The Blues surprised many people – and quite possibly their own directors – when they won promotion from the Evo-stik NPL premier division at the first attempt. An outfit which was in the North West Counties League in 2007 is now preparing to play at the highest level in its 52-year history.
“We’ve got to establish Curzon Ashton as a National League North club that’s taken seriously. If we can manage that we’ll have done the job. What we can’t do is get in there and be relegated,” Flanagan explained.
“Over the next three or four years we need to get ourselves looked upon as a side like Hyde, Stalybridge or Droylsden who have all done well at this level in the past.
“Curzon have always been looked upon as an outfit behind the rest but now we’ve overtaken them all. We have to establish ourselves and I think we will.”
The Blues start their campaign on Saturday, at home to Corby Town, but Flanagan won’t be there to savour what will be an historic moment for his club. He starts a three-match stadium ban after being found guilty of pushing the referee during Curzon’s play-off victory over neighbours Ashton United last April – an accusation he strongly refutes.
Flanagan, who was also fined £300, said: “I accept my sending-off. I was going ballistic after Ryan Brooke was given a red card for defending himself. As Niall Cummins had already gone with a broken foot I was worried I’d have no strikers for the play-off final. But I never touched the referee.
“It’s really hurt me because I wanted to be there for such a big day. I also wanted to go to the next two games because I’ve never been to Boston United or Telford. As it is, my assistant Ian Nevison will be in charge.”
The events of that emotion-charged night at Hurst Cross still hang over the team as well as the manager. Ryan Brooke and Joe Guest are both suspended and Cummins is several weeks from making a return, having only just resumed training. Alex Brown is also out.
Describing the first three games as a baptism of fire, Flanagan willingly concedes that Curzon are in for a tough time. Even so, he sees them as capable of competing for promotion.
“For me, a good season would be reaching the play-offs. I see that as realistic. Why not?” said the Blues boss, adding: “We’ve got a lot of resolve and determination.”
Much will depend on how well the new signings do, and how well the club copes with the loss of skipper Sam Walker who has joined Halifax Town. Flanagan has brought in striker John Bennett from Mossley, former Ashton United defender Alex Frost, Northwich Victoria striker Gary Burnett, former Huddersfield midfielder Ben Atkinson and Colwyn Bay duo Tom Buckley (midfield) and defender Danny Taylor.
Said Flanagan: “I’ve been looking for people of character first and foremost – good players but with a strong character. Lads we can rely on. Fortunately only two players have left so I know the majority of the squad very well.
“We need to get all our best players on the pitch at the same time and if we do that I think we can give a good account of ourselves. We may need to make one or two more signings which could be hard as we haven’t got a large budget but players will start to come available after six weeks or so, so we ought to be able to pick one or two up if necessary.
“It’s true that we don’t know a great deal about a lot of the teams we’ll be playing but having said that we didn’t know a lot about the sides in the Evo-stik premier. The clubs we’ll be facing won’t know a lot about us either so we’ll have to turn that to our advantage.
“We’re going to lose some games – that’s inevitable. We have to stay strong, stick together, regroup and adjust quickly. With the knowledge Ian Nevison and I have I’m confident that we’ll know what to do and be able to sort things fast.”