ALTRINCHAM chairman Grahame Rowley has urged fans to stick together as the club prepare for life in the Evo-Stik Premier Division following back-to-back relegations.
The Robins’ form over the past 24 months has been incredibly poor and a mixture of managerial appointments failing to click and injuries to key players has seen the Greater Manchester side slip into the eighth tier of English football for the 2017-18 season.
With crowds falling at an alarming rate at Moss Lane – the 648 attendance in the latest home defeat to Brackley Town was the second lowest of the season – there is a fear that many will simply not return next season.
As I arrived outside the ground two hours ahead of kick-off for the Brackley game, there was ample opportunity to speak to supporters, with one telling me the club is currently “at it’s lowest point in the 32 years I’ve followed them”.
With a walkout from a handful of supporters against chairman Rowley a number of weeks ago, an emergency meeting was called last Tuesday to ease tensions.
Fans voiced their frustrations on Twitter…
— Gary Turnbull (@GaryTurnbull4) April 1, 2017
— Dave Smith-Jones (@littleoldalty) April 1, 2017
— Russ Neil (@ruddlesneil) April 1, 2017
— James Antrobus (@james_antrobus1) April 1, 2017
Rowley told Quays News: “I put an invitation out to the fans who have mentioned their discontent over the last few months. I said I was quite happy to sit down with them to see what the problems were and how we could get over them.
“Through the mediation of Pete Foster we actually met with five people – the spokespeople for [the Rowley Out campaign] – who explained the causes of their discontent. One of the main elements of that regarded the handling of the Neil Young sacking and the subsequent articles in the Non-League Paper.
“I think everyone needs to pull in the same direction. Unfortunately, whatever has happened, has happened and we need to draw a line under it now. We want to put the club back where we all know it belongs and therefore we need to stop making recriminations about manager appointments.
“To me Jim Harvey was, and still I say now, at that time the right person for the job. It didn’t work out so we need to draw a line under it, move forward and do what we need to do to get us back where we belong as quick as possible.
“We’ll do that with the strength of everyone pushing in the same direction – not pushing apart. That was one of the main reasons why I met up with the fans because we need them on board. I’ve said it before when I say the fans are the most important people at this football club.
“Without fans you don’t have a football club so therefore we need to get together, know where we are going and we need to push in the same direction.”
While the time around a relegation is filled with debates about where it went wrong and what may have been done differently, Rowley is right in suggesting it is time to look to the future.
As he alluded to in the video above, announcements on a new pricing structure are imminent – an issue the fans I spoke to pre-Brackley Town said was the number one priority given the current £14 adult tickets for National League North.
There is a sense that the next managerial appointment is absolutely critical; one of the most important moves the club will have made in recent times.
With the playing squad unable to be set for next season until the new manager is appointed, there remains plenty of questions for disillusioned supporters.
With fears of mirroring the fall of local rivals Hyde United after their dramatic fall through the divisions, Altrincham fans are a resilient bunch and with fans working tirelessly from the stewards, to those in the clubhouse, to the media team through to Rowley as chairman, a change in fortunes may not be far away.
It is never easy being around a club following a defeat, never mind consecutive relegations and thus Rowley’s honest, frank assessment should fill the fans with optimism that work is ongoing behind the scenes to ensure the club’s stay in the Evo-Stik is merely temporary.