Pic: Neil Brookman
By John Lyons
ALTRINCHAM legend Stuart Coburn is optimistic the club will turn their fortunes around in the coming season – but admits it won’t be easy.
The 42-year-old retired a year ago after notching up a club record 689 appearances for the Robins in two spells and could only watch as a spectator last term as the famous Non-League outfit slumped to a second relegation on the spin.
If relegation from the National League in goalkeeper Coburn’s final season was a hammer blow, then last season’s horror campaign in National League North just piled on the misery.
As managers came and went at an alarming rate of knots, nothing reversed Alty’s fortunes. By the season’s end, they were rock-bottom with just four wins from 42 games and a meagre 21 points, finishing a whopping 15 points from safety.
It means the once-proud club will head into 2017-18 in the third tier of Non-League football, namely the Evo-Stik Premier.
Former Nantwich Town manager Phil Parkinson is the man with the task of getting Altrincham heading in the right direction again, and Coburn is optimistic better times are ahead.
“Where they are now, they are under their level, but you are where you are,” said Coburn. “I don’t know Phil Parkinson, but what I’m hearing is positive.
“Altrincham is a massive name and it’s a big job, but they should win the league. However, there are 46 games in the Evo-Stik and every time they step onto the pitch it’s going to be a cup final.
“When teams come to Alty, they are going to come thinking it’s a nice pitch and a good place to play.
“The club are making the right noises and they are going to have one of the best budgets. They’ve said, ‘We need to get back up straightaway’. If not, anything could happen.”
As he watched from the sidelines last term, Coburn could see that Altrincham were a shadow of their former selves.
“I went quite a bit to watch them at home and there were lads playing who I had played with in the Conference,” he said. “You could see that their heads dropped when they went a goal down. Losing is a habit that’s difficult to break.
“When Neil Young left and Jim Harvey came in, you thought, ‘What an appointment’, but even he couldn’t turn it around. It was going from bad to worse.
“I played with Matt Doughty and Robbie Lawton and the club is in their hearts. They tried to change things but it was just really difficult. They did their best, but the problems had set in too deep.”
Coburn is hoping positive results in the coming campaign will ease the pressure on under-fire chairman Grahame Rowley after the flak he took last term.
“The chairman’s got the club at heart and he just wants what’s best for Altrincham,” said Coburn, whose son Finn, 9, a midfielder, is on Manchester United’s books.
“Some of the abuse last season became personal and nasty, and Non-League shouldn’t be like that.”
Altrincham may have exited National League North after just one season, but Coburn will still be keeping half an eye on the division in the coming season – as he reckons it could be one of the most exciting in Non-League.
And he believes ambitious Salford City, now full-time, will have a real fight on their hands to hold off the challenges of the likes of York, Kidderminster, Stockport and Darlington.
He said: “You look at what Salford are doing and some of the names they are bringing in and there’s going to be massive pressure on (co-managers) Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley.
“They need to start well or someone could hit the panic button and say, ‘We need to go up’.
“It’s going to be more difficult with Kidderminster staying down and York getting relegated.
“York are a massive club for that level. They’ve just signed Michael Rankine and they’ve already got Jon Parkin. I don’t think anyone can get round them, the size of them.
“They are going to have some budget and if they start winning, their crowds will get bigger. With Gary Mills in charge, they will be one of the favourites.
“Stockport are part-time, but can get crowds of five to six thousand, Darlington are going to be in the hunt if they can get things right and Harrogate are going full-time.
“With only two clubs going up, it’s going to be some scrap.”
Even though he’s now in his early 40s, Coburn, who runs a plant hire company, would love to still be out there between the sticks.
“I miss it so much,” he said. “I did it for 22 years and I wasn’t wanting to retire. It was forced due to my Achilles injury.
“When you turn up at five to three and the players are in the tunnel, you think, ‘I would love to have one more game!’”