FA Cup: AFC Fylde looking to cause shock against Wigan
|FA Cup second round: AFC Fylde v Wigan Athletic|
|Venue: Mill Farm Date: Friday, 1 December Kick-off: 19:55 GMT|
|Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two & the BBC Sport app from 19:30 GMT, live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra and follow text updates on the BBC Sport website.|
"Ten years ago people were laughing at us," recalls AFC Fylde chairman David Haythornthwaite. "They're not laughing anymore."
The year is 2007 and Lancashire businessman Haythornthwaite, having failed a second time to buy his beloved Blackpool from the Oyston family, is drawing up a 15-year plan to propel Kirkham and Wesham, a team based in the village of Warton on the Fylde coast, into the Football League by 2022.
Five promotions, a name change and one multi-million-pound ground later, AFC Fylde are on target to join neighbours Blackpool in the Football League long before Qatar host the World Cup in five years' time.
On Friday, the National League club, managed by former Tranmere and Stockport defender Dave Challinor, look to reach the third round of the FA Cup by beating 2013 winners Wigan Athletic in front of 4,500 at Mill Farm - a tie you can watch live on BBC Two.
"We will not stop until we have reached the Football League," Haythornthwaite tells BBC Sport.
From 'pub team' to Football League?
League One Wigan have experienced three relegations since substitute Ben Watson's winner against Manchester City four years ago sent Latics fans into ecstasy as they claimed the first major trophy in their history.
In contrast, AFC Fylde - nicknamed the Coasters - have had two promotions in the same period. Since 2006, gates have risen from fewer than 100 to 1,500 during their climb from the 11th-tier West Lancashire League to the brink of the Football League.
The son of a Lancashire dairy farmer who as a child used to earn pocket money by collecting eggs from the family farm, Haythornthwaite has bankrolled the club's rapid rise up the non-league ladder after making his fortune in the animal health nutrition industry.
The entrepreneur was persuaded to get involved by his friend Dai Davis, then Coasters chairman, "over more than one pint" in a Lytham pub.
A fanatical Blackpool fan, Haythornthwaite, who named his company Tangerine Holdings in their honour, had just been rebutted a second time by the club's controversial owners.
"There's only one team that plays in tangerine," the 63-year-old says. "My dad used to take me. My first match at Bloomfield Road was a 6-0 win over Newcastle in the old First Division. I was hooked.
"I've never been particularly happy with the present owners.
"At one stage I felt a little bitter because they ridiculed me at the time. They said I wasn't capable, I didn't have the money and I didn't know what I was doing.
"It sparked that 'you know what, let's have a go, let's prove to everybody we can do it'.
|The rise and rise of AFC Fylde|
|Just 182 turned up to watch AFC Fylde's Northern Premier League Division One North home match with Warrington Town on 31 January, 2012. A crowd of 3,858 watched their National League North home game with Chorley on 26 December, 2016.||Defender Zaine Francis-Angol played in the third qualifying round of the Champions League for Motherwell in August 2012. Midfielder Sam Finley scored a goal against Harrogate Town last season that went viral with more than 650,000 views on social media.|
|The Coasters' club badge features a fighter jet - reference to the BAE Systems' site in nearby Warton, where parts for the Typhoon are made and assembled.||This is AFC Fylde's first appearance in the FA Cup second round having beaten Wrexham 1-0 and Kidderminster Harriers 4-2 in this season's competition.|
"I told Dai I'd only get involved if we gave it a real good go. At the time we were playing in a field at the back of a pub. Our competitors liked to call us a pub team and they weren't far off."
Ironically, AFC Fylde's rise has attracted Blackpool fans who have become disillusioned with life at Bloomfield Road. The Coasters had just finished 13th in the Northern Premier League Division One North - the eighth tier of English football - when Blackpool were promoted to the Premier League in May 2010.
Now the clubs are separated by just two divisions.
Ten years ago the Coasters were playing against the likes of Leek County School Old Boys and Holker Old Boys in the North West Counties League Division Two.
Every AFC Fylde player wears a shirt with 2022 on the sleeve, while a large banner fans display at home games reads: "2022 - Stop Us If You Can".
They are permanent reminders that the club will not stop until it achieves its goal of becoming a Football League club.
The Coasters are ready for it off the pitch - their plush new Mill Farm ground in Wesham, eight miles from Blackpool, is the envy of many a club in League One and League Two.
It boasts a restaurant with a roof terrace, sports bar and cafe, as well as conference and event facilities.
"I said we should have a 15-year plan, we're bang on with that plan," adds Haythornthwaite.
"It doesn't matter if you invest £100,000, millions or billions of pounds, it doesn't guarantee you success at any level.
"I'm not stupid. Most clubs in our league have twice our budget. Everything we do, we do in a measured way."
From cutting the grass to three promotions
While Wigan are on their seventh permanent manager since winning the FA Cup on 11 May, 2013, Challinor has recently celebrated his sixth anniversary in charge of the Coasters.
AFC Fylde were in the eighth tier when the former League Cup finalist with Tranmere was persuaded to drop two leagues and leave Colwyn Bay, his first managerial job, after buying into Haythornthwaite's vision.
"Even back then, the club had big ambitions. The change over the past six years has been huge," says Challinor, who has steered the Coasters to three promotions since he arrived in November 2011.
"My first game was home to Cammell Laird [attendance 213]. What the club looked like then and how it looks now, it's chalk and cheese.
"As manager, I was doing everything - even cutting the grass on the pitch."
Since joining AFC Fylde, Challinor has graduated from Salford University with a first-class honours degree after training to be a physiotherapist. It's something the 42-year-old intends to fall back on should he ever find himself redundant as a manager.
"It's there if I need it. Hopefully I won't have to use it."
Challinor was renowned for his long throws as a defender during his playing career, which included two FA Cup quarter-final appearances and Sami Hyypia's shirt after Liverpool's sixth round 4-2 win over Tranmere at Prenton Park in 2001.
"Ironically, long throws are something we could do better as a team," he added. "It's a bit of a dying art these days."
Building site to record goalscorer
AFC Fylde's team includes Jack Muldoon, who was part of Lincoln City's run to the FA Cup quarter-final last season. Yet their most likely goal source against Wigan is the club's record scorer, Danny Rowe.
As a schoolboy, Rowe trained alongside Tom Cleverley and Danny Drinkwater at Manchester United before being released at the age of 16.
"I kind of knew it was coming," says the striker who has scored 132 goals in all competitions, including 50 last season, since joining the Coasters in August 2014. "They said I wasn't playing as well as I should and I wasn't really enjoying it.
"I was at one of the biggest clubs in the world. I started so young and it got to a point where things were really intense and the enjoyment faded."
Soon after leaving United, Rowe began an apprenticeship as a joiner which included three years on a Blackpool building site.
"It was freezing cold and wet. It made me think how good I'd had it in football," adds Rowe, who had an approach from League One Oldham Athletic rejected in the summer.
He continued playing football for Kendal Town and earned them £10,000 plus add-ons when he moved to Fleetwood, then a non-league club, in December 2010.
Rowe, top scorer in the National League with 11 goals this season, trained with England and Leicester striker Jamie Vardy but spent most of his time at Fleetwood out on loan at Stockport County, Droylsden and Barrow.
Having left Fleetwood without making a Football League appearance, the 27-year-old hopes his goals can steer the Coasters to League Two - after causing an FA Cup second-round upset against Wigan.