RUNNING a Non-League football club can often be described as a rollercoaster ride, and Bridgwater Town’s experience over the last five years certainly aligns with that.

With the club in the process of becoming a limited company under the control of former AFC Bournemouth co-owner Adam Murry, it is targeting progress on and off the field.

Bob Buckingham is taking over from Adrian Byrne as club chairman, and he spoke to the Mercury about the journey to this point and what he hopes can be achieved in the five years to come.

In November, Murry thanked Byrne and his committee for their hard work over the years, adding that “without them, this club would not be in the position it is now”.

That committee’s story takes us back to December 2015, when Richard Johnson stepped down as chairman; Johnson Metals was at that time the club’s main sponsor.

Other committee members followed him, during a season in which the team were struggling in Division 1 South & West of the Southern League.

In February 2016, an Extraordinary General Meeting was held, where Alan Hurford was voted in as chairman, with Buckingham as vice-chairman.

Buckingham told the Mercury: “We put together a committee of former players and other interested parties.

“But the validity of the EGM was called into question, and Alan stepped away.

“I became chairman, and the team just about stayed up.

“Adrian Byrne then came in and was elected chairman, and I was back to my intended position of vice-chairman.”

Unfortunately 2016/17 was another difficult season for the Robins, who won only two out of 42 league matches and were relegated to the Western League.

“There was virtually no money to pay players,” said Buckingham, and manager Craig Laird was tempted away by Dorchester Town.

His replacement, Phil Hucker, could do nothing about the poor run of results, and by the time Dave Pearse became interim manager, relegation was all but confirmed.

Pearse and Karl Baggaley have operated as co-managers for the past four seasons, with the team finishing eighth and then fourth in the Western League Premier Division, before a null and void season in 2019/20 and the uncertain fate of the current 2020/21 campaign.

Buckingham reflected: “Despite [2016/17] being a poor season, our crowds were up 25 per cent, because we were using young players and making use of the Bridgwater & Taunton College connection.

“Crowds continued to grow, and our financial support and sponsorship increased, but still we need more to progress.

“The key is to be sustainable - not throwing money at the team - and fielding players who want to be at the club.

“There have been stories about Western League clubs throwing money around.

“We have not gotten on that merry-go-round and we won’t get on it.”

Bridgwater Mercury:

IN CHARGE: Bridgwater Town co-managers Karl Baggaley and Dave Pearse (pic: Debbie Gould)

While sustainable growth is the aim, Buckingham believes that Murry’s arrival at Bridgwater is “a massive boost for us and very exciting”.

Murry’s move from Bournemouth to Bridgwater runs via Yeovil United FC (formerly Yeovil Town Ladies/Women), which has had Bridgwater & Taunton College (BTC) as its education partner for the last five years and trains at the college’s facilities.

Yeovil’s rise up the divisions to the top flight of women’s football was followed by seasons of struggle, financial difficulties and demotion.

By this point Murry had left Bournemouth had had set up a youth academy in Tampa, Florida.

He arranged for one of the academy teams to play Yeovil, only to discover they were at the point of folding - so he bought the club.

Murry also helped Weymouth earn promotion to the National League, but moved on from there, and that’s when he came into contact with Bridgwater.

“Myself and Mason Galloway [BTC sports development manager] were in discussions with Adam,” Buckingham said.

“He was interested in getting involved with a club with the potential for progress, that might benefit from his advice and support.

“At the end of the first lockdown, he came to some Bridgwater games and we had discussions about him getting involved.”

That brings us to November 2020, and a series of announcements about the club’s ownership and structure going forward.

Buckingham’s step up to chairman comes with Bridgwater moving from a members club to a limited company, and Byrne unable to commit the time to it.

“Ambitious clubs have changed their status to a limited company, and we’ve been given that advice, so it’s the right way to go,” Buckingham explained.

“It’s the safest and most progressive way, and we are looking to complete the process early in 2021.

“We are still about community engagement, not becoming financially unsustainable and overstretched.”

See next week for part two of our Bob Buckingham interview