Following a two week trial period and a process of consultation with various stakeholders Cheltenham Town Football Club has appointed Marcus Bignot to the role of first team coach.
The club has given very careful consideration to the appointment given that Marcus was involved in an incident earlier this year that resulted in an independent disciplinary panel bringing a case of using homophobic terms during a touchline incident while working as volunteer assistant manager of Birmingham City Women. The case was found proven on the balance of probabilities and resulted in a seven match touchline ban, which has two matches left to serve, and attendance at a mandatory education programme.
The club undertook a period of due diligence prior to the appointment which included Marcus working unpaid on a trial period; detailed discussions with club directors and staff regarding the disciplinary issue and a meeting between Marcus, members of the club Board and representatives of both the Robins Trust and Proud Robins LGBTQ+ supporters network. Consultations were also undertaken with representatives from the Football Supporters Association, League Managers Association and Cheltenham Ladies Football Club.
“This was without doubt one of the most sensitive decisions we have had to take since I have been chairman,” said David Bloxham.
“The facts of the disciplinary case in straightforward terms are a cause for serious concern demanding careful consideration. We recognise the complexity of the issues involved and the need to protect the good reputation of the Club, while at the same time considering all the facts and not rushing into a decision which may deny a person a second chance and an opportunity to move on from what has very clearly been an extremely difficult period for him.
“Marcus maintains his innocence and it is clear that the aftermath of the case has affected him deeply. We have been impressed with the passion and candour with which he has explained his personal and professional circumstances.
“Having gone into this in some considerable depth, and spoken to people who have known Marcus for many years, we are assured and have concluded that Marcus will not pose a risk to the positive reputation and good name that the football club has built up over a number of years.
“Furthermore, Marcus is a highly experienced and knowledgeable coach with a previously excellent reputation who in any other circumstances would fit the profile of the person we need to join and strengthen our first team coaching staff.”
In a joint statement the Proud Robins and Robins Trust said: "When we became aware that Marcus Bignot was assisting the Club, we contacted the club to share our concerns and observations about the message it could send to the club's LGBTQ+ community.
"We asked the Club for their thoughts and made it clear that we had concerns about the way fans would react. We also expressed our concern that the Club's positive reputation within the community could be risked.
"After some initial conversations, representatives of Proud Robins and the Robins Trust met with members from the club board and Marcus to discuss the matter.
"We asked tough questions and received detailed answers from both the Club and Marcus.
"It is not for us to make the decision or re-litigate the case, instead we can only share our thoughts and ensure these are heard. We believe we have left nothing unsaid to the club on this matter.
"Now that he is a part of our Club, we look forward to Marcus and the Club joining us to help spread the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in football.
"We insisted the Cheltenham Town Ladies team were contacted prior to any decision being made to gauge their opinion. Football is a game for everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual-orientation or belief.
"We remain committed to rooting out all forms of discrimination and will continue to work with the Club to achieve this and we appreciate Marcus' personal commitment in this regard."
Marcus Bignot enjoyed a 20-year career as a player that took him from the National League up to the EFL Championship. He made over 600 first team appearances across spells with Telford United, Kidderminster Harriers, Crewe Alexandra, Bristol Rovers, Queens Park Rangers, Rushden & Diamonds and Millwall, winning the League Two championship with Rushden and promotion from League One with QPR.
His interest in coaching began as a 19-year old when he began working for the Birmingham County FA and by the age of 24 he was combining a full-time playing career with management of the Birmingham City Women’s team, leading them to two promotions during his initial spell with the club.
After his retirement from playing Marcus took over as manager of Solihull Moors FC, leading them to promotion to the National League, and during his five years at the club helped them to establish a full youth structure and a community section including disability teams, ladies and girls teams and a full-time education programme. During this period he also coached Birmingham City Women during their run to the 2014 UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Marcus finally departed Solihull in 2016 and spent a year in charge of League Two Grimsby Town before spells with Chester and Guiseley.
More recently, he has worked for the FA as assistant head coach for the England Under-19 team which recently won the Under-19 European Championships in Slovakia. Marcus also maintained a close interest in ladies football with a spell as interim coach of Aston Villa Women and a return to Birmingham City to assist former Robins player Darren Carter with their women's team.