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Longer-serving than Wenger: Meet the manager who ‘goes through chairmen’

Wealdstone manager Gordon Bartlett

Gordon Bartlett was 39 when he took charge of Wealdstone. He is now two months short of his 61st birthday

Blackburn Rovers were Premier League champions, the FA Cup belonged to Everton and Steve Coppell had just been named Crystal Palace manager when Gordon Bartlett was appointed Wealdstone boss in June 1995.

Fast forward 21 years and Rovers are now struggling in the second tier, the Toffees have not won another major trophy and Palace have made 16 permanent managerial changes.

Bartlett, remarkably, remains boss of the Stones.

As the 60-year-old prepares the National League South club for Saturday’s FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie at Dagenham Redbridge – one of 32 taking place this weekend – the London-born PE teacher is proof that longevity is achievable in a game where knee-jerk reactions and sackings are commonplace.

FA Cup fourth qualifying round fixtures

FA Cup 2016-17 qualifying results

“Most chairmen tend to go through countless managers. I’m the opposite, I go through chairmen,” said Bartlett.

He is the longest-serving manager in England’s top six tiers having been appointed 16 months before Arsene Wenger’s first match in charge of Arsenal in October 1996.

Since taking charge of Wealdstone, Bartlett has overseen 1,250-plus competitive games, served four different chairmen and won four promotions, while the club, now based in Ruislip, have played “home” games at three different grounds.

Such devotion and loyalty might prompt a club to commission a statue in tribute.

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The best attendance for an FA Cup tie so far this season is 3,181 for Stockport County’s 2-0 win over Salford City in the third qualifying round

Bartlett, however, is more than satisfied with the decanter and watch he received at a testimonial dinner, attended by Tottenham legend Steve Perryman and former Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd, in 2010 to mark 15 years in charge.

“It’s not about Gordon Bartlett and 21 years as manager of Wealdstone. It’s about what we can achieve collectively as a group and as a team,” Bartlett said.

“When I first took over at Wealdstone we had no ground, just two players and we were in administration. We started from scratch.”

Highlights for Wealdstone under Bartlett’s rule include FA Cup first-round pay days against Rotherham in 2009 and Colchester in 2015, and a £70,000 transfer fee from Leeds United for striker Jermaine Beckford in 2006.

There have been lows too.

“Three years ago I came very close to quitting after we lost to Concord Rangers in the Isthmian League play-offs,” said Bartlett. “Part of my longevity is because I have surrounded myself with super people and I was persuaded to stay on. The following season we finished top and were promoted to National League South.”

Vinnie Jones, an FA Cup winner with Wimbledon in 1988, and former England captain Stuart Pearce both started their careers at Wealdstone before Bartlett arrived.

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Stuart Pearce (top left) started his career at Wealdstone and went on to captain England

In addition to Boothroyd, Bartlett has forged long-term friendships with former Watford managers Sean Dyche and Malky Mackay, while ex-England striker Les Ferdinand played under him as a teenager.

Wealdstone are one league below Dagenham Redbridge, who are second in the National League table having been relegated from League Two last season. The Daggers are also managed by a veteran, with 66-year-old John Still in his third spell in charge, the first of which came in 1992.

Despite being underdogs, Bartlett has been around long enough to know his side can join former winners Bolton Wanderers, Coventry City and Portsmouth in Monday’s first-round draw.

So has he got a date in mind to retire from management?

“As long as I can take Wealdstone forward and I have fire in my belly, I will continue,” he added.

‘My grandad slept with the FA Cup’

Should Stourbridge keeper Matthew Gould require an insight into the magic of the FA Cup he only needs to give his grandad a phone call.

Bobby Gould masterminded Wimbledon’s 1988 triumph over Liverpool – arguably the biggest upset in the competition’s history.

The former Wales boss later revealed he had got closer than most to the famous trophy after tucking it into his bed after his “Crazy Gang” had won.

“Grandad often mentions he slept with the FA Cup,” said Gould, 22, who is set to feature for Stourbridge in their tie at Northern Premier League Premier Division rivals Nantwich Town on Saturday.

“I wasn’t born when Wimbledon won the cup but I’ve watched it back a couple of times with grandad.

“It was quite an incredible group of players he had. It was a bit like Leicester winning the Premier League last season. It gives everyone hope.”

Gould, son of former Celtic and Coventry keeper Jonathan, was back-up at Livingston last season, who were playing in the Scottish Championship, before joining Scottish League One Stenhousemuir on an emergency loan in November.

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Meet the Goulds… Matthew Gould (bottom right) is Stourbridge’s keeper and the son of former Celtic stopper Jonathan (bottom left). Matthew’s grandad is Bobby Gould (top right), who masterminded Wimbledon’s 1988 FA Cup triumph

After returning to Livingston, he finished the season on loan at Stourbridge before agreeing a one-year contract with the Glassboys in May.

It is a handy arrangement as his dad is goalkeeper coach at nearby West Bromwich Albion, where Stourbridge’s keeper spends his week training with the likes of England international Ben Foster and Boaz Myhill.

“I’m very fortunate that Tony Pulis allows me to train with them because of my dad,” added Gould. “You cannot buy that experience. I’m learning something new every day.”

Stourbridge are managed by Gary Hackett, the former Stoke City and West Brom winger, who is looking to guide his hometown club to the FA Cup first round for the fifth time in eight seasons.

Will FA Cup-winning boss Bobby Gould be making the journey to Nantwich to cheer on the Glassboys?

“Grandad comes to a lot of home games – we’ve managed to convert him into a Stourbridge fan,” laughed Gould. “He’s got other commitments this weekend but I’m sure he’ll be looking out for our result.”

From World Cup ignominy to Tonbridge Angels

Deren Ibrahim plans to round off a week he will never forget by guiding Dartford into the FA Cup first round.

Ibrahim, 25, conceded the fastest World Cup qualifying goal 8.1 seconds into his Gibraltar debut as Belgium ran out 6-0 winners on Monday.

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Dartford goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim faced a star-studded line-up when his Gibraltar side took on Belgium

Instead of facing Belgium’s £27m Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard on Saturday, Ibrahim will be up against Nathan Elder and Luke Blewden as National League South Dartford visit Kent neighbours Tonbridge Angels.

“It’ll be a bit different for him after facing the likes of Benteke and Hazard,” Steve McKimm, manager of Isthmian League Premier Division side Tonbridge Angels told BBC Radio Kent.

Ibrahim, who returned from international duty with the shirt of Belgium and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois, played one game on loan for Tonbridge in 2014.

“He was outstanding and I did try to get him, but he wanted to stay at Dartford,” added McKimm.

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