Having had ten managers or managerial duos in the eight years since the untimely and sudden passing of Ken Bridge in 2001, the club were in desperate need of some stability.
Maybe it wasn’t so much stability but, at least, some longevity as only Andy Grimshaw and Lee Sculpher had clocked a full year in the Rammy hot seat in that time.
Both of those requirements came in May 2009 and it came from what many thought a very unlikely source.
In all honesty, few gave Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley much hope of success when they took the joint managerial position ahead of the 2009/10 season when Chairman Harry Williams decided against giving Paul Williams the full time post after his unsuccessful temporary stint of seven wins in 25 games after Andy Feeley disappeared.
These two former and current players were well known around the club. They would total 278 appearances between them and 65 goals in their combined Rammy careers but the quality to become successful managers of the club? Many had their doubts.
In the next 1,972 days – the second longest managerial stint behind Bridge’s 2,012 days in charge – would see Ramsbottom United scale unprecedented heights.
Their honours with the club were plentiful – a NWCFL runners-up trophy was just the start but was followed by the big prize, the league Championship in 2012 and then, two years later, in memorable and dramatic fashion, promotion via the play-offs at Bamber Bridge to the Northern Premier Division.
If anyone had said that these two 20-something larrikins from Bury would take the Rams to step three of non-league football within five seasons, they would have needed to be tested for something suspicious.
Johnson and Morley would take charge of 290 games and oversee 175 wins – a win percentage of 60.34 which was the highest of all the permanent managers bar Mike Kelly and Mike Feeney’s short 22-match spell following Bridge’s death.
There was just 38 draws and 77 defeats and a mammoth 683 goals scored, which was an average of 2.355 goals per game. Crowd numbers were up as they flocked back to watch this hugely entertaining and very successful side.
They would kick off the first season in the NPL Premier by losing four of their first five games but would bounce back with five wins from five in October 2014 – a record that would see us win “Club of the Month” for the division. November was equally as good, winning seven of their next nine games and the Rammy faithful were starting to believe that even Conference North football was on the horizon.
The last of those wins came against Salford City at The Arbories in the NPL League Cup in front of 189 spectators with Jordan Hulme and a double from Grant Spencer seeing us through to the next round.
Little did Rammy know that that win would be our last with Johnson and Morley in charge as they would endure five defeats over Christmas and New Year. The 3-2 New Years Day reverse at Nantwich Town at the start of 2015 – with the two managers unused substitutes – was their last. Salford City’s manager Phil Power had been dismissed the previous Friday and the Class of 92-led conglomerate swooped in to not only take the managers but assistant Glenn Moses and subsequently virtually the whole team.
Having led us to a land we hadn’t experienced before, we were forced to completely rebuild a squad mid season.
Our two now-former managers would become somewhat celebrities, regulars on the television and the radio, had a BBC series following their every move and even adverts featuring Premier League players and them! They took Salford City to the National League, three promotions in quick time before being released.
It was a world away from the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium which had to entrust the manager position to Rammy legend Jon Robinson, giving him his first taste in charge. What would transpire over the next season and a half would take us back to desperate times.
Robbo was left with the unenviable task to trying to maintain the club’s position at this level from scratch and, while the weather helped give him four weeks inbetween Johnson and Morley’s departure to the next game, a league cup clash at home to Northwich Victoria. Of the 16 players that featured in the game on New Years Day, only six did so at the end of the month.
We would win just four league games for the remainder of the season but Luke Heron’s 84th minute winner in a 4-3 success at Barwell in mid-April would ensure another season in the division, whether we liked it or not!
However, Robinson’s record of six wins from 37 games (win percentage of 16.22) wasn’t going to be enough to save him when the 2015/16 season started without a win in 16, Robbo’s last game in charge was the 12th of those.
Phil Edghill was given the caretaker reigns before former Trafford manager Garry Vaughan came in. He started quite well with five wins in his opening 13.
However, a run of 21 games without a win hastily summonsed the Rams to their first ever relegation. Vaughan’s five wins from 34 games and a win percentage of just 14.71 is the worst of any Ramsbottom United manager since turning semi-professional in 1995 and he departed following the 3-0 defeat at Marine which nailed the relegation coffin shut.
Since Salford City came calling, we had played 76 games and won only 12, losing 46 in the process. We had scored 78 goals and conceded 161. So what was next?
Apart from a return to NPL Division 1, the appointment of another managerial duo followed when Mark Fell and Paul Fildes joined forces to take the job. Both had applied for the job but had done so separately. However, having worked together at Nelson, they were the choice to take over and try and bring some success back once more.
They had 27 games together, winning 11 before Fildes left, in whatever fashion you care to take, leaving Fell in sole charge at the start of 2017. He would stay for some 19 months and 84 games, winning just 29 and losing 37 – a win percentage of 34.52, some six points lower than it was in dual charge with his former colleague.
So it was rather surprising that Fell, who had overseen just two wins from his final 11 games and no win in his last five would quit the club and take up a role in a higher division with Lancaster City where he boasted of a ten match unbeaten run with the Rams in his press release. His best unbeaten run for us was actually just four!
His departure and the demise of Shaw Lane FC saw Chris Willcock return to the club where he had played in the early part of the 2000s. A successful manager, taking Glossop North End to Wembley in the FA Vase, he arrived at the HWRS with a mission to take the club back to where it was.
With 52 wins from 88 starts, which is 59.09% wins, he has moved the club from mid-table nowhereness under Fell to second place in the truncated campaign of 2019/20 and currently second this season too and who can forget the FA Trophy run to the last 16 in 2018/19!
In just 88 games, we have scored 208 goals under Willcock which is an average of 2.364 per game, the highest of any permanent manager and was the fastest to 50 wins and 200 goals as well.
The good times have finally returned. The football is a joy to watch. The crowds are thoroughly enjoying what they are seeing and there is a real feeling things are back on the up.
And we love it !!!!