The curtain may have only just come down on a historic season for the Iron, but chairman Peter Swann is relishing the challenge of League One.Having been confirmed to the role last May as a replacement for previous incumbent Steve Wharton, he faced a significant task in reversing the fortunes of a club who had suffered two relegations in the space of the previous three years.
Moving across Lincolnshire after operating as chairman of Conference North side Gainsborough Trinity since 2009 provided a whole new challenge for Swann, who told the Iron's promotion book: “I’ve never been chairman of a league club as Gainsborough are obviously a couple of divisions down and in non-league, so it was quite a step up for me.
“I suppose I was just finding my feet, and looking back on it that time has gone pretty quickly to be honest. You can look at all the matches and say ‘actually, there’s been something in all of these somewhere along the line’.
“There’s been a lot of disappointing ones because of the way we’ve been pegged back, having started so well in 90 per cent of our games. We couldn’t quite get the second goal sometimes, but the games we’ve played have been the mini-battles, and the war itself has been won.
“We’ve made our step up now to League One, and that thought gives you a little bit more warmth on the inside.”
Significant investment was made in the summer, with a host of new additions to the playing staff seeing a change in initial pre-season expectations, as Swann explained: “I talked to Brian [Laws] and said, ‘look, if you’re going to have all the budget prior to the season starting then I expect a bit more from the players’.
“Before the season started he got all the players he wanted, so I expected that third [automatic promotion] spot.”
The Iron got off to the perfect start in their pursuit of that goal, kicking off their league campaign with a 2-0 victory over Mansfield Town at Glanford Park on the opening day.
However, they would not win another game until mid-September – leaving both the Capital One Cup and Football League Trophy on penalties in the process as they struggled to replicate the early promise they had offered against the Stags.
Things improved briefly when a run of five wins in seven games lifted the Iron up the table, before a loss of league form coupled with the FA Cup exit to non-league Grimsby Town left Swann with a decision to be made.
That decision eventually came in the form of the termination of the contract of manager Laws on the morning of 20 November, and Swann admitted: “The chairman is always nervous, and I was disappointed to have to sack somebody.
“Obviously we had the hiccup, and the issues where we were out of every cup and had lost to our local rivals. To move it on, and to get the response from Russ that we did – to get football and world records with him at the helm – is amazing for the club.
“He’s written history. I’m delighted with where we’ve ended up.”
Following the departure of Laws, assistant manager Russ Wilcox was promoted to the position of caretaker manager while Swann set about with the unenviable task of identifying a new man to take on the role full-time.
The Hemsworth-born former defender was originally given limited time to stake a claim for himself, and Swann explained: “It was two games actually, which was quite relaxing for him and me.
“They were probably the two hardest games you could imagine; Portsmouth and Rochdale away. He went there, got maximum points, then we had a couple of weeks off where we were able to sit down and talk with each other.
“I think we then drew at Wycombe, before going on a run again.”
Such a run of form made Wilcox the firm favourite to continue as permanent manager, and Swann said: “We gave him up until Christmas, but it was probably a week later [on Christmas Eve] I told him he could have the job, and do what he wanted with regards to who he told.
“He was straight out there telling everybody, which was marvellous. We can look back on all the games, and he’s made a huge difference to the club.
“He’s approached it in a very professional manner, and tried to keep his emotions in check as he’s a very emotional man. I think you’ll see a different Russ as we start to develop as a League One side.”
The progress made by Wilcox’s side over the Christmas period left United in a promising position going into 2014; enough to persuade Swann to support a number of January deals in a bid to secure automatic promotion.
Those transfers were to prove a significant factor in the Iron’s eventual success, and the chairman added: “Paddy [Madden] has come in from Yeovil and worked really hard.
“You look at what he, Dave Syers and Marcus Williams brought to us in January, and it showed our intent as these guys came from clubs that were above us.”
The January additions complimented those already at the club, with Swann reserving praise for the entire squad as he stressed: “Our back four have been pretty tremendous; David Mirfin and Niall Canavan have been outstanding, and then you just talk about the rest of the team.
“Sean McAllister in the middle has been a revelation. He came in as cover, and ended up playing almost 40 games as you couldn’t leave him out. Then we had Sam [Winnall] up top, who’s come in and been the league’s leading scorer in his first proper season in football.
“I think, a bit selfishly, that Terry [Hawkridge] has had a fantastic season. To come from Carlton Town, to Gainsborough, to Scunthorpe and win a lot of Man of the Match awards is fantastic. He had a little blip for a couple of games, but he came back strong, and I expect him to continue to progress.
“When you look at it, the individual performances are outweighed by the team. The team has been fantastic, and led admirably by Russ, Tony [Daws], Andy [Dawson] and Paul Musselwhite.
“Between them, they’ve managed to hold the lads together, and get us to where we wanted to be.”
By confirming their promotion back to League One at the first attempt following relegation last season, attention has already turned to preparations for the next campaign after successfully avoiding the lottery of the play-offs.
Much of the summer of will now be spent with Swann and Wilcox making plans for life in a higher division, and the former confirmed: “We have targeted certain players; of course you have to, in order to strengthen the squad. There’s a lot of players here we’d like to keep and move forward with, to keep that nucleus, but we do need to strengthen.
“I’m looking forward to the next few weeks – sorting out contracts for the players, and identifying the new lads for the coming season.”
Those ambitions on the pitch are more than matched off it, with proposals having been made for a new £18million stadium to be built in the town which United would look to move into by 2015.
While a promotion bid next season would naturally be welcomed in tandem with the stadium plans, Swann is realistic in his objectives, and admitted: “We need to consolidate. Everyone understands that. League One is not going to be easy; it’s going to be tough.
“We might get a chance to play a bit of football, which would be great. There’s some good quality teams in League One who will definitely push us, so we’ll look to consolidate in mid-table with an eye on those play-off spots.
“Come January, if we feel we’re in with a chance, we’ll spend a little bit of money to try and get us up there.”
The fact the Iron are set to embrace the challenge of League One serves as testament to the efforts of all involved this campaign, and Swann added: “This League Two season has been one of the hardest.
“Maybe the quality hasn’t been there, but there’s not one team you could turn up at and think you were going to absolutely thrash, or be comfortable against. Not one game has been like that, and it’s been very competitive.
“If you look at the teams in the division, it’s a very competitive league, and teams like Oxford United and Fleetwood Town have bigger budgets than us. They’re used to it, whereas we’ve come down and bounced straight back.”
Swann also remained eager to emphasise the extent to which the promotion success was a team effort ahead of a busy summer, and said: “We’ve got to realise it’s not just about the players on the pitch.
“It’s about everyone behind the scenes here; all the staff, the guys in the media, the chefs, the waiting staff, the stewards and everyone else. All those have made it the year it is, and I’m hoping all those people will enjoy the position they are in.
“They’ll be working for a League One club next year, which is great fun as we progress towards a new stadium. It’s another exciting step in Scunthorpe United’s future.”