THERE IS a palpable sense of excitement around the Tameside Stadium this season as Curzon Ashton go in search of achieving their long-term ambition – promotion to the National League.
OK, attendances may typically hover around the 300 mark for National League North home matches, barring the near 900 who watched the meeting with former Football League side Scunthorpe.
But they cannot be accused of not punching their weight, especially with the third lowest budget of any club, as they sit at the top end of the table in what marks the club’s ninth consecutive season in non-league’s second tier.
Defeat Tamworth in the FA Cup and they are once again in the first round proper.
Curzon have ditched the underdog status and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with among rival clubs in a highly competitive division.
A promising start to the season, which includes victory over Chorley in the FA Cup third qualifying round, puts Curzon just inside the playoffs on goal difference and only four points from top spot.
The Nash will be hoping to secure back-to-back league victories this weekend on home soil, although they face a tough test against Boston United, as the Pilgrims sit just once point above the hosts in sixth.
Whilst the early signs are encouraging, the club was hit with a hammer blow last week when manager Adam Lakeland opted for a move to pursue a full-time role at King’s Lynn Town.
Lakeland, who guided the club to a 13th place finish last season, has been joined in Norfolk by Curzon legend Sam Walker, as the pair look to guide the Linnets away from the danger zone.
As disappointing as the news was, Curzon were quick to fill the void and have entrusted first team captain Craig Mahon with managerial responsibility.
In a rapid turnaround of events, Mahon was thrust into the hotseat for last weekend’s fixture against Chorley and enjoyed a dream start to life in the dugout with a 2-1 victory over the Magpies.
In doing so, Curzon bagged £5,625 in prize money, along with a home tie in the next round.
According to Curzon chairman Wayne Salkeld, the duo’s departure to Norfolk was somewhat inevitable, especially when a full-time position was offered.
It was a bitter pill to swallow nonetheless, but one he took gracefully and with their best intentions at heart.
Speaking to The Correspondent, Wayne, who became the club’s chairman in 2019, said: “We received an approach from Kings Lynn telling us they wanted to speak to Adam.
“I initially thought he wouldn’t go, but soon after he said he wanted to respond, which we were fine with. Both clubs were talking regarding his contract and we discussed terms.
“Adam’s always wanted to be involved in full-time football. He was actually approached by AFC Fylde for the managerial role last year.
“He’s always ambitious and we always said that we would never stand in the way of his progression.
“I never thought he would go to the other side of the country for a job, but we always knew this day would come.
“As a club, we don’t feel like there’s any need to change things, especially with the position we’re in.
“There’s no basis to change things, although it’s a results-based business and if things started to spiral, then we would revisit the idea. The same applies with any other managers in football.”
Disappointment aside, the recent departure has unlocked a new opportunity for the current trio to prove their worth. Mahon already has a wealth of experience to his name, having previously featured for Vauxhall Motors, Altrincham, and town rivals Ashton United.
A risky move, perhaps, but the Irishman will be aided by two Curzon stalwarts. The ever-reliable Jack Salkeld – who turned down a move to King’s Lynn due to family reasons – is continuing as first team coach, while ex-manager Mark Bradshaw, who won the Manchester Premier Cup in 2019, will also be in the dugout.
Despite the obstacles thrown in the club’s way, Wayne is confident about the club’s potential and delivering success in their 60th anniversary.
He said: “We work really hard as a club to bring success, and we’ll always strive to get into the playoffs and achieve promotion. Our ambition would be made a lot easier by an increase in attendance, but we’ve tried everything in recent years to do that already.
“I believe that, if we had a major boost in crowd figures, we’d have a far greater chance of making the playoffs as the budget would increase.
“It’s our ninth season in this league, it’s the biggest budget we’ve ever had, we have loyal sponsors who invest money into the club, so our only ambition is to make the playoffs.”
As a club that values every penny it earns, Curzon will be hoping to boost their coffers with a decent run in the FA Cup.
As previous exploits demonstrate, progressing through the stages, boosting their profile and drawing a big club can work wonders for the club – both internally and externally.
In previous seasons, the money used from the FA Cup has been channelled into the playing budget. But how will it be used this season?
Wayne said: “Hopefully we’ll have a great run and create memories along the way.
“In terms of the money, we’ll have to reassess at the end of the season. It could be used for the playing budget, but it could also be used for other aspects of the club, which are equally as important.”