Sent Her Forward exclusive
Chichester City have been hit by a double bombshell after both their first- and second-team managers revealed they are quitting.
Matt Wright and Caz Henry-Evans have been the face of the ladies’ club for most of the past decade, taking the first team from county-league football to the FAW Premier League set-up – winning the Sussex County Cup along the way – and establishing a second string that won their league last season and now compete alongside the likes of Portsmouth, Brighton and West Ham in the Premier League’s reserves division.
The pair have also established a flourishing youth set-up for girls, many of them coached by current players.
But now both have announced that they are stepping down – each for separate personal reasons, but with the shared goal of wanting their club to progress to the next level with new faces at the helm.
Both plan to stay on at the club, behind the scenes, but from next season, the two characters who most epitomise Chichester City Ladies Football Club will no longer be in the dugouts.
Henry-Evans, who was appointed by Wright to set up a reserves team in 2009, told her players of her decision on the day of their game against West Ham last week – her final home match in charge.
But Wright revealed his bombshell yesterday, as the first team fell to a home defeat against promotion-chasing Exeter City.
He will take charge of the first team for the final time next Sunday in a game that could see Forest Green Rovers crowned champions of the Premier League’s South West Division One.
There’s nobody in the country I would rather have in that post than him – Matt Wright on his successor as Chichester City manager, Liam Greenfield
Speaking exclusively to Sent Her Forward, Wright said eight years of running what has become a high-profile club on and off the field had taken its toll.
“I’ve given eight years of my life to the club and I’ve given it everything,” he said. “It’s got to the point where I need to do something else with my life.”
He said: “Football takes over your life. I’ve loved every minute of it. But it’s been eight years, and the club could do with some fresh blood, as well.”
Wright, 35, took temporary charge of Chichester City in 2006 before moving back into the coaching side the following season.
He was appointed full-time manager in 2008, when the rebuilding programme began in earnest.
He said: “When I turned up eight years ago I had three footballs and six female players standing out on the park.
“Now we’ve got an exciting youth section and a very successful female section; lots going on off the pitch, with our academy and our development side, and our football festivals. And I’ve headed that all.
“All of those things, and the growth, have just become too much for one person to handle and run and do it all well.”
Wright intends to continue meeting the organisational demands of the club, freeing up Liam Greenfield, his assistant, to focus on managing.
Henry-Evans plans to continue her role as club secretary – responsible for both adult sides – ensuring a level of continuity that should mitigate some of the alarm their players will no doubt be experiencing following the double bombshell.
Wright admitted: “It will be hard for [the players]. I don’t doubt that. But it always would be because… there’s not a single person there who’s been there since day one, other than me. All anyone there has ever known is me, running things and heading things up.”
But he believes the first team is in the best possible hands with Greenfield at the helm.
He added: “There’s nobody in the country I would rather have in that post than him. He’s fantastic. The club’s all primed, ready in a position for someone else to take over.
“To be honest, if anything, me being there is holding Liam back at the moment. So I think it’s time. The time’s right for him, for me, for the club. It’s great sadness, but it’s a long time in charge.”
To get from the very bottom league into the top one I possibly can says it all – Caz Henry-Evans
Working in harness with Henry-Evans – whose shared philosophy not only on how the club should be run but also the way they should play, has contributed to their inexorable rise before this season’s “plateau” (in Wright’s words) – Wright believes they will now be able to devote the time behind the scenes that a club with ambitions to be among the very best require, leaving the coaching and managing to the staff they appointed.
“It’s a great time to let someone else now drive it forward from the touchline and probably give the support to them that we would have liked when we were managers.”
Wright said the coaching staff, which also include Henry-Evans’ assistant, Rhys Griffiths, and coach Clive Stubbs, had indicated they wanted to stay and continue the Chichester City success story begun by them.
Henry-Evans told Sent Her Forward: “We feel we can move further with me putting all my efforts into the secretarial stuff, plus all the other things I do, [than] with me coaching and trying to do all that, too.”
She said she would still watch some of both the senior and second team’s games, but was giving up the regular twice-weekly training and match-day managerial duties. “The club agrees that I am great as the secretary, and the more time I can put into the other roles I do, the further our club can progress.”
Henry-Evans revealed she had thought about leaving the club completely but had been persuaded by Wright to continue.
“He convinced me that one, I’d miss it too much and two, if I stayed and worked on the other things, the club would progress further, and asked me to stay for that. It’s been myself and him from the start – gaining other volunteers along the way – and he’s right.
“I want to be there and known as the secretary for Chichester City Ladies when we make the Super League one day!”
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Henry-Evans was still a player when Wright had his first spell as manager and was initially player-manager when she set up the reserves.
Speaking to Sent Her Forward shortly after breaking the news to her players – and still fuming after her inexperienced side had been beaten by an injury-time belter from one of West Ham’s established first-team players – she said: “To get from the very bottom league into the top one I possibly can says it all, I think. We started as low as can be and are now giving West Ham a run for their money.”
She added: “I will miss the football but know the time I spend doing the other stuff can be better – like [dealing with] minibuses, media, website, Full-Time [updates], match confirmations, player registrations and more that I do now while doing the football as well.”
Wright expects the current squad to remain at the club, ensuring a more successful coming season, which he is adamant will end in promotion to the Premier League’s top tier.
“They will go up to the Women’s Premier League next year. Liam will take them up,” he said.
“We’ve got a great bunch of girls, and they’re going nowhere, regardless of who’s in charge. They love the club and the badge – not the manager.”
He added: “We lost some players, but this season, we signed a couple late on; we’ll have [long-term injury victim] Jade Widdowson back next year, and all of a sudden you’re looking at a squad that is going to be outstanding in our division.
“You’ve got the likes of Nea [Piiroinen] in goal, who has had a season to develop. She’ll be the best ‘keeper in the league next year – I don’t doubt that for a second… It just looks so positive for next season.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it will be to watch Chichester go on and win that league next year.”