double for the second year running, while the Academy side were runners-up in the Youth Alliance, pipped on goal difference by Gateshead.
The development squad rounded off a fantastic all-round campaign for the club by finishing as Division Three champions in the Baris Under-19 North Midlands League, despite the first-year scholars often competing against opponents a year or more older.
Those triumphs underlined that the club’s policy of developing their own players through a youth system, set up by Mantle’s company SR Education, is already bearing fruit. In 2011-12, Ryan Wilson, Andrew Osei-Siribour and Tyrell Waite all stepped up successfully to first-team level, with the latter’s performances earning him a move to Notts County.
In fact, the first team as a whole relied on a talented group of young players, supplemented with a few ‘older heads’. As Ilkeston FC now look to consolidate and then press on at the higher level, Mantle believes it proves the approach of ‘going young’ has been the right one.
“It’s great to see the young players progressing as they have, but we knew before we started out that we had some very talented players on our hands,” he said. “We will always want some experience to go with the youth, but if we don’t have to rely on bringing people in from outside all the time, that helps. There are some really good youngsters starting this year and hopefully some of them will have a chance.”
The approach has won wholehearted support from manager Kevin Wilson, a former Derby County and Chelsea striker and his assistant Darren Caskey, of Spurs and Notts County fame. They have strived to get Ilkeston FC playing neat, attractive football and are keen to build on the foundations laid so far by now establishing the club at Evo-Stik Premier Division level.
Wilson said: “It was a terrific first season for the players at all levels and I was very proud of what they achieved. But with promotion, it is going to get even harder, particularly for the senior team, and we are under no illusions about that.
“Of course I have confidence in the players from last season – that is why I have signed so many up for the new campaign – but we cannot afford to stand still and must look to progress.”
It was announced in November 2010 that SR Education had won the right to take over the assets of Ilkeston Town FC and form a new club. Since then, SR’s managing director Mantle has always been mindful of that fact that Ilkeston had a long and proud history, and the period from 1989 until 2010 probably ranked as their finest era.
He targeted restoring their Blue Square Bet North status within a five-year plan and in just their second year into it, he is content with the way things are shaping up. But there is no hiding from the fact that previous club Ilkeston Town went into liquidation in September 2010 because they were heavily in debt and so there remains a no-risk policy rather than one of ‘chasing the dream’.
Mantle added: “We were thrilled to bits with promotion, which we hoped was possible, but realistically it was something of a shock to do it at the first attempt.
“Kevin and the coaching team will be working hard to get it right again on the pitch, while I will be looking to sharpen things up commercially because this is an expensive business - and we have to keep the balance sheet right.”