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Cheltenham Town: 'Being on the board brings more stress than playing or managing'

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

  • THE BOSS: John Murphy during his spell as Gloucester City manager

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AFTER calling time on his progressive spell as Cheltenham Town manager, John Murphy was looking forward to a break.

He had been burning the candle at both ends, combining what was essentially a full-time job at Whaddon Road, along with his busy career as a civil servant.

"I would arrive at the ground at 7am and do an hour's work before heading to the office," Murphy said.

"I would then walk down again at lunchtime and then do more in the evening, so it was quite an intensive period for me and I was looking forward to a break

But ambitious Trowbridge Town came calling, with the promise of a new stadium and Murphy could not resist.

"I went there and the same thing happened again," he said.

"I managed to emulate what happened at Cheltenham.

"I had a different type of player there, but I took Ray Baverstock and Steve Abbley who set an example.

"I took over in the December and we got promoted the following season.

"We didn't lose at home for two years and we reached the semi-final of the FA Vase, which was unprecedented success for the club.

"We played Wycombe in the FA Cup, drawing at home and losing 2-1 away in front of huge crowds and I remember we had 4,000 against Hyde in the Vase.

"We were flying and we couldn't do anything wrong – it was a real family club."

However, Murphy felt he had taken the Wiltshire ouftit as far as he could, when their ground plans fell through.

"They decided to groundshare with Bath, which was a disaster and it crippled the club financially," he said.

"I had an opportunity to go to Gloucester City and I took seven or eight players with me, which I felt sorry for doing, but I didn't really have a choice."

During his time at Trowbridge, Murphy actually returned to manage Cheltenham for a second time in November 1990, but it lasted only two weeks.

"It wasn't the same coming back and I didn't recognise the club from when I was there before," he said.

"The finances were in a mess and the manager before me (Jim Barron) was full-time and he'd signed a lot of big name players, but they were out of control.

"I wasn't brought back for my managerial ability, I was brought back to sort a lot of problems.

"People like Kim Casey and Micky Nuttell were dictating things. Casey was on £300 a week which was huge at that time.

"I had an argument with him as he was suspended and for me that meant he shouldn't be paid, but he threatened to go on strike and I had to offload a lot players, which didn't go down well with the fans.

"There were players living three or four hours away, who didn't train with the club and I quickly saw it was a bumpy ride ahead, so I told Dave Courtney, who was chairman at the time, I was going back to Trowbridge."

One of the games Murphy did oversee was the FA Cup first round tie at Birmingham City, which Cheltenham lost 1-0.

"It wasn't my team and it just wasn't the same," he said.

"I used to get butterflies walking down to the ground and seeing the floodlights, but the second time I only saw trouble and some of the fans seem to resent me being a local man in charge of the club.

"They wanted a big name, but Steve Cotterill dispelled that myth once and for all with his achievements."

After leaving Trowbridge for Gloucester, Murphy was given significant financial backing at Meadow Park, where Keith Gardner was a chairman intent on keeping up with big-spending Rushden and Diamonds.

"I had two enjoyable seasons at Gloucester, but Rushden were at the peak of their powers and we just had to wave goodbye to them really," he said.

"They were full-time and throwing silly money at it, with a lovely ground and we couldn't compete.

"The chairman wanted to compete though and we were silly at times. We had players who couldn't train with us like Steve Portway and Simon Ullathorne, who were good players, but we only saw them on a Saturday because they lived in places like Dover.

"That wasn't my philosophy and it was obvious we were going to slip up.

"The chairman tried everything for the club to progress, but I wanted to put together an inner circle to play for me and we had change in philosophies.

" I enjoyed my time there, but it was never going to be a long-term thing."

Murphy went on to manage Cinderford Town, guiding them to their highest ever finish in the Southern League, before a spell at Swindon Supermarine, who he helped escape from relegation from a seemingly hopeless position.

He then worked for Graham Allner's scouting network, watching teams and compiling reports using his considerable experience.

Murphy also spent time assisting Paul Collicutt at Bishop's Cleeve, where he was reunited with Dave Lewis, a man he said was in a league of his own when it came to ex-Robins.

"People like Steve Brooks and Mark Boyland were pound for pound the best players I had at Cheltenham, but Dave Lewis is on a different plain altogether – he is the club's folklore," Murphy said.

"To be top scorer for eight or nine years in a row was an amazing achievement.

"Doing the scouting work and helping out at Cleeve helped keep my eye in, but I was asked to come and look after the Academy at Cheltenham two years ago."

Murphy's first match back on the board was the infamous 8-1 defeat at Crewe Alexandra, but it is safe to say things have improved since then, with Mark Yates' team on course for a second successive tilt at promotion.

"The board have worked very well together and Tim Kent, the financial director, has really battened down the hatches," he said.

"I actually find being on the board more stressful than managing and playing and the most frustrating thing here is our inability to sustain a good crowd.

"When the club got into the League in 1999 it was total euphoria, but now we struggle to get more than 2,500.

"When you see Bradford getting more than 11,000 for a League game, we have to try to compete with that, but you can only so for a limited time – it's simple economics.

"Sometimes I don't think the people of Cheltenham realise what a fantastic achievement it is to be in the Football League.

"Mark Yates has done a brilliant job, but the crowds have been disappointing and as a board it's our job to sustain the club for future generations.

"The club would not be in the Football League if it wasn't for the chairman (Paul Baker), who privately and personally backed it and gave Steve Cotterill the impetus to go on and do what he wanted.

"The balance is perfect at the moment, but it's not a bottomless pit."

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  • drewks  |  January 24 2013, 4:07PM

    Agree with CheltRobin - great interview and highlights the REAL barrier to progressing - the attendances. Very good insight into JM though through the eras - what a talented guy at all levels he seems to be. Another example of why the club is now solid - bringing in all these backroom people who have a real affinity for the club can only be a good thing!

  • CheltRobin  |  January 24 2013, 9:57AM

    Great interview with John. Particularly the end part where he mentions how tough it has for PB and the board to sustain Chelt Town as a footy league club - and a promotion- chasing club in fact. He is right to say that the people of Chelt don't seem to realise what an achievement it is for a club with our resources to main their footy league status, there are many clubs in the Conference who have much bigger attendances and finances than we do, yet they aren't in the position that we are. The attendances at WR this season have been particularly poor and it must be so frustrating for MY and his team to try and improve the squad and move the club onto the next level, with 1 hand tied behind his back all the time. If only the local footy fans out there would actually come and support their local clubs, not just be glued to the Premier League on TV.

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