“Stick with us like you did last year – you were absolutely brilliant.”
Port Vale captain Tom Conlon has issued a rallying cry ahead of this weekend’s Sky Bet League One season opener.
The Valiants achieved promotion via the Play-Offs two months ago, and the 26-year-old believes the support from the fans will be crucial in their return to the third tier following a five-year absence.
“It’ll be excellent to challenge ourselves against these top Clubs,” he says. “The Play-Off Final was unbelievable and we want more days like that now. The gaffer’s plugged it into us straight away that that’s gone and we’re moving onto the next challenge.
“There are a lot of ex-Premier League Clubs in this division and it’s exciting for the players, the fans and everyone involved with the Football Club.
“The fans were brilliant last season, especially towards the end when we really needed them, and it didn’t go unnoticed. There’s going to be ups and downs all season, so we’ll need their support more than ever.”
An Achilles injury back in January restricted Conlon to a spectator role during Vale’s push for promotion. Following a frustrating period of rehabilitation, he’s raring to go to start the new campaign.
“I can’t wait to get going,” he beams. “I’ve just been building up my match fitness and I’m feeling good, so I’m really looking forward to getting back out there in front of the fans, especially at Vale Park.
“Everyone’s pulling in the same direction and we’re just eager to have a good crack at League One.”
The Vale skipper’s only prior experience at League One level came while making his Peterborough United league debut as an 18-year-old in May 2014, ironically playing against his current employers.
In contrast, boss Darrell Clarke knows all about it, having managed Bristol Rovers for 18 months at this level, leading the Gas to a 10th place finish in 2016/17.
Having delivered promotion in his first full campaign at Vale Park, the 44-year-old is eager to continue the momentum that's been building at the Club since his arrival in February 2021.
"It's very good to be back and we're buzzing to be in a division higher," he declares. "It's a competitive league; there are some big teams with big fanbases in League One.
"Those Clubs that have been in the Premier League and the Championship before have a different weight on their shoulders in comparison to ourselves, but we're trying to get Championship ready as well. We haven't got a timescale for that, but we're aspiring to be at that level and we'll see how long it takes.
"You can see the togetherness at the Club and that's testament to the owners. We are a massive community Club and it's the heartbeat of the area. That togetherness will put us in good stead for the new season."
Heading into their opening fixture against Fleetwood Town, Vale have largely maintained their successful 2021/22 squad while also recruiting experienced pair Gavin Massey and Funso Ojo, as well as promising youngsters Thierry Small (loan) and Will Forrester.
Clarke continues: "We’ve kept the core players from last season and they’re going to get the opportunity to show they can compete at League One level, but we've made some useful additions and we've still got four or five more to get in.
"We enjoy the success of last season, but the whole focus now is about the new season. It's always nice to get that first win on the board, but it's a long season – it's a marathon and not a sprint.
"Nothing is gained or lost on the first game but, of course, we want to get off to a good start. I treat every game as a one-off project and the aim is to win each game, so let's bring on Fleetwood."
🤯 @OfficialPVFC boss Darrell Clarke is the first manager to take on the #72in72!#EFL | #SkyBetLeagueOne pic.twitter.com/DpyzXhGhEd— Sky Bet League One (@SkyBetLeagueOne) July 27, 2022