Football: Non-League Notebook - Stevenage sack angry Fairclough

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The Independent Online
LAST SEASON Paul Fairclough was a hero as he steered his Stevenage Borough side to the fourth round of the FA Cup. A victory over Swindon Town and a fourth-round draw against Newcastle United ensured that the former school-teacher was regularly in the spotlight.

Yesterday Fairclough discovered the unpredictable nature of football fame and fortune as he was sensationally sacked as the manager of the Football Conference club.

Speaking to the Independent last night, Victor Green, the Hertfordshire club's chairman, revealed little in the way of reasoning behind the dismissal. "We have had to make a very difficult decision," he said, "but it is one we believe is in the best interests of the club."

Fairclough, who took Stevenage to the Conference title in 1996 and has lifted the club to third place this term, was shocked by his sacking. "I am staggered by the decision," he said. "I walked into this club as a football manager in the morning and I leave it after being sacked, feeling like a leper.

"I see this decision as a massive vote of no-confidence in my ability as a football manager. They think I have lost the plot." The assistant manager, Noel Blackwell, takes caretaker charge of team affairs.

Green has offered Fairclough a role as director of football, but such a move seems unlikely. "The new job they have offered me is exactly what I have been doing at the moment, apart from actually picking the team and being in the dug-out," Fairclough said. "I still have ambitions and, without blowing my own trumpet, I could manage a Football League club standing on one leg with a patch over my eye."

It was also the end of an era at Aggborough this week as the Conference's longest-serving manager called it a day.

Graham Allner resigned on Tuesday after 15 years in charge of Kidderminster Harriers, who have been unable to challenge for the Conference title this or last season and have been knocked out of the FA Cup, the FA Trophy and Endsleigh Trophy (the Conference League Cup) in recent weeks.

"I am very proud of what I have achieved both on and off the pitch," Allner said. "We have had some brilliant times here and this has been the best 15 years of my life. But I now feel that both myself and the club need a change of direction."

Colin Youngjohns, a Harriers director, said: "We have only had two managers in the last 22 years, so whoever comes in knows he will be given every chance to build on the stability created by Graham and John Chambers.

"This is a sad day, but we feel this decision is best for both Graham and the club. Without a shadow of doubt he is the best man in the business, but nothing is forever and there has been a growing realisation that there was a need for change." Kidderminster's assistant manager, Jim Conway, has been put in temporary charge of team affairs.

Allner guided Harriers to the fifth round of the FA Cup and the Conference title in 1994, but they were denied promotion to the Football League because they failed to meet the League's deadline for ground improvements.

Three years later the Aggborough side finished second to Macclesfield after throwing away a commanding lead in the championship race. Allner also took Harriers to Wembley three times in the FA Trophy, which they won in 1987.

This week's draw for the fourth round of the FA Carlsberg Vase emphasised the fact that the tournament is a truly national competition. Dunston Federation Brewery, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, will have to travel all the way to Cornwall on 9 January to take on St Blazey.

Bedlington Terriers, who made the headlines when they beat Colchester United in the first round of the FA Cup, will be at home to Banstead Athletic if they can overcome Mickleover Sports. There have been two failed attempts to stage the third-round tie - the floodlights failed at Terriers' Welfare Ground on both Saturday and Wednesday.

FA CARLSBERG VASE Fourth-round draw: Sudbury Wanderers v Garforth Town; Clitheroe v St Helens Town; Bedlington Terriers or Mickleover Sports v Banstead Athletic; Sudbury Town v Northwood; Wick v Vauxhall GM; Warrington Town v Thame Utd; Camberley Town v Tooting & Mitcham; Goole v Bemerton Heath Harlequins; Harlow Town v Taunton Town; Ash Utd v Tiverton Town; Bedford Utd v Wroxham; Ford Utd v Kidsgrove Athletic; Lymington & New Milton v Mossley; St Blazey v Dunston Federation Brewery; Bowers Utd or Diss Town v Woodbridge Town; Barkingside or Oldbury Utd v Workington. (Ties to be played Saturday 9 January).