IAN LONG will approach the new season with a sense of ‘excitement and apprehension’ as Alvechurch take their place as a Step Three team.
After back-to-back promotions, the Church make their bow in the new Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central tomorrow (Saturday) at home to Royston Town.
The remarkable rise and rise under boss Long and No 2 Richard Colwell, and chairman Richard Thorndike, will be highlighted on Tuesday when Alvechurch head to Tamworth, who had just been relegated from the National League when Long was appointed in May 2015 with the Church having ended the Midland Premier season in 15th place.
Long expects a season of consolidation but he wants to see his players – including half-a-dozen summer signings – step up to the challenge, while urging local fans to come and give their backing too.
“How do I feel about the new season? I’m excited and apprehensive too because I’m not sure how we will fare,” said Long. “It’s a level we wanted to play but we are probably ahead of schedule.
“When we came to the club, the chairman said the target was to be playing in the Evo-Stik by the time we moved to the new ground. Now we’re playing in Step Three, playing the likes of Tamworth, Stourbridge, King’s Lynn and Kettering.
“Realistically, this season is about consolidation. If you look at the budgets, Alvechurch will probably have one of the smallest. We won’t have the finances but we’ve got other things – the togetherness in the squad, a great spirit and we want to carry on the momentum from the last two seasons, winning the title and then winning promotion.
“It’s a big jump. Last season and certainly the season before, perhaps you could be not quite at it and still win a game. That won’t be the case at this level. Every side will be better, stronger and fitter and they will cause you problems. We need to be on our game every week.”
Church have been busy adding to their squad in pre-season, with the signings of Theo Llewellyn and Jordan Piggott taking the summer influx to eight players.
Both have impressed in pre-season and tick the box of being young players with potential. Llewellyn, an 18-year-old central midfielder, had played for Yate Town but has now moved to Birmingham to study, while 19-year-old defender Piggott had been on Albion’s books before spells in Scotland with Dundee and East Fife.
Long admits the search to improve will not stop and that means changes will probably continue into the early part of the season.
“I’m striving for perfection and you never stop looking to improve,” he added. “If you don’t keeping moving forwards, you will get overtaken.”
Alvechurch have also strengthened their backroom team by appointing Kevin Hadley as chief scout.
Hadley’s own managerial CV included successful spells with Oldbury United, Willenhall Town and Rushall Olympic, when his squad included Long. Their relationship has continued and Hadley will now a more formal role scouting opposition and searching for new players.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Kevin. He has helped me as a manager over the years and I’ve got a lot of admiration and respect for him. He had to manage me when I was a player and it’s fair to say I could be difficult to handle!” he added.
“I’ve taken a lot of how he managed into the way I manage.”
Meanwhile, Alvechurch expect to have Josh March, Jamie Willets and Charlie Price all back to face Royston.
March was not risked last week in the 2-1 friendly win at home to Evesham United because of a bruised foot while Willets and Price were on holidays.
Mitch Botfield bagged the winner against the Robins, slotting home a second-half winner at the second attempt following a Luke Yates cross.
Yates had given the Church the lead, slotting home after Kieron Cook had rounded keeper Harvey Rivers, but Sean Brain, Evesham’s summer signing from Bromsgrove Sporting, levelled just before half-time.