Altrincham Football Club holds a very dear place in Grahame Rowley’s heart.
“I’m in it for the love,” he tells MM.
His son Chris runs the reserve side. His wife Karen works in the club’s office. Altrincham Football Club is at the centre of his life.
Rowley himself has been involved with Altrincham for more than 20 years, starting out by editing their match-day programme with his brother.
With the club on the brink of bankruptcy in 2001, he was asked to form a new board alongside previous chairman Geoff Goodwin and local businessman Andrew Shaw, who immediately set about repaying Altrincham’s £750,000 of debt.
When Goodwin stepped down as chairman in September 2010, Rowley took the reins and while his first season as chairman resulted in relegation, The Robins regained their place in the Conference National in 2014.
The past couple of seasons have been a low point in the club’s history, however, suffering successive relegations down to the Evo-Stik League.
Typically, when things go wrong on the pitch people off the pitch get the blame, something which Rowley has learned the hard way.
There have been campaigns to remove him from his position at the club, such as the @GoodbyeRowley Twitter account, but he believes the criticism has been unfair.
“The rest of the board haven’t been blamed, the managers haven’t, nor have the players. I have,” Rowley notes.
“I can’t take responsibility for the bad things that happen on the pitch, the same way I can’t take responsibility for the good things.
“My job is to run the club and the company in the best way possible and my track record shows that I am still more than capable of doing so, as have the financial results over the past few years.”
Rowley has been criticised by the fans for poor decisions regarding the management of the club, but this may be due to the inaccurate perception of his role.
‘BEST DRESSING ROOM FOR YEARS’: Rowley says the spirit among the players could not be better
Neil Young and Jim Harvey both had disappointing spells at the club following Lee Sinnott’s untimely departure, something the club did not expect.
“We spent a lot of time appointing those managers,” Rowley confesses.
“We did our homework. It wasn’t just my decision to appoint Neil Young, the board were unanimous in their decision.
“If the fans could see inside the club and how it actually works then maybe they wouldn’t blame me.
“The best person for the job gets the job. Nothing else matters.
“I honestly believe that we appointed the right people at the right times but it unfortunately didn’t work out.”
Altrincham now find themselves in a precarious position, but Rowley believes that the key to getting the club back where they belong is fan unity.
“It’s very important to have a unified fan base. People talk about the crowd being the 12th man.
“I don’t think the supporters realise themselves just how much they can help by supporting the team when things aren’t going well.
“Encouraging fans turn teams into a real force.
“Against Farsley, we had almost twice the biggest attendance of anyone else in the league and it showed on the pitch. The fans can really play a big part this year in our success.
“I just wish I could get the unhappy fans back on board again. The sooner we are pointing in the same direction, the sooner we will get our club back where it belongs. In-house fighting makes it all the more difficult for us.”
It’s worth noting how often Rowley refers to Altrincham as ‘our club’, ‘us’ and ‘we’.
— Ian Senior (@SKkits2) May 22, 2016
He is an Alty supporter. He travels to every game. He is devastated when they lose and thrilled when they win – just like those who criticise him.
“We all want the same thing for our football club. Success,” he adds.
“Let’s put aside the past and put our strength behind getting this football club back where it belongs. If we all pull in the same direction and support the club, it would make it a lot easier.”
While Rowley understands the supporters’ frustration, he believes that he is the right man to lead Altrincham into the future
“If I was thought it was in the best interests of the club for me to move aside, I’d go, because I don’t want to hurt my football club.
“I still feel I have something to give to this club. I’ve got to get them back to where they were. I honestly believe I can steer this ship in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, Altrincham have adapted well to life in the Evo-Stik League given the severe financial implications of successive relegation.
“There’s no parachute payments in the lower leagues, that’s for sure,” Rowley says, referring to the generous payments made to clubs who drop out of England’s top flight.
“Vanarama give a decent sponsorship package to Conference National teams. In the Conference North you get a fifth of what you get in the National. When you get to the Evo-Stik, there is very little. A three figure payment.
BLAME GAME: Rowley is urging sceptical fans to put aside their doubts and get behind what really matters – the team winning
“We’ve actually backed the manager very well, budgeting to make a substantial loss this year, because we know how imperative it is to get out of this league. Everyone wants to get promoted and get back where we should be.”
Altrincham have won three of their last four games, keeping clean sheets in all four and scoring 10 goals in the process.
The chairman is optimistic about their hopes this season.
“We certainly want to get straight back up to the Conference North,’ Rowley says adamantly.
“We recruited a manager who knows the league and gave him one of the league’s best budgets. Phil Parkinson is very ambitious, both personally and for the team.
“He’s got the spirit of Alty in him already. I do believe that we will be there or thereabouts by the end of the season.
“We’ve got our winning mentality back a bit now, the dressing room is the best we’ve had for years. Phil deserves great credit for that. He’s brought together a group of players with great attitudes who will take us far.”
Let’s hope that Rowley’s words ring true.
Want to join the Sponsored Walk to Warrington Town (@theyellows) on October 21?
— Altrincham FC (@altrinchamfc) October 3, 2017