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Stanley legend John Coleman bids farewell

In 13 years of unrivalled success John Coleman has restored pride not just to a club – but to the town of Accrington itself, writes Steve Robson ...

GONE: Accrington boss John Coleman has left the club after 13 years. He helped the club win promotion to the Football League in 2006

In 13 years of unrivalled success John Coleman has restored pride not just to a club – but to the town of Accrington itself, writes Steve Robson ...

WHEN Stanley first reformed in 1967 following their resignation from the Football League in 1962 there was one clear ambition – to return to their rightful place back in the league.

But not many would have given new manager John Coleman a chance of succeeding at this on his arrival in Accrington in 1999.

The then chairman Eric Whalley had got through seven managers in the previous year.

But the ambitious Scouser understood the level of expectation at a club with such an illustrious history.

Whalley said: "I think he was the eighth manager that we had in one year, but I think it was a good match.

"John suited Accrington and Accrington suited John.

"I knew him through playing and managing him for quite a number of years. He and his assistant Jimmy Bell were both really aggressive players and both looking to be winners."

His managerial success, in taking a club from the depths of the UniBond Division One to the play-offs in League Two, has drawn parallels with such greats as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

Until his departure for Rochdale FC, they were the only two managers in the Football League who had served longer at one club.

And Stanley remain the only side in the Football League to have improved their position for 12 seasons in a row, under Coleman.

It was far from a convincing start for the new player-manager when he took over in 1999 as a series of hit-and-miss performances saw them hovering in sixth place and needing a miracle to achieve promotion.

Off-the-pitch, things weren’t much better with numbers through the turnstiles dwindling. But a few shrewd moves in the transfer market helped Coleman’s revolution gather pace when Stanley went on a barnstorming 19-match unbeaten run which saw them emerge as champions.

A record 2,468 fans turned up to the final 3-0 win at home against Farsley Celtic – with player manager Coleman himself popping up with a headed goal to help secure the victory.

"Nothing will ever match that game," he said at the time. "No matter what I do in my life, nothing will match that for sheer tension and drama over the weeks building up to that one game which we needed to win to clinch the title."

A fantastic FA Cup run in 2003 will perhaps be best remembered for the last-gasp winner from sturdy midfielder Andy Gouck against Third Division Huddersfield Town.

But, more importantly, the game was watched by more than two million viewers live on the BBC, bringing in much-needed revenue and Accrington Stanley back to the public imagination. Two years later the club finally achieved their dream to be promoted back to the Football League, 44 years after they went out of business.

It was an iconic moment, not just for Coleman, but for many of the unsung heroes behind the scenes who had worked tirelessly to keep the club afloat, organising fundraising events, offering their services for free and even helping build the ground itself.

Coleman’s achievement in returning the club to League Two is one of those rare romantic dreams in football that actually came true.

And the drama has rarely let up since then. During their first season back in the Football League, the club narrowly avoided a points deduction for fielding two ineligible players.

Stanley were rocked by a betting scandal in 2009.

The club also came within minutes of a winding-up order after they were brought to the High Court in London over an unpaid tax bill of £308,000.

The ongoing wrangle over ownership of Stanley has provided a far from stable backdrop for Coleman, but he has continued to steer a steady course up League Two.

In the ‘hire and fire’ era of modern football, Coleman’s impact and achievements with one club cannot be underestimated.

Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson said: "Coleman was a good servant throughout his 13-year tenure.

"He’s taken them from obscurity back into the league.

"It’s sad for Stanley to lose those skills and we wish him all the best."

 
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