Judging by recent history, club chairmen becoming first-team managers is generally not the best of ideas.
Earlier this month, Swindon Town chairman Lee Power decided to sack manager Mark Cooper – son of Leeds United legend Terry – and install himself as gaffer. Since then, the Robins have failed to win a game and dropped into the League One relegation places.
Likewise, in 2006 Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn decided to have a go at combining the two roles. Under his stewardship the Black Cats lost five of their opening six league matches and were unceremoniously dumped out of the League Cup at Bury, prompting the Irishman to appoint Roy Keane who duly won promotion with the same group of players.
However, the reverse is largely unknown. Managers are often moved ‘upstairs’, but few examples spring to mind of them becoming chairman. Step forward Lee Hirst, who is slowly adjusting to life as chairman at The Woodcock AFC.
Initially Hirst was player-manager at New Farnley FC, but unfortunately the club had to fold, leaving Hirst to form a new club and assume the unusual responsibility of player-chairman.
“We were originally set up as New Farnley FC in 2013 by chairman Jamie Manual, secretary Kayleigh Jones and myself as manager,” Hirst says. “Sadly, New Farnley FC folded at the end of the 2014/15 season and The Woodcock AFC was established with myself as chairman, Kayleigh Jones remaining as secretary and Mark Hannah taking over as manager.
“New Farnley folded due to a lack of interest, the team was losing week in, week out and players don’t want to play for a team that always loses. When the message went out that New Farnley was folding one of the players, Nathan Kenyon, messaged back asking if we could keep going if we could get new players.
“The answer was, of course, yes! Nath rallied some lads together and we carried on. The change to The Woodcock AFC came when we moved to The Woodcock pub as our base. It was kind of like a fresh start. It is run by Tina Adkin the landlady and is a lovely local and very family orientated. There are now only five players from New Farnley FC that still play for The Woodcock AFC.
“For me trying to manage and play at the same time was affecting my game – both in terms of playing and also my decision making as manager. I also think the team needs a manager on the sideline giving guidance and support. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be player-managers, just that it wasn’t the right role for me. I would much rather play.”
Currently competing in their maiden season in the second tier of the Leeds Sunday Football League, the Championship, Hirst insists that the only aim for this campaign is getting the players used to their new surroundings and recapturing the fun that football should be all about.
Playing at Old Farnley recreation ground, pre-season performances were encouraging. Led by captain Luke Cook, the team pushed Sporting Pudsey – who compete in the Leeds Combination League, one of the strongest amateur divisions in the country – close in a 4-2 defeat, before beating local rivals Wortley Knights 2-1. The start to the season has unsurprisingly proved more difficult, and The Woodcock have been beaten in eight of their opening nine matches.
Although having lost their opening two fixtures 4-2 and 3-1, the side responded brilliantly to thrash Western Juniors 8-2, meaning they have already won as many league matches under their new moniker as New Farnley managed in 32 attempts over the previous two seasons. Furthermore, at this stage of the season they are also better placed to improve on their last two league standings come the end of the campaign.
Despite the difficult start, Hirst – who cites fellow LS12 clubs West Leeds Wortley and West Leeds Armley as The Woodcock’s biggest rivals – is refusing to be downbeat, especially considering over half the team have not played with the rest of their team-mates before, and he tellingly refuses to pick out any individual as the star player.
“It has been a tough start to the season, some of the players hadn’t played together before, some players have had to play in a position they don’t play in but they have all adapted really well and each game are improving as individual players and as a team,” he adds.
“We started out playing lots of pre-season games to gel as a team we have played eight so far and won one.
“As the weeks go on we are becoming more confident and with confidence the team performance is improving.
“I can’t really say we have had any highs or lows yet with us being a new team.
“Most of the players are local but some do travel from the other side of Leeds every Sunday to play.
“We have a variety of tradesmen on the team. Some of them are locksmiths, plasterers, a mechanical engineer, plumbers, roofers and builders.
“Our only target this season is to gel as a team and win some matches.
the WOODCOCK AFC
Ground: Old Farnley Recreation Ground
Headquarters: The Woodcock, Farnley
Division: Championship, Leeds Sunday Football League
Chairman: Lee Hirst
Secretary: Kayleigh Jones
Manager: Mark Hannah
Captain: Luke Cook
Sponsors: WiddSigns in Armley