Aycliffe Today editor Martin Walker comments on Newton Aycliffe FC’s appointment of Peter Dixon as new manager…
They say everything comes in 3s. Well that certainly is the case for Newton Aycliffe FC managers this season, and let’s hope it’s third time lucky for our Northern League club.
Our community magazine heralded the appointment of Dan Mellanby as a ‘new era’ in the summer, and it was. Dan’s passion for his town and the vision for his club was infectious. He’s a man who cares as much about the club as anyone but, for his own reasons, it just wasn’t his time.
Then came along Adrian Webster, a former New Zealand international with an impressive playing CV but limited coaching experience. That lack of experience proved too much, and Adrian also stepped away.
After so many years of accolades and achievements, Aycliffe was in serious danger of becoming one of the Northern League’s laughing stocks.
“What’s going on down at Aycliffe?” said one forum poster. “Things don’t seem right,” replied another.
Chairman Allan Oliver had the unenviable task of trying to steady an ailing ship. His past achievements as manager undeniable; yet this new challenge seeming almost insurmountable.
The answer was change, and he knew it.
Something had to give, and when Allan sniffed an opportunity to bring in someone with Peter Dixon’s stature to his club, he grabbed it.
I sensed joy in his voice, and a sigh of relief, when Allan delivered the news to me… relief that he’d relinquished the manager role he was trying to avoid; yet joy that he’d poached one of the most sought-after managers in the Northern League.
Because this appointment is not only an ambitious one by Allan and Aycliffe, it’s also a line in the sand of history.
The club has, by its own admission, over-achieved in recent years; gaining rapid promotions to the Northern League top flight before, eventually, struggling with the also-rans.
Allan would, I’m sure, rather win games every week in the second division than struggle at the wrong end of the first division season-after-season. But he would much rather win games every week in the top division, and be more than just happy with consolidation.
Yet it was becoming clear that the nice guys of the Northern League were finding their level, and while I still believe Aycliffe have enough to stay up this year, that wouldn’t be enough to drag in the extra 100 or so fans who crave results.
Peter worked wonders at West Auckland, and while there’s no guarantee he’ll do the same here with Aycliffe, my bet is he will.
I was privileged to be part of the Aycliffe set-up during the Wearside and Northern League hey-day when, every May, cases of champagne would find their way to Moore Lane Park. It was a memorable era indeed. Or not, for some of us.
But the time has come for Aycliffe to consign those achievements to the record books.
The club has always talked about “the next level”. Gary Farley – former chairman, assistant manager, coach and grass cutter – talked about taking the club to the next level every summer, because it was Gary’s ambition and dedication, as much as anyone’s, which achieved that almost year-on-year.
But the club has probably gone as far as it can without some sort of radical or ambitious change, and with Allan’s hand forced through results, comes a change which I think will be the springboard for Aycliffe to reach the next level it desires.
It’s a long-term game, of course, and while Peter has some pretty ambitious long-term ideas, the short-term game right now is results and stability.
I think we’ll see that and more this season.
And what’s most pleasing for me is for the lads behind the scenes – most notably Steve Cunliffe and Dan Lewis – who have pretty much single-handedly been running the club for the last year or so, when others would have walked away by now. If the club is to achieve success in the future, it will be as much to their commitment as it will be to the new football staff.