The big interview: Colchester United chairman, Robbie Cowling
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Not every chairman in the land would back their manager, and confirm that he will still be in with a job next season, with the threat of relegation looming large going into the last week of a campaign.
But Robbie Cowling is no ordinary chairman. The Colchester United surpemo has a bigger vision for the Essex club, beyond the next few weeks, months, or even years.
Cowling, the U’s owner as well as chairman, appointed Tony Humes to the post of first team manager, following Joe Dunne’s departure by mutual consent at the end of last August.
Humes had steadily built up the U’s Academy, over the previous five years, and now the ex-Ipswich Town and Wrexham centre-half is being given the time to develop the senior side.
The U’s are tottering on the brink of relegation, four points adrift of safety going into the final three games of the season.
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They let two precious points slip through their hands, in their last game, conceding an injury-time equaliser in a 2-2 home draw against Scunthorpe last Saturday.
During the second-half of that game, a section of U’s fans expressed their displeasure at the club’s current plight, second-from-bottom of League One, with chants of “Humes Out” and also a rendition of “Jabo Ibehre,” the club’s former striker who has not played for the club since Humes took charge.
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Ibehre is currently on loan at Barnsley, with his contract at Colchester set to expire this summer. The big man expressed a desire to leave the U’s, following Dunne’s exit, rather than Humes choosing to overlook him.
“I thought a few fans crossed the line on Saturday,” insisted Cowling.
“It was only a vocal minority, but they somehow thought it was a good idea to sing the name of a player (Ibehre) who has let the club down, while chanting abuse against someone who is trying to help the club.
“Hopefully, the silent majority can see what we are trying to do.
“Tony (Humes) will still be the manager of this club next season, regardless of what happens this season.
“When he took over, we had only got one point (from five games). We are still in with a chance of avoiding relegation, and I’m extremely pleased with what he is doing.
“It’s not all about the first team, at the exclusion of the youth team and everything else.
“Tony built up our Academy over five years, and he will be given the time to so a similar job with the first team.
“Relegation is not what the club wants, but I had to make an important decision three years ago, to change the direction which this club was taking.
“Of course that was partly due to the new Fair Play rules (need to reduce the club’s playing budget), but I also wanted to change the whole ethos of the club so that it was not just relying on me.
“I don’t think that’s a great place for the club to be at, and it’s certainly not healthy going forward.
“The club needs to be able to support itself, which is why their has been this major investment in the youth team set-up.
“It is important not to bring in players who will stand in the way of our own young players, and over those last three years the budget has been halved.
“We have done well to stay in this league, over the last couple of years, and if we can do the same again this year, then I think we would have ridden the storm.
“Tony knows all the young players, and these first few years, after the change in direction of the club, were always going to be the most challenging.
“He needs time,” added Cowling.
A very proactive chairman, Cowling must also be considered to be one of the fittest chairmen in the Football League.
Back in the 2012-13 season, Cowling ran to every home game, from his house in Great Totham, a distance of about 15 miles.
He followed this up by cycling to the U’s final away game of the season, which just happened to be the longest journey of the whole campaign, to Carlisle United. The U’s staved off relegation with a 2-0 win that day.
Likewise, Cowling cycled to the final game of last season, away at Walsall in the West Midlands, and today he will be departing on his bike again, to be at Fleetwood in time for the U’s last away fixture of this term, on Saturday.
Once again, he will be raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.