HUNGERFORD TOWN take another step into the unknown when they head to East Thurrock United on Saturday to make their debut in the Vanarama National League.
The town with a population of 5,700 will be playing only two divisions below the Football League for the first time in its history and will come up against some historic non-league giants.
“We are going into the unknown,” said manager Bobby Wilkinson. “We’re excited by the new challenge but we will keep our feet on the ground and take it game by game and see what we can do.
“It is nothing new for us to be the underdogs and we are going to meet big clubs and will go face to face with them.
“But we are fit and hungry and have done everything we can to be ready and I think the players want to challenge themselves.”!
Skipper Matt Day represents that view and says: “All the lads totally believe that we can go out and achieve what we want to achieve this season,” he said.
“We want to win the league, and if we can’t win, we’ll get second, and if not that, we’ll go for third.
“We’ll do as well as we can and if we can get into the play-offs, that will be an unbelievable achievement.
“Hungerford is one of the smallest clubs in the league by a country mile, but we will stick together and push forward as we always have done,” he added. “I’ve been here eight years and when I came here we just missed relegation. Since then we have gone forward every year.”
Manager Wilkinson faces the task of selecting his squad, minus only the injured James Rusby and Alan O’Brien. “I’ll give everynody a chance, right up to the last minute,” he said, “but there will have to be one or two good players who will be disappointed.
“But we’ll pick the right team for each game.”
HUNGERFORD make their debut against another of the 'smaller' clubs when they go to Essex to take on an East Thurrock United who also came up via the play-offs last season.
United netted 135 times last term, 45 of those coming from striker Sam Higgins who, however, looks like missing the start of the season after picking up a pre-season hamstring injury.
The teams met two years aho in the FA Trophy, when Thurrock draw 1-1 at Hungerford and won the replay 4-2 with Higgins scoring all four.
“They are a good side with a good manager and good people runing them,” said Wilkinson. “They have won promotion just like us and will be just as keen to get off to a good start in the new league.
“They will be favourites as they are at home, but we’ve done everything we can to be in the right shape, organised and fit.”
EAST Thurrock are rated evens by most bookmakers for Saturday’s game, with Hungerford priced around the 2/1 mark and a draw at 3/1. Bet365 are offering 10/1 against Hungerford winning 2-1 with a single goal win at 11/1. A Hungerford 5-0 success is rated 150/1.