After covering his memorable years with the club, Observer sports reporter Dany Robson looks back on the reign of King Coley ...
JOHN Coleman – dedicated, a winner, ambitious and, of course, a top singer!
I had the pleasure of working with ‘Coley’ for most of his 13 years in charge of Stanley.
I have shared the highs and the lows on and off the pitch and several of my colleagues joke that Accrington Stanley is like no other club.
I don’t know if this is meant as an insult but I certainly take it as a compliment.
Stanley is unique. It’s a small, friendly club with passionate supporters who embrace every player who puts on the Reds shirt and adopted John Coleman and Jimmy Bell as their own.
That’s why they have been hurt this week with Coley’s departure – he was like part of their family and it has hit them hard, but the club will go on especially as that’s what Coleman wants.
And, it is true, Accy is a club like no other. The manager and players mix with the fans – where else would you have a manager who joins in karaoke – known as Coley-oake – or who plays blindfold pool with the fans?
Or have a gaffer who was openly distraught at the death of a fan Antony Cox, and who went to the local pub after games to talk to the supporters.
Stanley, unlike many other clubs nowadays, is one for the fans and Coley embraced that.
He felt every win, draw and loss like a fan but, while he could be the most accommodating manager, as a journalist he could also be frustrating.
I remember waiting for 90 minutes at Bournemouth for him to come out and do his press conference, I recall being banned due to a fans’ column and every Wednesday I used to call him, wondering if he would be in his chatty mood or just wanting to get me off the phone!
But he nearly always rang back, he never shirked a question through the betting scandal, a winding up order and links with other clubs and he trusted his players to speak to me.
He was a good manager to work with but he had his personal side.
I remember he found out my mum had died around five minutes before Stanley kicked off a game at Stevenage six years ago and, despite it being a big game for the Reds, he texted me his condolences straight away. He also was good for a laugh – invited me in for a drink after games, chatting in general about life – or talking about the goals he had scored – and someone you would consider a friend rather than just a manager.
My favourite season covering Accrington under John Coleman and Jimmy Bell was the first season in the Conference – and the FA Cup run.
I remember that Huddersfield goal, travelling to Bournemouth by the smallest plane in the world and shivering as Paul Haworth scored the winning penalty against the Cherries at the Crown Ground.
That was when Stanley were really back – they got back into the nation’s attention and were ready to take on the world with Coley at the helm. And he did that. Every year he got together a team of winners.
Year after year Coley managed to put together a side that had a remarkable team spirit, that gelled and entertained and led them on their glory days from the UniBond Division One into the League Two play-offs.
It’s certainly been a special journey, one I will never forget and nor will the Stanley fans.
As Coley would say, it’s been a smashing ride and keep the faith.