Lancaster City host Stafford Rangers this Saturday (August 12) as the 2023/24 Northern Premier League Premier Division gets under way.
The Dolly Blues will be wanting to improve on their 11th-placed finish last season, during which they accumulated 58 points.
They come into the season opener off the back of a terrific pre-season both on and off the pitch.
Mark Fell’s men were unbeaten in the eight friendlies they played in pre-season, with highlights including a 12-1 win over Dalton United, beating Fleetwood Town Development 6-0 and a 1-0 victory over National League side Altrincham.
Mark Fell is approaching five years as manager of Lancaster City and he told Beyond Radio’s Saturday Sports Show that this current squad is the “most settled” he’s had at the club, and he is the “most confident” he has been about the club since joining.
There have been several changes to the squad since the curtain fell on last season.
Defenders Matty Clarke and Charlie Barnes were the first two new players through the door this summer, the former joining after leaving Workington AFC – who were promoted to the NPL Premier Division last season - and the latter having left Scottish side Annan Athletic last season after they were promoted to Scottish League One.
Goalkeeper Andre Mendes, formerly of Morecambe, also joined on a permanent deal over the summer. He has previous NPL experience, with loans at Colne and Ashton United, where he played towards the end of last season.
Mendes picked up a suspension in Ashton United’s penultimate game of last season against Liversedge, which has been carried over to this season. He will miss the opening three games of the season.
Lewis Forshaw has joined the club on a loan from Burnley’s academy until August 20 to provide cover for Mendes while he is suspended.
Experienced centre back Simon Grand, who played for Morecambe in the 2007/08 campaign, joined the club last week.
The 39-year-old could also be a goalscoring threat, having scored twelve times last season for Charnock Richard of the North West Counties Football League.
Forward Jacob Holland-Wilkinson has also joined the club permanently after impressing in pre-season as a trialist.
He scored four goals in four games against Bolton B, Burnley Under 23s, Holker Old Boys and Fleetwood Town Development.
Holland-Wilkinson has been at The Giant Axe before, having two separate loan spells in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons, scoring two goals.
He has also been on loan at AFC Fylde and Bamber Bridge.
The club’s most recent signing, confirmed on Thursday evening (August 10), is young Stockport midfielder Ackeme Francis-Burrell on an initial three-month loan deal.
He’s another player who impressed as a trialist during pre-season, scoring against Fleetwood Town Development and Clitheroe.
There have been some outgoings too over the summer.
Defenders Nathan Woodthorpe, Rudy Misambo and Calen Gallagher-Allison, who were all key parts of Lancaster’s back line last year, have moved on.
Woodthorpe has joined Chester – before heading out on loan to Lancaster’s league rivals Marine - while Misambo and Gallagher-Allison have moved to Farsley Celtic and Bootle respectively.
Midfielder Ed Elewa-Ikpakwu has also left the club and is currently unattached.
Last season’s loanees Pawel Zuk, Sam Waller, Matthew Tweedley and Owen Robinson returned to their parent clubs at the end of last season.
Zuk has joined FC United of Manchester and Robinson has joined Marine, while Waller and Tweedley remain at Burnley and Bolton respectively.
Lancaster City have made season ticket prices very reasonable for the upcoming season.
The average attendance at The Giant Axe last season was a 25% increase from the 2021/22 campaign, and there is a huge push for there to be even more fans coming through the turnstiles this season.
Season tickets are priced at £150 for adults, £110 for concessions and £35 for fans aged between 12 and 17.
Under 12s can enter the new Junior Dolly Blues club for just £25 a year, which will get you a season ticket as well as several club-branded gifts and memorable experiences.
Fans can also buy a “Lifetime Season Ticket” for a one-off payment of £1000, giving them the opportunity to watch every single Lancaster City game for the rest of their life.
Season tickets and Junior Dolly Blues Club memberships are available to purchase by following this link: https://rb.gy/wd79u
Individual matchday prices are now £12 for adults, £9 for concessions, £5 for students, £3 for 12–17-year-olds and under 12s go free with an accompanying adult.
There are six new teams in the NPL Premier Division this year.
Bradford Park Avenue were relegated from the National League North last season, while Basford United and Ilkeston Town have been transferred from the Southern League Premier Division Central.
The three newly-promoted teams are Macclesfield and Workington from the NPL Division One West and Worksop Town from the NPL Division One East.
As for teams who have moved on from the NPL Premier Division, South Shields and Warrington Town were promoted last year to the National League North – the former as champions, the latter as playoff winners.
Four teams were relegated from the division last year: Nantwich Town and Stalybridge Celtic are now in Division One West, while Belper Town and Liversedge are now in Division One East.
Lancaster City v Stafford Rangers kicks off at 3pm on Saturday (August 12) at The Giant Axe.
Listen to Mark Fell’s exclusive interview in full on the Saturday Sports Show on Beyond Radio from 9am on Saturday (August 12).