Gallery: Manager Symes' remarkable career

PUBLISHED: 15:00 07 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:38 04 March 2010

Chris Symes

Chris Symes

THE name of Chris Symes is synonymous with non-league football in East Anglia. Nick Garnham looks at the Cornard United manager's remarkable 40-year career in football

THE name of Chris Symes is synonymous with non-league football in East Anglia. Nick Garnham looks at the Cornard United manager's remarkable 40-year career in football

CHRIS Symes is not just a part of the furniture at Cornard United Football Club - he actually owns it!

Symes owns the clubhouse and the grandstand at Blackhouse Lane, home of the Ridgeons League Division One side, although the land itself belongs to Great Cornard Parish Council.

When Symes took over running the club in 1994 the club's debts totalled £48,000.

“I have run it as a business for 15 years and we now owe just £2,200,” said Symes, who is the longest-serving manager in the entire Ridgeons League.

Symes devotes countless hours each week to the Cornard cause in a variety of roles - he is first-team manager, secretary to four teams that use the ground, groundsman, barman, cleaner, decorator and even disc jockey!

It is a remarkable labour of love that is probably unparalleled locally in the non-league game, but then Symes has had a remarkable life in football.

He joined the Royal Navy as a 15-year-old in 1961 and was stationed at HMS Ganges in Shotley, near Ipswich.

“During my time in the Fleet Air Arm I played in every major country except Russia. I represented the Navy against New Zealand, Singapore, Malta and Moscow Dynamos and even played against Sir Stanley Matthews in Malta, where he married and retired to.

“During my time in the Navy I attended Lilleshall for my FA Coaching A and B licences with such names as Geoff Hurst, Nobby Stiles and Howard Kendall. At just 25 years old I was the youngest to pass out along with future England manager Graham Taylor.”

Symes married his wife Barbara, who comes from Arbroath, and after spending his summer holiday training with the Scottish side full time they bought him out of the Navy for £250.

Symes said: “At 27 years old I was the youngest First Division coach in Europe! The week I joined Arbroath we beat Rangers 3-2 in Glasgow; I thought this game is easy, but we then lost to Falkirk and Clyde.”

During his time in Scotland Symes assisted Don Revie in coaching the England Under-23 team, and he still has two job references given to him by the former Leeds United manager.

As Arbroath were part time, even though they were putting their wits against Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen, Symes managed a brand new sports centre near Dundee for five years full time.

“During this time I coached the Scottish Ladies' international side and we were undefeated by any other country, including beating England twice. I also took my SFA Coaching A and B Licences at Largs with Walter Smith, Alex Ferguson and Archie Knox.

“Charlie Nicholas (who later played for Celtic, Arsenal and Scotland) was one of the kids we had to coach for our exams.”

Having obtained his squash and coaching and refereeing qualifications Symes successfully applied for the job of managing the newly-built Royal London Sports Centre in his home town of Colchester.

He managed the centre for 20 years until Royal London moved out of Colchester and the centre closed down.

“During this time I coached and managed most of the Suffolk and Essex senior football teams, including the Essex Senior men's team, winning the Sir Stanley Rous County Championship - the only time Essex have won it - in 1988.

“I was coach at Halstead under Barry Archer and coach at Tiptree under Edgar Rumney, before taking charge of Braintree Town who were rock bottom of the Eastern Counties League for the second year running and who were in possession of a letter of expulsion from the league.

“Managing Braintree Town was the highlight of my football career. We hardly lost a match in almost five years and won 17 senior trophies, including two ECL titles and were once runners-up to Sudbury, both the Essex Senior Cup and Trophy and various others as well as enjoying FA Cup and FA Vase runs.”

It was then that he was head-hunted by Chelmsford City and only two of his Braintree team - Mitchell Springett and Gary Nash - followed him to New Writtle Street.

He signed ex-Ipswich Town strikers Alan Bazil and Paul Mariner, although Mariner left soon after to go to Malta, as Chelmsford won promotion from the Southern Division of the Southern League 17 points ahead of Gravesend.

“After winning promotion Chelmsford went belly up and moved me and all my East Anglian players out the door, bringing in George Borg instead.”

After that he managed Brantham Athletic, where former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence brought the Tottenham first team along to switch on the floodlights, before spending two years as boss of Southern League Bury Town, with Alan Brazil and his former Ipswich Town team mates Tommy Parkin and Tony Kinsella in his side.

After a spell at Ryman League Premier Division side Wivenhoe Town, Symes took over Cornard where he has remained ever since.

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