It was, without doubt, one of the saddest days in Ramsbottom United Football Club history. It was a day that rocked the club to its very core.
That day was Tuesday 20th February 2001 – the day that first XI manager Ken Bridge collapsed and died in the dressing room passageway following the North West Counties home league game with Cheadle Town. He was just 57.
The author of “Come on you Rams”, Nigel Jepson, has written a tribute to one of the men who eased the club into the semi-professional era from which the Rams have developed strongly over the years.
ON THIS DAY – 20th FEBRUARY:
LOOKING BACK TWENTY YEARS AGO TO THE NIGHT- MATCH THAT WITNESSED THE TRAGIC DEATH OF MANAGER KEN BRIDGE.
Ken Bridge had been appointed as manager in 1994/95 which marked the last season the club had played in the Manchester League before joining the North West Counties League Division Two in 1995/96.
In their first season in the NWCL, the club won the Division Two Cup 2-1, with the winning goal scored by Phil Rose, and the next season, 1996/97, the league title to gain promotion to the First Division.
Another highlight for the Rams under Ken’s management had been a tremendous FA Cup run in the 1998/99 season which saw the Rams reach the 3rd Qualifying Round – the furthest stage the club has reached in its history of entering the competition.
In 1999/2000, the club achieved 3rd place – its highest position achieved so far in the NWCFL First Division. At the start of the next season, Ken felt buoyant and very much aiming for the top spot.
After a slow start though to 2000/01, the team steadily climbed the table and vied for the title with a strong winning run. However, the pressure of maintaining the challenge was to take a dreadful toll of its own after an evening home match on 20th February 2001 against Cheadle Town. The game itself was disappointing result-wise, ending in a 2-1 defeat, but wholly tragic in terms of the post-match aftermath.
What happened next seemed to leave everyone who witnessed the scene understandably in somewhat of a daze. For example, having performed his duty of paying the officials, Club Secretary John Maher had come across the Ram players standing in the passageway: ‘aghast at the sight of their manager lying there on the floor. They thought Ken must have fallen and banged his head. Kath (Fitton), our physio, was trying to resuscitate him. Then the paramedics arrived to take him to hospital’.
Ken Bridge had in fact suffered a heart attack and was confirmed dead a short time after arriving at Bury Hospital.
Ken’s death, at the age of 57, came as a complete shock and brought the club to a total standstill. The scale of the loss was such that no-one was able to think of anything else to do except ensure they did as much as possible by way of paying proper respect to the memory of a man who had given his all to the club.
Chairman Harry Williams spoke with huge sadness at the loss: ‘Ken did so much for the club. He put everything into it. The club would not be where it is today without him. He was brilliant to work with’.
More than just paying respect with words, Harry determined that the club should pay its tribute in more lasting terms.
That is how and why when you come to the HWRS today, twenty years on from that fateful night of 20th February 2001, you will see the name of Ken Bridge inscribed in wrought iron lettering above the gates leading into our football ground, constituting a lasting tribute to the record of selfless service Ken gave throughout his very successful time as manager at Ramsbottom United Football Club.
Lancashire Evening Telegraph article (23rd February 2001)
Lancashire Evening Telegraph tribute (22nd January 2002)