Dale’s crystal ball as fixture date looms for Town

Work begins on the Highbury pitch
Work begins on the Highbury pitch

The wait is almost over for Fleetwood Town fans to find out who they will face on the opening day of their debut League One campaign,

Fixtures for the new season will be revealed at 9am tomorrow.

Plenty have been reading their tea leaves and consulting the stars in an attempt to predict what August 9 will hold for Graham Alexander’s players.

But one man who thinks he knows more than most is Highbury groundsman Dale Frith.

He’s the man tasked with ensuring Town’s award-winning surface is ready to entertain the likes of Sheffield United and Preston next season.

And he’s willing to hazard an informed guess as to who will be first up for Town.

“I’m pretty certain we will be at home,” said Frith, taking a short break from his hectic summer schedule.

“As we are moving up to a new division, the Football League would try and give us a home fixture, regardless of what’s happening at Blackpool with their request for an away game.

“I’m predicting a southern team, a smaller team, somebody who might not bring so many.

“Certainly not a Sheffield United or anyone like that. I think you’re looking at somebody like Crawley.”

Kick-off may still be seven and a half weeks away but Town’s groundsman sees tomorrow’s announcement as a major landmark on the road to the new season.

And it’s a hotly anticipated campaign, with some of English football’s big names set to visit Highbury.

Frith said: “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.

“When the fixtures come out, and we see our name up against these teams, and we seen when they are coming and can start planning, that’s when it will kick in.”

Town’s play-off campaign and subsequent celebrations have taken their toll on Frith and his small but dedicated Highbury team.

Work on the surface started a week later than he would have liked, meaning Highbury can only host one pre-season game.

Frith explained: “I need eight weeks but I’ve only got seven. We can’t have any more time.

“The party on the pitch was a great event but it means we’ve probably lost out on a couple of pre-season games.

“We now need the time to make sure the pitch is ready.”

And he’s hoping, with perfect growing weather over the recentweeks, for no hitches ahead of the new season.

“You have to work with what you have got,” he told The Gazette.

“We’ve planned it to the day but we might get three or four weeks in and find things aren’t developing as we would like.

“That’s when the doubt comes in. We might have to put another seed on or another fertiliser.

“It’s just a case of reacting to the situation.”

It’s nothing Town’s award- winning groundsman can’t handle.

“It’s not a job it’s a way of life,” he joked. “It’s like being a farmer – you’ve just got to react to the situation.

“It’s not a nine-to-five job. People might think the season is over and everyone goes on holiday. That’s not true.

“The manager’s been away and he deserves it. The players have been away. But we’re here, with a small team, making sure everything is ready for their return.”

Frith was League Two’s groundsman of the year last season, despite insisting there were flaws in his Highbury surface.

But he insists taking the crown again would be a big ask next season, competing against clubs with big budgets.

He added: “The pitch performed very well last year but there were still some issues.

“The middle was the best it has ever been since I’ve been here.

“Whether we’re in a situation of being award nominated next year I don’t know. We’re in with clubs like Bristol City, who are spending £1m on their new pitch.

“Preston have full fibre-sand.

“We came up against some decent clubs in League Two but we’re up a level again.

“The challenge for the players is to step up on the pitch. Our challenge is to step up in preparing it.”