North West Counties Division One North
Ilkley Town have made it to the Non League stage after several years of hard work. Their Ben Rhydding Sports Club home has a 3G pitch and facilities fit for Step 6. The 2021/22 campaign is a historic year and a journey of discovery for Ilkley.
Armstrong is in his second spell as manager. The former Boston United player originally managed Ilkley in 2013 before stepping back into the hot-seat a few years ago. He spearheads the club’s fabulous daily community work as well as the first team.
Opening Five Fixtures
Bury AFC (h), Bacup Borough (a), Ashton Town (a), Holker Old Boys (h), Chadderton (a).
In: Josh Parker, Josh Bowers, Matty Swift, George Pearson, Aaron Davis and James Hughes.
One to Watch
The midfielder is the brother of former Farsley Celtic star Lewis so he is one to keep an eye on as he steps up to the Non League game with Ilkley.
Simon Armstrong admits Ilkley Town could not have wished for a better first game on the Non League stage.
Ilkley are set to smash their attendance record to pieces when Division One North title favourites Bury AFC, the reformed Bury team, pile into West Yorkshire to take on the newly-promoted West Yorkshire League outfit.
“I would say it is one of the biggest games in the club’s history because it is our first semi-professional fixture, our first at Step 6,” Armstrong told Non League Yorkshire.
“We’re playing Bury AFC who are the reformed club of Bury FC and they have massive backing, massive budget and they are favourites to win the league.
“It is a big game for us and a combination of a dream and a nightmare.
“It is a dream because they are the favourites and they’ll bring a big crowd to make it a fantastic opening day fixture for us.
“It is a bit of a nightmare because we have just come into the league so it is biggest test you could ask for from a spectator perspective.
“You’re not going to get more of an acid test than that.
“It is difficult for us getting the processes in place because we’ve never done it before.
“The chairman and the committee are working incredibly hard to make sure it all in order and sorted.
“We had the Guiseley game recently where we had our record crowd of 356 and that was a trial run.
“But for the Bury game we anticipate more than that. I think there’ll be 500 to 600 for it.”
In a previous interview, Armstrong said Ilkley had “probably a handful of people watching” them during his first spell as manager in 2013.
That figure rose to between 50 and 70 people by last season but 600 people is off the scale for his players who aren’t used to playing in gigantic Non League crowds.
But he is confident his players won’t be intimidated by the volume of people watching.
“The atmosphere is going to be unique for the players because they won’t experienced anything like it,” he said.
“The majority of the crowd are going to be Bury supporters. It is going to be like an away game.
“It is a challenge for the players, but (playing the likes of Bury) is one of the reasons we applied to play at Step 6 so we can play in bigger fixtures and in front of bigger crowds.
“Ultimately we have to get used to it and perform regardless of that.
“I think the Guiseley was huge for us because that was the biggest crowd a lot of the lads had played in front of.
“Guiseley were exceptional on the night and we struggled.
“I think the players found it challenging.
“Not just because they were playing Guiseley, but they were in an environment where all eyes were on them and they’re not used to that.
“That uncomfortable environment was needed so they start to feel more confident and more comfortable within it.
“At least when Bury come they will have had some form of experience of (of a big crowd).”
Armstrong is yet to set a target for his side, but he agrees playing Bury in the first game will help form a view on how far Ilkley can go this season.
“Very true,” he said.
“We’ll know straight off the bat what the best team in the league potentially looks like and the kind of levels we potentially need to reach.
“I have a lot of belief in the group and my hope is that we’ll be competitive against Bury and we’ll give them a game.
“The priority for us is to go out and play the way we want to play and get three points.
“We want to enjoy the experience, but we don’t want the experience to take us away.”
Too early to say, let’s see how the first ten games unfold.