It may be the biggest challenge of his career so far, but one that he’s certainly ready for.
Striker Craig Gillies’ switch to step three King’s Lynn Town, who ply their trade in the Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division, may leave some wondering if he can succeed at a higher standard.
But Gillies, who netted 38 goals for step-seven Chatteris Town in the Kershaw Premier Division last season and finished runner-up in the league’s golden boot, is confident he can compete a few levels above than what he has been used to.
“Step Three is a massive step up and I really like the challenge to see how I can compete at that level”, he said.
“I enjoyed my time at Lynn last time and performed alright.
“I played three, scored three, but with work commitments, it was difficult at the time.
“I am going there with the intentions to score goals and win games, so hopefully it goes to plan.
“The club’s ambitions are to get promoted and be challenging along with a good cup run, so hopefully I can contribute well to that.”
The Lilies front-man has signed a one-year deal with the Linnets after impressing Lynn manager Ian Culverhouse, having previously featured for the club’s reserve side last year.
But Gillies admits there are still areas that can be bettered.
“There are a couple of aspects to my game I know I need to improve, but hopefully with a coach of Ian’s calibre, he can help get the best out of me.
“I had several other offers from clubs in different leagues, but when I knew Ian was interested in signing me, it was a massive privilege.
“From someone who has such experience was a big plus for signing for Lynn.”
The 25-year old forward also had strong words for Lilies boss Ashley Taylor, who has overseen his development since teaming up at Doddington United.
“Ash has been amazing since we first joined forces at Doddington.
“I have so much respect for Ash and I’ve loved playing every second for him.
Perhaps not a season to remember compared to last, but it has been a solid return to the Cambridgeshire top flight for Chatteris Town.
The Lilies finished fifth in the Kershaw Premier Division after spending much of the season in the top four spots, having not enjoyed the successes of the 2015-16 promotion-winning campaign.
But one success is for certain and that’s consolidation, the aim which departing manager (at the moment), Ashley Taylor, set out for his side in August, which was exceeded by a long stretch.
I believe we are a top four team right now – Ashley Taylor
Even so, a year that has gone above and beyond initial targets could have got even better, potentially once Taylor’s decision to leave his managerial post at the end of the season was made.
“When I made my intentions clear to the team midway through the season, our performance levels dropped and also the injuries we have had”, Taylor, who is set to become the new director of football at the club, said.
“In my opinion, I believe we are a top-four team right now, but this season, we lost very important players at crucial stages of the season.
“I know and the players know we could have done better, but we have to be happy with a fifth-place finish.
“Overall, I think we have had a good first season back in the Kershaw Premier League.”
Town endured a run of one win in six games between February and April, a time where Taylor believes cost his side dearly.
“I think this was a crucial time where we lost ground on the top four.
“I knew at the start of the season, we were going to experience tough times where we would have back-to-back defeats and it’s all about how we dealt with the tough times.
“Generally, I was happy with how we stuck together and tried to find solutions to come through the tough moments.”
Hitting the back of the net wasn’t a cause for concern, converting 86 goals from 38 games in all competitions, 45 of those at West Street.
However, they accounted for very little in terms of victories against any of the teams above them, claiming just one win during the season, which Taylor thinks is down to one reason.
“We relied too much on Craig (Gillies) to score this year and the other teams around us simply had more firepower.
“Since I’ve been manager, nine times out of 10, we have put in excellent attacking performances at home and it’s created excitement within the town.
“Attendances increased because of the way we go about attacking the opposition.”
Striker Gillies was the team’s top goalscorer for the second successive season, with 38 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions, which his predatory instincts in front of goal can help inspire the youth within the squad, according to Taylor.
“Craig’s been a role model this year and any young player that wants to do well in the game should just look at his application and attitude towards the game.
“The lad’s a born winner and he’s not missed a game this season.
“He deserves all the credit coming his way and he’s been very important to our success.
“Craig’s been important, but so has every player that has played for us this season; it’s all about being together as a team.”
Since Taylor’s arrival in 2015, The Lilies have been through arguably their most successful time in the club’s history, winning promotion, three cups and achieving a top five place in the Kershaw Premier.
And in his view, there’s more development on the pitch to come next season as the Fenland outfit’s bid for promotion to the Thurlow Nunn League was cut short in March.
“Our pre-season was spot on last year, hence why we started so well, but this is all down to the new management team.
“This is a team that can only get better.
“Most of the players in our team have not reached their full potential yet with their best years still to come.
“If they stick together, I see very exciting times ahead for this football club.”
With a new manager set to be announced before the start of the new season, it seems Chatteris Town’s hopes of progression look to be enhanced as they try to improve on a strong start to life back at Step Seven.
To think that one team can achieve so much in nine months may be a long shot away for any team. But for Chatteris Town, that is not the case.
The aim at the start of the 2015-16 season, according to manager Ashley Taylor, was to “win every game”, which although this was not accomplished, an eye for glory was soon to be seen. With challenges arriving on and off the pitch throughout what proved to be a memorable campaign, the main intention of earning success was grasped with ease. Even though the term ‘eased’ may be a fair representation of a side who looked mostly comfortable against the opposition, even when the going did get tough, detemination and commitment to gain a rare feat that does not come around so often should be credited.
One commodity for the Lilies has been a consistent run of results. Since their 3-1 defeat at Soham United in Kershaw Senior A, Taylor’s men enjoyed a 15-match unbeaten streak in all competitions that stretched back from the end of March. As well as this, league form would not intervene with their cup heroics, which winning the treble may have come as unexpected to some. With most clubs, from amateur to the top of the professional game, victories can well turn into barren spells without a win due to cup involvement. But for Taylor, not only do results come with quality, but a squad that “trains weekly” and “plays week in week out”, proving that changes do not always make a difference.
Not only did consistency act as a catalyst for Lilies success, but their impressive home form. Only once had Town failed to taste that winning feeling at West Street; eventual league champions Outwell Swifts being the only visiting side to be victorious. Away days also resulted in general success, having lost just three from 17 fixtures in both league and cup, an achievement that Taylor, his staff and his players should be proud of. In terms of long-term progress, points at home could well be pivotal when facing tougher opposition, especially if Taylor’s side can “consolidate in the Premier Division” to achieve the future ambition of “Step 6 football”.
Something that Lilies fans have enjoyed celebrating on a regular basis is the abundance of goals. On their way to gaining promotion, Town netted 95 goals, earning the status of the league’s highest scorers. Alongside this total, 71 in all competitions were converted at home, with 21 being conceded, which sums up the defensive solidity this term. Stability in the backline has been evident, where consistent partnerships have led to a small number of mistakes. 27 chances found a way into the Lilies net in the league, which is something but a minor blot on the Chatteris playbook.
What arguably was the main cause for such an accomplishing season is the firepower of Taylor’s first-choice front man Craig Gillies. The former Doddington United striker scored 47 in 33 appearances for the club, a statistic that some may feel led the team to the final outcome. Although some may think Town were a one-man force, “every player stood out” within a “massive team effort”, according to Taylor’s thoughts, outlining the overall togetherness of the squad.
Acquiring new players and upgrading facilities are just a couple of improvements both on and off the pitch for next season. But one thing that is for certain is that after a truly historic season, Chatteris Town will be spoken about for all the right reasons.
Since Craig Gillies moved to King’s Lynn Town from Chatteris Town earlier in the year, those linked with The Lilies may have thought a bright season could be heading downhill. But having won six of the seven games without their main man upfront, hopes for a successful season are still on the agenda. And with Gillies reuniting with his old teammates and back in the goals, those hopes could well still be achieved.
His return was marked in style with a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over Soham Town Rangers Reserves in Kershaw Senior A in midweek, which the forward was quite surprised about.
“Obviously I was happy getting a hat-trick” said Gillies. “I have not played for four weeks so I was not sure how my match fitness was going to be.”
After leaving King’s Lynn Town Reserves due to personal reasons, Gillies’ goal-scoring form has not dropped, having netted four in three games for The Linnets’ second string. Although his heroics in front of goal have been apparent, the reasons for moving back to the Fenland outfit were not.
“It was just too far”, Gillies added. “It was 35-40 minutes to get to King’s Lynn for training and games and the away games I left at 10:30am and did not get back till 8pm! I enjoyed the games, but before, after and at training, they (his former teammates) had their friend zones and it was hard to fit in.
“I realised that I just want to enjoy my football whilst playing with my mates and that is exactly what I have got with Chatteris. I would not say anyone in particular persuaded me. It was more about me missing the lads and feeling like I should be there playing my part and helping them.”
From playing in a considerably higher league, the level of football may have been too far of a step to adapt to, but Gillies felt otherwise.
“I enjoyed playing at that level, I felt comfortable”, he said. “Scoring three in three games, one of which was against top of the league who were unbeaten, was a confidence boost and proved I can play at that standard. As I was not completely settled, I did not feel I had played to my potential in those games.”
Bringing good form into a lower division is not always easy to accomplish, which the ex-Doddington United man wants to continue with his new side.
Gillies said: “Hopefully I can carry on from the form I was in before I left. We have a great bunch with a lot of quality and players in the reserves that could easily step up if or when needed.”
Currently the league’s top scorer with 20 goals, Gillies’ form will be key if The Lilies do claim their bid for glory this season, which could be helped by another of his aims.
“I target a goal a game, so hopefully I can maintain that”, he added. “The main target is promotion and we have three cup finals. I fully believe with the quality we have in the squad, we can every one of our remaining games. We are a humble team and we are going to take each game as it comes.”
With a taste for silverware and an eye for goal, Chatteris Town may well be in for a memorable campaign with the help of a prolific talisman.
With two cup finals guaranteed, promotion still on the cards and their star striker missing, will Chatteris Town still be able to eye up a taste for glory? Dan Mason explains.
Even with silverware being a real target, the Lilies’ aim of playing at a higher level in the next campaign is proving to becoming more realistic. With at least seven games in hand over the top six and lying seventh in Kershaw Senior A, there is a real chance for a push towards the summit, which manager Ashley Taylor believes in: “We have a young and hungry team that will do all they can to bring success to this football club.”
Taylor’s men have been steadily progressing, having won five of the last seven games in all competitions. Speaking on his side’s improvement in terms of league and cup positions, Taylor said: “If you asked me at the start of the season if I would accept the position we are in right now, I would have happily accepted.”
After previously losing to runaway leaders Outwell Swifts, the gap between them and the top has widened, but with the mentality of winning “every game we play”, there could only be one way the season can plan out.
The attacking style that has been implemented since August has been a real advantage for the Fenland team, having scored 66 goals in total so far. In particular, 26 of those have come from striker Craig Gillies who recently departed, but Taylor isn’t concerned.
“Craig leaving has actually had a positive effect on the team,” he said. “I challenged the team to show anyone who thought we were one-dimensional and a one-man team that they were wrong and, so far, they have done that.”
Life without Gillies has not stopped this year’s goal machine from working. Eight have been scored in the last four since, which may not prevent their chances of success, according to Taylor’s philosophy. “Football is about the work of a team, not an individual,” he said.
The Lilies have 14 players currently occupying the first-team, with “five or six” other names trying to break into the side, so the Chatteris man is not short of options. But one thing that the ex-Doddington United boss wants to see is “the players playing with a smile”, which might be a guarantee if his players continue to improve.
Another of Taylor’s aims is to “inject enthusiasm back in the local community and increase the support.” Home form has been a reason to believe this as 12 victories from 14 in league and cup, plus 44 strikes, may tell the people of Chatteris what they are missing.
Having not recorded a home defeat since the opening day, Taylor is turning West Street into a fortress, which could prove vital for the Lilies’ hopes of success. But with potentially 20 fixtures still to play, glory could well be a larger uncertainty.