‘I didn’t want to stop playing’ - Altrincham legend Stuart Coburn reflects on career ahead of Non-League Day
The former Altrincham goalkeeper reminisced on his career in non-league football, and the impact it has had on him.
Greater Manchester boasts some of non-league’s biggest football clubs with Stockport County and Altrincham currently two of the county’s highest-profile teams outside the Football League.
One former player who has a long-standing career with the latter mentioned club is Stuart Coburn. The former goalkeeper made over 600 appearances for the Robins, winning several promotions in that time.
He has now opened up about his career in non-league football and the impact it had on him away off the field.
Speaking exclusively to ManchesterWorld, the ex-Robins shot-stopper expressed how he feels lucky to have played at that level and that he didn’t want to stop playing.
“I was lucky enough to win a few promotions with Altrincham,” Coburn said. “At Stoke [City’s ground] I won a play-off final. When I first signed for them we won the Unibond Premier Division to get to the National League North.
“The connection with the fans at non-league [clubs] is different to the Premier League. In the Prem you don’t get to meet the players, but [in non-league] you go into the bar after a game and you have a drink [with supporters].
“I remember playing Cambridge and we went into the bar after the match and their fans were amazed. ‘What are you lot doing in here?’ We’d been working all week and gone in for a pint, ‘We don’t see our players because they’re full-time’. We had a good chat with them and it gave them a different outlook.
“I didn’t want to stop playing when I did, I had to through injury.”
The level of non-league football has improved over the years with players often dropping out of the Football League to experience it.
Despite this, several clubs in recent years have spent significant fees in the hope of trying to reach the Football League at the earliest opportunity, but failed to do so and it resulted in them struggling financially.
This is something Coburn hopes other non-league teams don’t repeat, especially his former side Altrincham.
“They’ve [non-league clubs] got to be careful that they don’t chase a dream that is probably unattainable, you’ve got to know where your boundaries are,” he said.
“We’ve seen it with clubs who have strived for that and they’ve ended up going bump. Rushton & Diamonds had a big backer and he pulled out and the club went belly up.
“That could happen at other clubs. They’ve got to realise what they’ve already got and enjoy it. Don’t get too beat up about getting to the Football League [so fast]. Enjoy where you’re at.”
Altrincham currently play in the National League after gaining promotion in 2020 and Coburn knows it could take a couple of years before they push higher up the pyramid, expressing his concern at what could happen if they choose to chase a Football League place too fast.
He said: “In the National League especially, there are some massive teams like Chesterfield, Stockport County, Notts County and Wrexham.
“For Altrincham, when I was playing there, they were a top National League North team or bottom of the National League. Hopefully for them in the next couple of years they become a mid-table team and then possibly look to push on [up the football pyramid].
“If you chase it too quickly it can come back to bite you on the bum and I hope that doesn’t happen to Altrincham.”
The 12th annual Non League Day takes place on Saturday (26 March) with Altrincham one of 14 Greater Manchester club playing at home.