WHEN John Coleman was handed the job of managing Stanley in 1999, few fans would have predicted what was to follow.
10 years on and the remarkable rise of Stanley is one of the greatest achievements in modern football. The Reds had just been relegated and had gone through managers like Elizabeth Taylor through husbands.
Starting life in the UniBond First Division, Coleman picked up the club by the scruff of the neck and marched them through the Non League pyramid to the Football League. Then after that, more importantly, he steadied the good ship Stanley in the Football League and, for three years, we have survived.
Coleman is now the third longest serving manager in the Football League and to top all that, he has improved Stanley’s position in the pyramid every year since 1999.
As a die-hard Reds fan, few managers have a CV as good. I am sure Alex Ferguson would struggle when faced with a similar "mountain to climb".
Looking back, that first season was arguably his greatest. That season started out atrociously for our player-manager, as in the first four games, Stanley lost three and drew the other. Defeats by Trafford, Matlock Town and Lincoln United - remember them?
The season 1999-2000 saw only 334 on the gate for the first home game. But, after the poor start, the Coleman magic started. Gary Williams and Coleman played up front and formed a terrific partnership.
Everyone points to the Radcliffe game as the turning point but we were also 2-0 down to Burscough in that run in until the two Jonnies, Smith amd Coleman, grabbed a draw with two goals in the last eight minutes.
The celebrations during and after the Farsley Celtic game will last with me forever….. (and I would hope the 2,468 others will have similar vivid recollections.)
And so the juggernaut was rolling. Coleman was already planning, once the hangover wore off. Paul Mullin was signed from Radcliffe in 2000 and he is certainly Coleman’s greatest signing. Few would have thought he would be able to step up into the Conference never mind lead us into the League.
Other notable signatures include Gary Williams, Gary Roberts and Ian Craney all sold on for more money to bolster the bank balance. Mike Marsh was another who helped fire Stanley into the Conference. I am sure he had a few clubs after him. So again, top marks to Coley.
And so another promotion, in 2002-2003, but this time to the Conference National. Stanley finished on 100 points with 97 goals scored. With promotion brought national exposure and some long journeys into the unknown. Coleman embraced it and we comfortably finished just above mid-table in seasons 2004 and 2005.
During 2003-2004, Coleman also masterminded a run to the Third Round of the FA Cup. TV appearances on the BBC and Sky gave us the finance to push on and go full-time. Few will forget the Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Colchester games. Remarkable times.
As a manager, Coleman has always been able to get the best from his players. Never have stories come out of unrest. Despite never paying big money, players still want to join Stanley. Players return. Camaraderie and spirit has always been a huge part in any Coleman side.
Anyone who talks about football with him can feel the commitment and passion he has. Same with Jimmy Bell. Jimmy too was a bustling centre forward and commitment and his part in our success is also immense.
And so to the promotion to the Football League. Nobody at Stanley saw it coming. Nobody in the Conference saw it coming. Only Coleman and Bell knew that promotion to the League was a reality. And in 2006 Stanley did just that. In the Conference were Exeter, Cambridge, York City, Stevenage and Hereford to name a few of the big clubs. Yet Stanley stormed to the top of the pile and stayed there. Coleman had achieved the unachieveable. Stanley had banished 44 years of hurt.
For me, after the third promotion, Coleman really was a football genius. Certainly UniBond promotions were hard fought yet Stanley at that level were a big club. Now we had clipped the wings of all the big clubs and the ASFC Phoenix had risen. It was Coleman’s greatest achievement. If Ferguson got a Knighthood, then Arise Sir John (Jimmy can have a MBE!)
And so Stanley had a League club yet the only thing that came from Coleman’s mouth was talk of another promotion. That is the measure of the man. Always planning, always scheming, always looking forward.
League Football has been secured again this season. Remarkable given the fact that the crowds have dwindled. I am sure Coleman looks at the crowds in the UniBond and wonders were they have gone. 2,468 watched the Farsley game three leagues below were we are now. But as far as attendances go, Coley must appreciate that we picked up "fair weathers" along they way. They will moan when things go wrong, will stay away when we aren’t winning, will post rubbish on forums about how Coleman has taken us as far as he can.
At the end of the day, hard-core Stanley fans will take time. Some ain’t even born yet. But Coleman has given the people of Accrington that choice now. A choice between Rovers and Burnley. A choice between the armchair and the Clayton End. A choice I never thought the people of Accrington would have.
And so, Season 11 has all the makings of a classic. Who knows where the journey will end but Coleman knows where it started. A 1-0 defeat to Lincoln United. Well Coleman learnt that season as we battered them 10-1 at home; and Coleman is still learning.
The journey continues, please come along for the ride…..