TONY BROWNE reported back to training with the rest of the first-team squad – then admitted: “It’s like I’ve never been away.”

The popular defender, back after a one-year spell with Conference South club Welling, opted to drop two divisions with other former players Lee Spiller and Tommy Tyne to help shoot Whites to two promotions.

Tony insists he never wanted to leave in the first place and is delighted to have returned to a club he cannot believe have fallen into the fourth tier of non-league football.

He said: “It’s a bit of a shock that Dover Athletic have suffered two relegations in as many seasons. I certainly couldn’t believe the club had dropped out of the Ryman Premier but that’s all done now – and we’re back here to put things right.

“I reported back to training on Thursday and it was like I’d never been away. I know most of the lads and it was great to see them all again – and also we met some of the new lads such as Daniel Braithwaite, who seems a nice bloke.

“One thing that struck me at training was the great atmosphere and belief that we’re going to win the Ryman League Division One title this season. We certainly should aim for that because the squad has enough depth to it to get out of that division.

“In all honesty, we’ve a strong enough squad to be challenging for promotion from the Ryman Premier. Of course, we’ve got to earn the right for promotion but the team is going to focus hard this season. Clive Walker certainly will make sure everyone works hard to achieve that target.”

Assistant-boss Steve Nolan is taking training while Clive is away in the States. He returns in two weeks. But Tony says that Clive’s No 2 is more than good enough to prepare the team.

He said: “Steve is very educated in the new methods of training. He got us doing short, sharp stuff. That didn’t kill us too much.

“Then, on Saturday, it was stepped up a bit – and it was much harder. But, although we’re grafting, we don’t feel like it – such is the way Steve is running the sessions.

“Earlier, you wouldn’t see a ball for a few weeks. That has all changed now. Lee Spiller’s brother Danny said it’s the same at Gillingham, where he plays. It’s all short, sharp stuff.

“The coaches progress it from there. It’s to stop people getting injured early on. We did do some long running but not five miles. It’s called progressive running – a lot more sensible. It was tiring but just enough.

“Luckily, I normally keep myself fairly fit during the summer. I made the mistake of taking it too easy in the close-season when I was young, coming back not 100 per cent.”

Tony cannot wait to see Clive return from the States. The manager is held in high esteem by the defender – and was the main reason why he decided to drop two divisions.

He said: “Initially I was worried about dropping down. But I spoke to Clive and chairman Jim Parmenter. They had big plans and Dover are a big club. Jim is an experienced chairman and knows a lot about football and is getting everything off-the-field sorted – so all my initial fears went out of the window.

“A double promotion is our bid and if we do that the team will be so confident once back in Conference South – not to mention very settled. Playing lots of games together is the best way to move forward.

“Once Clive is back, then I guess things will be stepped up a bit. We’ll go through patterns of play and shadows of play – he’s always been good at that.

“I’ve been close to Clive since I was 20. He’s such an experienced man. He’s played something like 400 League games and he’s modest about it. He doesn’t shout from the rooftops. He also won the old Division Four with Northampton as a manager and his record is very impressive.

“Although we all get on with Clive, you can’t cross the line with him. You totally respect him. He lays down the law if need be and praises you too. He’s honest – very old school.

“I think old school is the best way – although it needs to be mixed with the new stuff. But Clive is well clued up on modern methods. He’s always been a great psychologist. He gets inside your head. He knows some players need praising, others need a rollicking. He’s a natural at that.”

Tony has always got on well with the Whites faithful. Why has he always been a popular figure? He explains: “I just talk to the fans. I appreciate that they’ve given up their Saturday to come and watch us. They’re paying our wages and it’s them who get us going when we’re struggling.”

Tony this week is expecting the result of his Sports Science degree final and he is hoping to graduate with a 2:2.

He admitted: “I found the last year hard. I gave up school when I was 16 to play football so it was difficult to get back into education again. But I’ll be really pleased with a 2:2. It’s about what I deserve.”