Gray clouds hide happenings at Athletic

With Grays Athletics’ Chief Executive Mick Woodward standing down from his role at the club after a 10 year stint, which has seen Woodward taking over as manger twice and splitting fan opinion of his general running of the club. A new regime has been promised to take over the reigns of the Essex side, but with Woodward still having an invested interest, more questions than answers remain at the club with the seemingly revolving door.

Woodward is determined not to relinquish his shares in the club but insists he will not play an active part at boardroom level nor the playing side of affairs. However this remains to be seen as Woodward is generally regarded as the owner of the Grays Athletic; it is largely his money used to pay the players and questions have been asked as to how willing he would be, to sit back and watch the new regime control his club, on from the stands.

It is also not the first time the 54-year old has declared his resignation, only to reverse his decision or merely resign from a certain capacity at the club.

Woodward first took to upon himself to take charge in 2006 after sacking Frank Gray after a disappointing start to the campaign, 14 games in. However after just two games, in late November he handed the reigns to former Swindon Town manager, Andy King who himself lasted less than two months before surprisingly resigning, citing personal reasons as explanation for his brief tenure.

Despite having no previous experience in professional football, Woodward backed his own credentials worthy enough to take on the mantle as manager, by alleging he had rarely missed a training session under Frank Gray’s predecessor Mark Stimson.

King’s assistant at the time Justin Edinburgh was next in line and even successfully managed to see out the season, with Grays just avoiding relegation finishing in 19th position.

Grays’ supremo next handed himself the opportunity as manager, when Edinburgh left the club by mutual consent at the end of February 2008. Woodward appeared to take to management like water of a ducks back for someone with no managerial qualifications, as The Gravelmen won eight, drew six and lost only three, from their last 17 games and ended the season in a respectable 10th position, four places better off than they were when Edinburgh parted company.

Woodward at the time may have felt he had every right to appoint himself as boss and lead his players into the Football League, a place where he aspired to take the Grays after seizing control in 2000 and ploughing his own money and exuberant ambition into the club.
He oversaw the transition of the club who he inherited from the Isthmian League, and after appointing player/coach Mark Stimson in 2002 and turning the club full-time, they had risen to the Conference by 2005, winning the FA Trophy along the way, then reclaiming the cup in the 2005-2006 campaign.

Woodward, who made his wealth in the Rail industry, continued to pour money into the club especially the playing staff and by the time they had reached the Conference, Grays Athletic supporters were privileged to witness their most talented squad they had ever seen don the Athletic attire. Players such as Freddy Eastwood, Michael Knightly and Aaron Mclean helped lead Grays agonisingly close to achieving promotion to the league, finishing third and dramatically losing out to Halifax Town in the play-off semi-final.

They may have unable to lead Grays to better things, but those players and manager Mark Stimson all left Grays to further their careers. The Blues had missed the boat however, and it was thereafter that the stability Woodward was looking for was never found, and the managerial and player revolving door was spun into full swing as four manager and over 50 players were all classed as Grays Athletic staff at one point during the next turbulent campaign.

There is no doubting Woodward’s passion and commitment to the cause, as he not only instigated Grays must successful period in their footballing existence, but made significant improvements to the clubs New Recreation Ground. He works tirelessly hard and gets involved in any number of responsibilities surrounding the club, which may be his biggest downfall, being unable to let others get on with their duties.

However, when Grays were playing their trade in the Blue Square South, they were attracting crowds of anywhere between 2-3,000; now it is down to around 650- something has have happened to change the fans perspective on the club, and that something appears to be Woodward himself.

On Woodward’s resignation, Michael Casey from Your Thurrock said, “It had to happen. He’s a bit like a Shakespearean figure around the club, he feels everyone owes him and that everyone is against him.

“I think this time he’s gone for good.”

Of course this is not the first time Woodward has stated his resignation, usually after he has taken something to heart and made a rash instant decision. On one instance In September 2008, following abuse from the Grays supporters during their 3-1 defeat at Woking, the then Grays boss announced his decision to quit as manager and chairman while announcing his intentions to put the club up for sale.

This was following accusations from supporters that Woodward had been pilfering cash from player transfers, including the then recent departure of Danny Kedwell to AFC Wimbledon. He later changed his stance to only leave his post as the clubs manager

In March 2009, Woodward had promised he would step down from his role at the club at the clubs AGM meeting on June 8th, following Grays 4-1 hammering at the hands of Histon under then manager Garry Philips . An outlandish landmark which saw Woodward march into the away dressing room at half time to give Phillips’ players the hairdryer treatment; leaving Phillips in the corner to look on helpless.

The chairmen decided he was best to direct proceeding for the rest of the match, as he barked instructions from the technical area. He was then said to be “insulted” as the 41 travelling Grays supporters chanted, “There’s only one Garry Phillips”, in the closing stages of the match, thus resulting in his announcement he was to leave.

A source close to the club revealed that support was very much 50/50 in regards to fans wanting to see rid of Woodward and that the whole atmosphere at the club has changed over the past few seasons. At last weekends match at home to Kidderminster Harriers, Mick Woodward is believed to have launched a foul mouthed verbal attack upon a supporter who took issue with Woodward’s running of the club.

There is further confusion as to what exactly recent acquisitions to boardroom level ex West Ham legend John Moncur and former Tottenham Hotspurs manger Peter Shreeves have brought to the club, and it remains unclear if they have invested any money into Grays. While Vice Chairman Andy Swallow, is believed not to have witnessed a single game this season.

It appears that Woodward’s departure, was a long time coming and his love-hate relationship with Grays Athletic and its supporters has run its course. Woodward may have decided to subsidise the club, but given the clubs good investment location (a possible reason for Moncur and Shreeves’ decision to take a ride on the Grays rollercoaster), this does not mean the club is incapable of making money for a fresh regime.

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