With 12 years of football management under my belt, the last six with Cheltenham Town Ladies, yesterday was without doubt the most challenging.
It was with a very heavy heart that Graham Fletcher and I spoke, and his tenure as First Team Manager ended. The low light of my time in the game.
As Chairman I appointed Graham to the job three years ago, and little did I know at the time about the great work he was to undertake in bringing an air of professionalism to everything he did, and everything the club offers.
He has tackled many off field tasks with the gusto of a man half his age, and much of the great reputation the club enjoys in the community is down to his own highly friendly and likeable manner. Speak to 100 people and you won’t find anyone who has a bad word to say.
However, our poor run of form saw us lose six of our last seven at the end of last season, with just one point coming away to relegated Exeter City.
The start of this season has seen us win one in nine, despite having the assembled the quality of squad that has a strength in depth, that is arguably stronger than we have seen before.
So this wasn’t a knee jerk decision. Graham and I have met regularly of late, and discussing the changes necessary to improve results.
It just wasn’t to happen despite Graham’s best efforts, and believe me I saw the level of that effort, and just how important turning things around was to him.
The outpouring of feeling toward Graham both internally in the club, and externally has rightly been high, and we have asked him to stay on and help develop all the fantastic work that he has achieved behind the scenes.
I sincerely hope he remains involved, and takes on the role of Vice Chair. It is right that we allow him some time to decide if that is what he wants to do.
Some have challenged the mutual decision, asking why we’re behaving like a Premier League club. I don’t think we are. We have carefully nurtured the club for over half a season, turning this way and that, continually striving to find a solution. Some have expressed shock and stated, “This isn’t what happens in the Ladies game”.
One of the main aims during my tenure was to establish Cheltenham Town as the club of choice for Ladies football in the County, and right now I think we have achieved that. Another is to keep us moving forward. I spoke at our AGM in June about the dangers of plateauing. Other clubs are growing and developing at a pace, and the title of the ‘place to be’ doesn’t belong to us, it is something we have to work hard for.
Finally, as many will attest too, I simply will not fall prey to the Ladies football must be run differently to Men’s sexist clap trap debate. We are a tier four football club, and yes this level in the Ladies game is significantly different to that of a pro League Two Men’s side, but the inherent best practices are exactly the same.
We’re not afraid of hard work here, and we will roll up our sleeves to tackle the next stage in our development. We will find the right management and coaching staff to take us forward and build on Graham’s legacy. I really hope Graham sticks around to enjoy the fruits of that labour.
Andy Liddle - Chairman