With the disappointing, if not totally unexpected, news that the match against Trafford fell to the weather gods and the match was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, it has given Rammy supporters the chance to take stock and look forward to an exciting future – but not forgetting the incredible memories that have passed in the last six seasons.
The news that hit the Rams like a tornado last Saturday that co-managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley had decided to quit their positions at the club that they had served with such distinction, taking them from rock bottom of the North West Counties League in August 2009 to deep inside the play-offs of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, is still reverberating now. It was news no Rammy supporter had ever wished to hear but, when Salford City sacked their manager just 24 hours previously, the writing was on the wall.
The call came and the management duo – who took charge of 290 matches in their five and a half seasons with the club, winning 61% of them – decided the time was right to seek a new challenge and they started their adventure, somewhat ironically, at the scene of arguably Rammy’s greatest ever day – with an away game at The Tom Finney Stadium, the home of Bamber Bridge. Who can ever forget that May afternoon of unrivaled celebration and unmitigated euphoria?
An emotional press conference followed an equally emotional meeting with chairman Harry Williams the evening before. Bernard and Jonno were Ramsbottom United through and through – former players, current residents and when given the task of taking the managers hot seat, they filled it with great aplomb, giving it their absolute everything. Their efforts in transforming this club that was in a permanent state of slumber and barely attracting three-figure crowds on a regular basis into a club that the whole of the local area was talking about, being attracted to and were incredibly proud to be associated with, only added to the state of shock when the announcement was made.
In some quarters, that shock turned to disappointment. And in turn reverted to anger as the managers, freshly announced in their new position at the money-rich former Manchester United ‘Class of ’92’ project at Moor Lane, started to pull in the players who had been so loyal to them at Ramsbottom United and leaving the new manager – and one of the very stalwarts of the incredible rise up the leagues, Jon Robinson – with a mountain to climb as the players, one by one, made their way into the chairman’s office to hand in their tracksuits and join, not only their gaffers but their incredibly good mates, at Salford.
That is one of the great things that made Ramsbottom United so successful and such a joyous place to be – the great camaraderie between players, managers and supporters. Of course, with that great camaraderie comes great friendship and equally great loyalty towards them.
The Ramsbottom United forum went into meltdown. Some being understanding, some being critical, some being neutral and some being philosophical. But all united in one thought of mind – that the last 66 months of roller-coaster madness under the sometimes volatile but always endearing partnership will live long in the memory. Lifting the NWCFL trophy at home to Winsford United, the despair of the Skelmersdale away day, the ferocious but ultimately successful night in Bishop Auckland and, of course, that incredible afternoon in front of over 1,000 spectators in early May 2014 to name but a few of the great days and evenings that the Rams have enjoyed under the stewardship of the young tyros who became hugely and so highly respected by their peers.
Of course, such success does attract much attention. Two promotions in the space of three seasons made a plethora of clubs attempt to ease the duo away but they remained focused and intensely loyal to the project that they set upon when they commenced the role. At a managers forum meeting, attended by just a handful of people right back at the very start, they said that they had a 5-year-plan to take the club as far as they could, hopefully reaching the Unibond Premier (as it was then). Many thought it was just succor or bluster as they set about a task which, a poll on the website at the time, categorically stated was beyond them.
How they proved that wrong, despite the 0-5 reverse of day number one in the job at Newcastle Town. Of course, little was known then that Newcastle were to be the all-conquering team of the NWCFL that year, casting aside all before them and a fourth place finish was quite an achievement by the untested pairing in that first campaign. Not the flash in the pan after all!
And it continued to get better. Second place behind New Mills in the next season was followed by the first promotion, winning the Counties in 2011/12 season culminating in a sensational victory over Winsford United on the final day. Joyous scenes at the Riverside Stadium – hardly ever seen before but certainly not the last it would be seen.
But for a last minute sickenner at Skelmersdale United in the first season in the Evo-Stik Division 1 North could have seen the team into the play-offs but last season, despite kicking off the season in disastrous fashion with just a single point from the opening 5 games, we closed the season in fifth place and went on to defeat the much fancied Darlington 1883 on their home patch before lifting the play-off trophy in dramatic fashion at Bamber Bridge.
Crowd number continued to rise and rise to heights never seen so regularly. The quality of the football on the pitch was exhilarating, enjoyable, enduring and exciting and even the supporters started to make plentiful noise wherever they went – from Banbury and Workington to Frickley and Whitby, the Rams following was vocal and passionate, fully supportive and always there!
Such successes on the pitch, of course, made the offers of other managerial positions continue to flow in but, as they batted them all away, their loyalty to the players and the club was rewarded by the fact that the players remained loyal with them too, once again turning down regular, high-profile and often high-money opportunities to play elsewhere. It is when you put it in this context that you can see why the players followed them to Salford City – regardless of the fact they were dropping down a league and attempting to gain promotion from a league they already achieved success within.
You only have to look at the figures of the players who have trodden the path down the A56 to show just how loyal they have been.
Anthony Johnson made 129 appearances for the Rams and scored 41 goals while Bernard Morley totalled 149 games and 24 goals in his time with the club. Phil Dean, who joined the club from Walshaw Sports when the managers took over, stepped onto the field 265 times and grabbed 57 goals while Dominic Smalley, who was plucked from Atherton LR and became an instant fan favourite gave 221 matches to the club. Grant Spencer with 162 games, Gary Stopforth 135 and Jordan Hulme 122 also crossed the line in over 100 games and Scott Burton played 47 matches after he was much wanted by the managers and joined a couple of seasons ago.
The club also bode farewell to coaches Glenn Moses and John Morrey as well this week, adding plentiful experience to the Rammy cause.
Total it all up – and you lose 1,230 games and 233 goals from the club in one swoop. You also lose 165 yellow cards and 17 reds while playing on the field – that doesn’t include Anthony’s occasional misdemeanors whilst on the touchline! Whilst the clubs disciplinary record did leave plenty to be desired, you always knew you were getting full value for money, 100% effort and endeavour and no shortage of fun and enjoyment once the game was over. They loved each other as a team and they loved each other as friends as well and it is what has made following and supporting Ramsbottom United so brilliant. One in, all in!
So the players leaving in their droves was always likely to be on the cards once Anthony and Bernard called time on their managerial reign at the club. No Rammy supporter wanted it to happen but it did and it was little surprise, despite leaving Jon Robinson with the unenviable task to rebuilding a team in the space of a week ahead of Saturday’s scheduled match with Trafford. Its postponement will have helped the new management build the team spirit and they went about it all in a full training session on Saturday afternoon.
‘Robbo’ has worked tirelessly in the last few days securing a number of new – and old – faced and has a few other irons in the fire as well. Time doesn’t stand still and the team moves on, the club moves on. We were all extremely thankful for everything that has passed over the five and a half years, the insane ups, the desperate downs, the ins and outs, the players comings and goings, the legends and the much maligned.
As supporters, we loved every single moment. Every celebration, every victory, every journey on the Rammy Rocket, every draw or defeat, every player … simply everything.
Thank you Bernard and Anthony – thank you to the players who have thrilled us, delighted us and given us the most amazing of all rides. But now we move onto the Robbo era for Ramsbottom United. The chants will stay the same, the Sheep will still say No and there will still be 50 U’s in Youuuuuuuu Rams! And the supporters will still pour through the gates supporting their Ramsbottom United, no doubt still talking about all of those great times in the recent past but whilst also looking forward to whatever the next chapter will depict.