The Joe Davis column: My only regret about my time at Fleetwood Town is that I left
Burnley-born Joe returned to his first club Port Vale three years ago but has retained his base on the Fylde coast. Now studying for a degree in sports media, Joe will discuss Town’s play-off campaign in a series of weekly Gazette columns. Here he starts with his own
My phone buzzed. “They want you to train tomorrow morning!” the message from my agent read.
“Oh, and to be prepared to travel to Scunthorpe on Saturday,” he added, as I poured my cup of tea down the sink.
It was the evening of October 2, 2015 and Leicester City had just finalised my one-month loan deal with Fleetwood.
Before I had chance to digest the information, I was frantically typing ‘Fleetwood Town’ into Google, whilst simultaneously filling a suitcase with essentials.
Google confirmed what I had presumed: the team were struggling for form, with just two wins in the opening 10 games, and were without a manager.
That didn’t matter, though, as it was the opportunity I had been waiting for ever since making the switch from Port Vale to Leicester City 16 months earlier – the chance to experience the charm of the English Football League once again. I had missed it dearly.
“You have reached your destination,” my sat-nav kindly informed me at 8am the following morning.
I was unfashionably early – one hour to be precise – so I sat undercover for a little while, watching the Fylde coast herring gulls squawk over Poolfoot Farm.
My car was parked alongside the portable cabins that, in the midst of a refurbishment, temporarily accommodated the changing facilities and canteen area.
I eventually peeled myself out of the driver’s seat and climbed the iron staircase towards the door marked ‘Manager’s Office’. A good place to start, I assumed.
It felt like my first day at school – a nervousness fluttering around my stomach and a bag draped over my right shoulder.
“All right gaffer,” I said instinctively. “Please, whatever you do, do not call me gaffer,” Chris Lucketti replied.
‘Skip’, as the players called him, was standing in as caretaker manager following the departure of his close friend Graham Alexander and his stern response made it crystal clear that the position was provisional.
Two days prior to my arrival, Alexander had been sacked in light of a 5-1 drubbing away at Gillingham and it didn’t take long for me to realise that morale was low in the camp.
After getting the awkward small talk and introductory handshakes with my new team-mates out the way, I pulled on the red and white colours of the Cod Army for the first time.
I ran out on to the training pitch that morning eager to impress, completely unaware that it would mark the dawn of the most enjoyable spell in my 10-year career.
The flamboyant managerial style of Steven Pressley, the intensity of Uwe Rosler, the loyalty of Ted Lowery and the service of Nathan Pond all played a huge part in making my experience at the football club so memorable.
I experienced the highs of a fourth-placed finish in League One under Rosler in 2017 and the lows of a relegation dogfight with Pressley the season before, but throughout it all I loved every minute.
Since then, the club has continued to evolve. The astute leadership of Andy Pilley has turned ‘little Fleetwood Town’ into genuine promotion contenders, whilst replacing the portable buildings with a state of the art training facility.
For that he – along with Joey Barton, Clint Hill and the rest of the staff – deserves enormous credit.
Today, as I reminisce, I have only one regret – walking away from the club in June 2017.
I prematurely jumped at a chance to return to Port Vale, the club where I had spent 14 years progressing through the academy and into the first team set-up.
Unfortunately things didn’t work out in my second spell and I soon found myself disillusioned.
It was the arrival of my daughter in August 2018 that made me re-evaluate my life.
I constantly thought to myself, ‘Do I want to scrape around the lower reaches of the pyramid, travelling up and down the country on a £20,000 salary, away from family, unhappy? Or is this the right time to explore other career options?’
In March last year, my mind was made up. I decided to mutually terminate my contract and walk away from professional football.
Since then, I have been studying for a Sports Writing and Broadcasting degree at Staffordshire University, and in the process have rediscovered my passion for writing, and more specifically a love for writing about the game that I have devoted my entire life to.
For the first time since leaving school at 16, I can truly enjoy the beautiful game for what it is, from a new set of eyes.
I can do so without the worries or pressures of earning a new contract at the end of the campaign, without putting my joints though the rigorous demands of full-time football or relocating for the 10th time in my 26 years of existence.
Of course, I will miss the emotions that only football can offer.
I will forever crave the buzz of grinding out three points against all odds and the adrenaline rush of a crucial last-ditch tackle.
But this year, I vow to enjoy the new-look game of bio-secure football, the artificial fan noise of a televised fixture, the vacant terraces and socially-distanced goal celebrations with my fingers on a keyboard, rather than with boots on my feet. This is my ‘new normal’.