New signing Lee Francis seeks spirit at Barnstaple Town
IF Barnstaple Town can find the togetherness to go with the talent, they could be in for successful season.
Lee Francis has made the move across North Devon from Ilfracombe Town during a hectic pre-season.
And the midfielder will hope to reproduce the same camaraderie so evident during his five-year spell at Marlborough Park.
Francis is the new vice-captain at Barnstaple, joining Aaron Harper-Penman, the captain, in returning to his home town after success elsewhere.
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"Leaving Ilfracombe was one of the toughest decisions I have made," said Francis.
"Ilfracombe had team spirit in abundance. It's like a little family down there and that's what Barnstaple needs.
"I fancied the challenge of playing for my home-town club.
"I'm excited for the season. It's good for Barnstaple to have the local talent in."
Having recruited wisely over the summer, the challenge for Barnstaple now is to make an instant return to the Toolstation Western League Premier Division.
But after relegation last season, Francis is warning a promotion bid will be far from straightforward.
"No one wants to see Barnstaple in the First Division," he said. "Realistically I think we are looking to push for the top three.
"It's all very well people saying we are going to win it but I know how hard the Western League is.
"I don't think there is a lot of difference between the Premier Division and the First Division. Speaking to some people who have played in that league, it's really hard to get out of. There will be some very tough Bristol sides."
Francis, 24, has recently qualified as a PE teacher. He missed the first three pre-season matches while working as a coach for Manchester United Soccer School in Staffordshire.
The 4-1 friendly defeat to Bideford last week was his first appearance back at Mill Road.
"I've been champing at the bit to get back playing," he said. "In the first half against Bideford you could tell we haven't played many games together. Now we need to start gelling as a team and there were signs in the second half against Bideford it is coming.
"We have got Ryan Draper in goal, who has got loads of experience. Outfield, the mean age is probably 23 or 24 and the potential is there.
"Billy Tucker is the one to watch this year. I think he'll be absolute quality. There were glimpses of it at Ilfracombe last year.
"He just needs a few of us older boys to rein him in a bit and get the best out of him."
When he was a teenager, Francis spent five years in the youth set-up at Exeter City.
After winning the Les Phillips Cup and twice finishing third in the Premier Division at Ilfracombe, he wants to push for honours at Mill Road.
"I know there's been a bit of talk from Warren Crossley (the chairman) of Barnstaple being a Southern League club," said Francis.
"Realistically it's probably going to take a long time but there's no reason we can't aim for that."
Francis urged supporters to get behind the team this season, starting with the first home fixture against Corsham Town on Saturday.
"We need to go out all guns blazing," he said.
Members of SAS Youth FC will be able to gain entry to Saturday's match at Mill Road even if they have not received their season tickets.