Richie now making up for lost time

AFC Fylde winger Richie Allen celbrates after winning last season's NPL Premier Division play-off final

AFC Fylde winger Richie Allen celbrates after winning last season's NPL Premier Division play-off final

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THE BIG INTERVIEW

Little Corey Allen wandered over to where his dad Richie was sitting.

With baby cup in hand, the youngster raised both arms towards his father.

As quicks as a flash, Allen senior whisked his young son on to his lap and gave him a loving squeeze.

With his child still wrapped around him, the prolific 
non-league goalscorer leaned forward and fixed me a long stare.

“You know what mate,” Allen nodded at me from within the confines of his home in Preston.

“I won’t let this little ’un make the same mistakes as what I did when he grows up.

“If we have a budding little footballer or whatever on our hands, then I will make sure he doesn’t do what I did.”

Allen’s honest declaration is a poignant reminder of what might have been for him.

Even though he has stepped on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium and boasts a club record haul of more than a century of goals for AFC Fylde, Allen still bristles with disappointment at the way he let himself down in his younger days.

Ask any manager to have worked with Allen over the last 10 years and they will tell you the same.

Here is a player who could have made it big as a professional footballer but on many occasions they were left shaking their heads at his poor attitude.

Even Allen’s girlfriend Gemma – the mother of his three children – tells me of how her boyfriend ‘could have made it’.

Now aged 28 and a model semi-professional footballer these days, Allen accepts that his new-found maturity has perhaps come too late for him to fully maximise his undoubted ability.

“I do regret the way I was with my attitude,” Allen 
said.

“I was always missing training and was just difficult to deal with.

“I don’t know why I was like that – probably immaturity. I was just plain stupid at times.

“That is probably what stopped me from doing the things I should be doing like playing professionally.

“I am not being big headed when I say this but I definitely feel like I could have done something.

“But I have learned from those mistakes and I want to make the most of it all now.”

Scoring the winning goal today in Fylde’s crunch FA Cup tie at League Two side Plymouth Argyle may provide Allen with a little bit of redemption.

Indeed, the Coasters’ star player is looking forward to showcasing his talents on a national stage against professional opposition.

“It’s a chance for me to see if I can do it against a league club, so I’m obviously looking forward to that,” he said.

“It will just be nice for me to go there and see what I can do.”

Even though he is fast approaching his 30th birthday, Allen has not totally given up hope of having one final shot of becoming professional.

Having enjoyed three spells with Fylde, the winger has certainly found his spiritual home.

Only two promotions now separate the Coasters from becoming a League club after a meteoric rise up the football pyramid in recent seasons.

And Allen would love to achieve his dream with Fylde.

“I would love to play in the Football League with Fylde – or even if we were to get in the Conference Premier,” Allen said.

“I think this is my third or fourth spell at Fylde because I used to play for them before they changed their name and they were known as Kirkham and Wesham.

“But since they changed their name to Fylde, I am the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.

“I’ve scored more than 100 goals – I got my hundredth just the other week.

“When they were known as Kirkham and Wesham and were in the North West Counties League, I must have scored more than 50 times for the club.

“It’s amazing how far the club has come and everybody knows about the ambitious plans.

“The club wants to be in the Football League by 2022 – obviously they are well ahead of that schedule.

“In terms of the future, I am not going to get to see as much as what all these younger lads in the squad might see.

“But if I can keep myself fit. I think I can play for a good few more years yet.

“Even though I am 28 now, I don’t think my Football League dream is over – whether that will be with Fylde or it could be with somebody else – you never know what might happen.”

It was with a heavy heart a couple of years ago that Allen left Fylde to chase his professional dream at Fleetwood Town.

Ironically, it was the Cod Army who first took a punt on Allen several years earlier when he was spotted playing for Fulwood Amateurs in the West Lancashire League.

Back then, Fleetwood were a non-league outfit but having won promotion to League Two, they decided to give Allen a second chance.

Unfortunately, it never worked out for him.

He got injured almost as soon as he arrived at Highbury and then he was left reeling by the tragic death of his baby son Reon. He said: “There were a load of different reasons why my time at Fleetwood didn’t work out.

“I got injured and then I tragically lost my little lad.

“That did dent me obviously and it took me a long time to recover from that.

“I think that was a big reason why I didn’t really make a go of it.

“But looking back at my decision to go to Fleetwood, it was a tough decision to leave Fylde because as everyone knows I am very comfortable here.

“Everybody loves me and I love the club.

“But I just had to sign for Fleetwood because it was my first chance of playing professional football.

“Unfortunately it never worked out the way I wanted it to, but I had to take the chance because if I had done well, who knows what I could have gone on to do.

“You only have to look at Jamie Vardy for instance.

“He was one of my team-mates at Fleetwood but look at him now at Leicester.

“He’s scoring goals in the Premier League and was Leicester’s best player when they beat Manchester United.

“I just thought at the time when I went to Fleetwood, if I could do well, I might be able to kick on again – a bit like Jamie Vardy has done.

“If you think, it wasn’t that long ago he was playing for 
FC Halifax Town in non-league.

“But it didn’t work out and I’m back now – I’m enjoying my football at Fylde and everything is going well.

“When I’m enjoying playing that’s when I play well and I score goals.

“That’s what I love to do – scoring goals.”

Allen admits he and his team-mates have been taken by surprise at the way they have begun the new season in the Conference North.

After winning promotion from the NPL Premier Division via the play-offs last season, the Coasters find themselves second in the table.

They have spent the vast majority of the opening months of the season at the top of the league. And they were only knocked off their lofty perch last weekend when they lost 3-1 at Boston United last weekend –their first defeat in 15.

Having also reached the first round proper of the FA Cup after winning through three qualifying rounds, the club is certainly on the up.

“We did not expect to do as well as what we have done this season,” said Allen, who also has a daughter called Sienna.

“At the start, we set out to just try and stay in this league.

“That was our main aim but obviously it’s gone better than we thought it would.

“I don’t see why we can’t carry on and try to win promotion again.

“This season was all about coming to terms with the new league and seeing where we were at and what we needed to do to be competitive.

“There was a thought that we might have needed to get more players in to improve the squad and that may still happen.

“But the lads the manager has brought in have done really well and the players from last season have all stepped up to the mark, so it’s been good.

“On a personal level, I have enjoyed it so far.

“I haven’t played at Conference North level before but to be honest the Northern Premier League is very physical and you don’t get that much time on the ball.

“But in this division, you do get a bit more time on the ball.

“People say the higher up you go, the easier it is to play football.

“Obviously you are coming up against better footballers,

“Another good thing is there are a lot less games as well, which means you feel fitter and fresher.

“Before, we were having to enter competitions like the FA Cup in the first round of qualifying, now we are coming into competitions further down the line.

“At the moment there is just a great buzz around the place.

“We are all on a high and you can’t really blame us. We are near the top of the league and we’ve got to the first round of the FA Cup.

“Everything that the manager Dave Challinor dreamed of at the start of this season has happened.”

Challinor – the former no-nonsense centre half who used to play for Tranmere Rovers, Stockport County and Bury – has been a major influence in Allen’s career

“He’s had faith in me no matter what’s happened,” said Allen – who has also played for Bamber Bridge and Kendal Town.

“Even when I left to go to Fleetwood, he made it clear that he wanted me to go back, whether it was on loan or permanently.

“When a manager shows that much interest in you, it must show that they have got a lot of faith in you.

“I like to think I repay him because I do score goals and I do play well.

“But he has helped me along the way.

“When I was signing for Fleetwood – obviously he did not want me to leave – but he still pointed me in the right direction so that I got sorted out financially.

“It’s great that we are doing as well as we are.

“The manager deserves everything he’s getting.

“He came to the club after Kelham O’Hanlon left and to be fair, he’s turned the club around.

“If you look at what he’s done...since he came we have had two promotions and got to the FA Cup first round proper twice. We are second in the league at the moment – he’s had a huge part to play in all that.”

No matter what Allen achieves during the rest of his career, he will always be able to say that he has played at Wembley.

It was in 2008 when Kirkham and Wesham won the FA Vase at the home of football by beating Lowestoft 2-1.

A second-half substitute, Allen helped the Coasters overcome a 1-0 deficit thanks to two late Matty Walwyn goals.

“When we went to Wembley it was the best experience ever,” Allen said.

“The way we were treated was unbelievable.

“We travelled down on the England team bus and for a non-league club to be treated like that, it was unbelievable.

“To win was just so special. We were losing 1-0 and I came on at half-time and played really well.

“Matty Walwyn came on and scored two goals to win it for us.

“It was just a great experience – playing in front of 20,000 at Wembley and to win was just the best feeling ever.

“I always think that there are loads of well-known professional players who have never had the chance to play at Wembley.

“So for myself and little old Kirkham and Wesham to get there is just amazing.To be honest, I loved 
the whole Wembley experience.

“I didn’t feel overawed at all when I pot on to the 
pitch.

“For me. the more people there watching, the better.

“I love to entertain and I play better when there is a big atmosphere.”

Allen should enjoy today’s atmosphere at Home Park, as Fylde go in search of a cup upset against Plymouth.

“We all met up at the ground when the draw for the first round was made. Plymouth away is obviously a long trek but it’s good one with them being a Football League club.

“There should be a big crowd and there’s no pressure on us – all the pressure is on them.”