His name is John Coleman and barring several miracles of biblical proportions he’ll never become England manager partly because he was recently appointed as manager of Rochdale and before that he spent 13 years masterminding Accrington Stanley’s rise through non league football back into league football for the first time since their infamous exit in 1962, which many years later led to a certain milk advert and the uttering of the words “Accrington Stanley, who are they?”
Why do I think he is the best manager you ask? Well for someone who has hardly spent a penny in his managerial career he has frankly worked miracles. In 1999 when he was appointed as Accrington manager they were languishing in the Unibond first division (at the time, level 7 of the English football pyramid) he quickly assembled a squad which won the division ahead of Burscough and Witton Albion which was followed by two seasons consolidating their place in the Northern premier division. In the 2002-03 season Accrington Stanley finished again as champions with exactly 100 points, 16 more than second placed Barrow and in the days before Conference north & south it was enough to get promotion directly to the Conference. Three years later the impossible happened, 44 years after they left the Football League Accrington Stanley won promotion back into the league after finishing top of the Conference with 91 points, 11 clear of Hereford. Several years have been spent in League 2 which despite being favourites for relegation every season they’ve never looked like going down and last season saw perhaps John Coleman’s greatest achievement, steering Accrington into the play-offs, which despite a controversial semi final loss to Stevenage, was a major achievement. This season sees Accrington just outside the playoff zone but in January, Coleman left to step up a division with Rochdale and ended an era.
Accrington Stanley, I don’t think it’d be any surprise to say, have one of the smallest if not the smallest budgets in the Football League, last summer Sean McConville, a star performer in their playoff run, left to sign for Stockport County showing that they struggle to compete with Conference teams with regards to wages. Every summer since their promotion to League 2, it seems they are forced to sell their best players in order to have enough finances to put together a playing squad for the following season and despite all this John Coleman has made Accrington Stanley a stable League club.
Coleman as a player spent his entire career in non league football and when he got the chance in league football as a manager he was never going to let the chance slip. Coleman, like the majority of players he signed in his time at Accrington, is a scouser and signed many players who have a similar story to him in terms of just wanting one chance as a pro. Over the years he has had squads made up of kids let go by Liverpool and Everton and hungry non league players signed from the likes of Marine or Skelmersdale, he has even been seen around the parks of Liverpool on Sunday mornings trying to find that next gem. All these scousers together in one place has created perhaps the main reason for John Coleman’s success as a manger, superb team spirit. Having heard many interviews with Coleman and various players over the years on local radio, there is no doubt that the Accrington squad is a happy family and how often do we see in football that a team playing for each other is usually more successful than 11 individuals playing for their own personal glory?
Okay you still might not think John Coleman is the best manager in England and I don’t blame you but imagine if in football management you had pound for pound rating like in boxing? Is getting Accrington into the League 2 playoffs on a shoestring budget a bigger achievement than winning the Premier League with a squad worth hundreds of millions of pounds, I think so but you can make up your own mind? In my pound for pound ratings I think the only Premier League managers who come anywhere close to John Coleman are Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers. Does anyone honestly think Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini or Arsene Wenger could do at Accrington what John Coleman has done?
To show how much he was loved by everyone associated with Accrington Stanley there were stories of grown men and women bursting into tears when John Coleman went to say his goodbyes to everyone at the club before leaving for Rochdale.
Coleman has had a promising start at Rochdale and why no Championship team has ever given him a chance is baffling? He was linked with the Preston job recently but that went to Graham Westley. I’ll end by saying that in 1999 before he joined Accrington Stanley he was sacked by Ashton United, a penny for the thought of whoever took that decision? If they had more patience maybe it would be Ashton United and not Accrington Stanley who would be featuring a lot in this article.