It promises to be another season and another miracle needed for League’s most underrated manager

After turning down approaches from Bradford and Lincoln City in the past year, and deciding against a position in the league above with Bury, the longest-serving manager outside of the Premier League, John Coleman, decided to stay with Accrington Stanley, a club whom he guided from the ashes through all the tribulations a non-league club could possibly endure, all the way back to the football league in 2006. Coleman’s work at the Manchester club has originated from scratch, from the depths of the Northern Premier League in a remarkable journey which had its latest stop in the League 2 play-off semi-finals back in May.

They lost to Stevenage over two legs which keeps them in League two for at least another year but their participation in that tie was credit to the team itself, for it was only days after they secured a Play-Off place with a victory over Southend that Coleman revealed his players had not been paid for the month of April. In March, off-the-field troubles meant that the board had to undergo a restructuring of the board, while 2 years ago, they were in serious threat of being wound-up because of a financial dispute with HM Revenue and Customs. Coleman is constantly working with his hands tied; it is four years since a player was signed for a paid fee. Accrington have to rely on free transfers and loans in order to keep fighting in the football league. It’s a far cry from the spending sprees that Manchester United and Manchester City will indulge upon twenty miles up the road, but John Coleman will not have it any other way.

This year will be a lot harder for John Coleman and his coaching staff than the last one in the way that he is struggling even to put a squad together. Only four players are guaranteed to be contracted at the Crown Ground for the start of the season, with another ten being waited upon to sign new deals. A total of eleven players have departed, including their star midfielder Jimmy Ryan and striker Terry Gornell, with a tribunal fee for Ryan being the only recuperation out of that eleven. Their defence has been disrupted too, commanding centre-half and scorer of 13 goals last season Phil Edwards has joined Stevenage in the league above, while left-back Joe Jacobsen has joined rivals Shrewsbury in the same division. Ian Craney was the only player with time remaining on a contract, team captain Andrew Proctor, Luke Joyce and Dean Winnard have signed new deals while Coleman waits and hopes on the eleven that have not yet signed.

With the official opening of the transfer window just around the corner, Coleman has only four players for whom he knows he will be working with next season, and is under severe restrictions in the business of adding to his squad. The renewal of Proctor is a small plus point for Coleman, as he has been such an important servant to the Accrington cause with his manager saying that “he can trust him always to go onto the pitch and leave nothing in the tank”.  Coleman needs more players of this ilk, who will put professionalism before wishes, and be truly devoted to the cause. At this level however, it is easier said than done, when players are consistently on the search for the best possible offer and where clubs are reluctant to offer long-term deals. Players like Proctor a-side, loyalty often comes at a price, one that clubs like Accrington find it hard to afford.

The one club man has become a rare species indeed, whereas men like John Coleman are keeping the notion of a one club manager very much alive. Coleman will mark 12 years in charge of Accrington Stanley this August, in the same month he will begin what could be his toughest season yet, trying to keep a side who has undergone such a dramatic out flux of players in League 2. His latest in a long list of miracles was to lead his men to the play-offs, while his follow up act will be to keep them up. People say that every year however, and don’t be surprised if Stanley, under the guidance of this resolute scouser, punch above their weight again.

Adam Gray

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