Workington Reds are relishing life in a higher division, says manager Danny Grainger ahead of the big kick-off this weekend.

The Borough Park club start their Northern Premier League Premier Division campaign at home to Ashton United.

The curtain-raiser at home on Saturday follows last season’s long-awaited promotion.

And Grainger says team and club are ready for the step up.

“We’ve been waiting for it – it feels a long time coming. Everyone’s excited for the new season,” he said.

“Fingers crossed we can have a good crowd to get us started.

“This is the first time since my first season that we’ve been at home for the first game.

“It’ll be a tough one against a well-organised team but there are going to be no easy games this year.

News and Star: Workington Reds kick off in the NPL Premier on Saturday - their reward for last season's promotionWorkington Reds kick off in the NPL Premier on Saturday - their reward for last season's promotion (Image: Ben Challis)

“I think the top ten teams will be a real step up. The likes of Macclesfield, Worksop, Radcliffce, Gainsborough, Marine.

“After that it will be a set of teams that are very, very similar. I’m confident in what we’ve got that we can push on. We’ve set our own targets inside the dressing room.

“But I think it will be better for our boys knowing that every game they’re going to have to be on it, and if they’re not they’ll get punished.

“The boys will relish the challenge of going up against stronger outfits week-in, week-out.”

Workington’s first promotion since 2005 was achieved via last season’s NPL West play-offs.

It was overdue success for the club who had twice seen promotion snatched away from them in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Grainger says he will stick to his principles as he bids to shape a side that can thrive at the higher level.

“I think there will be a freshness brought to the club. After four years of being at the top end of the same division, this year we have different teams, different grounds, different managers, board members…” he said.

“The new challenge is to go there as new boys, but we will be playing our way and trying to impose ourselves.

“Whatever level I find myself coaching at, I’ll go with the way I want to play football. If it fails, I’m alright with that, because it’s the way I want to play.

“It’s brought us success so far and we’re going to stick to it. We’ll slightly adapt in terms of more preparation on out-of-possession, which is respectful to the teams we’re coming up against.

“But we’ll still be going out to keep the ball off them and hurt teams as much as we can.”

Grainger has added to his promotion-winning squad this summer and confirmed his recruitment has not yet finished.

He is helped by a superb fundraising initiative by fans who have whipped up more than £20,000 through Reds’ ‘budget booster’ scheme.

“Unfortunately we’ve picked up a couple of injuries last weekend so we’re going to have to try and go into the loan market to get us through the first month,” he said.

“I’ve got space for probably two more players. The budget booster we’ve done has been a huge success.

“We’ve raised over £20,000, which works around £500 a week for me to spend on players. That’s solely from the fans.

“I know some people will be asking why we haven’t gone and spent it. I’m not going to waste it for the sake of spending it. I’ve got a certain player in mind for that money and if I can get him, it will be a huge boost for myself as well as the club.

News and Star: Grainger says fans have boosted his budget to the tune of £20,000Grainger says fans have boosted his budget to the tune of £20,000 (Image: Gary McKeating)

“It shows the togetherness we have as a club, the way fans have jumped on board as they have. We can’t thank them enough.”

Grainger is also looking forward to the personal challenge of managing at a higher level, and he believes Workington must also keep their aims high.

“I can’t wait. I want to coach at the highest level I can and keep pushing the club,” he said.

“If we’re going to go into the new stadium I want to do that in Conference North. I think that’s where the club should be aiming for.

“We’re getting gates now averaging near enough 900-1,000 every week. When I took over the average was 235. We’re getting over 1,000 at some games now.

“There is a real unity in the county in terms of football at the moment, with our fans going to watch Carlisle United games, Carlisle fans going to watch us, we’re supporting Penrith and Carlisle City…the vibe around the county’s football is positive and as long as that continues, all the clubs can continue thriving.”