Why former Sheffield Wednesday manager Chris Turner is happy to go back to his roots

Chris Turner: Leading the way with ''Wakefield AFC'.
Chris Turner: Leading the way with ''Wakefield AFC'.
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Chris Turner would have been forgiven for wanting to lead a quieter life having turned 60 last September.

More especially given some bruising recent experiences in football that had seen the former Sheffield Wednesday manager leave positions at Port Vale and Chesterfield.

The Sheffielder, whose goalkeeping career saw him represent the Owls, Sunderland and Manchester United with distinction before managing the likes of Wednesday, Hartlepool United and Stockport County, lost his job as sales and marketing manager at Vale Park last summer.

Just over a year earlier in March, 2017, Turner – after a five-year spell at Chesterfield that saw him mainly serve as chief executive before a latter stint as director of football – left the cash-strapped Derbyshire outfit due to cost-cutting measures.

Thankfully those experiences having not diminished his appetite for his latest adventure with Wakefield AFC where he will be the one making the decisions. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Turner, who memorably helped Wednesday to League Cup glory in 1990-91 – a season that also famously saw Ron Atkinson’s prodigiously-talented side secure an instant return to the top flight from the old Second Division – will don his coaching gear on the training ground and tie in the boardroom as he attempts to put the city of Wakefield on the non-league footballing map again.

Turner will serve as a chairman for the new-look club who will kick off their first season in the Central Midlands League in 2019-20 and play home games initially at the nearby Pontefract Collieries ground.

The ultimate intention is to move into the city at the revamped Belle Vue Stadium, home of Super League outfit Wakefield Trinity.

It is hoped that the team will play in the same colours as Trinity – white with red and blue trim – and a kit deal has already been agreed.

Turner, part of a consortium of businessmen including Mike Hegarty – founder and owner of the club – and former Hartlepool chief executive Russ Green, said: “I have been in football for 45 years and never envisaged starting a club from nothing and building it up.

“But I look forward to seeing it as I do not want to be wishing my life away. I would like to be sitting back in 15 years and seeing Wakefield AFC move up the ladder and playing at a really good level and saying, ‘I helped to start that’. That is what I will look forward to.

“This is real-life football. I played football in my time at the highest level in what is the Premier League now, but grass-roots football has kept the same and stayed true to itself.

“There are a lot of hard-working people in grass-roots football who do tremendous jobs up and down the country – with probably only 50 or 60 people watching on a Saturday afternoon.

“The top echelons of football has moved away from the man in the street in my opinion and non-league football is alive and kicking.

“My role is to gain interest, go out to businesses and attract people to the club. I have got all my contacts in football.

“But I am also director of football and will be doing coaching inside it and helping with the junior teams and overseeing the football side.”

Spreading the word in a rugby-orientated city such as Wakefield, whose footballing leanings have primarily extended north to Leeds, has always represented a challenge over many years, but Turner is unequivocal that there is “a gap in the market”.

Testament to that arrived in April 2001 when a bumper crowd of 3,708 saw the original Emley AFC club, then playing at Belle Vue, narrowly miss out on promotion to the Conference following a 3-2 defeat to UniBond League title rivals Stalybridge Celtic.

Non-league football may have had a chequered history in the Merrie City since, but given the population of the metropolitan district of the City of Wakefield stood at just over 325,000 at the 2011 census, there is still considerable potential to accommodate a successful club in the heart of Wakefield, according to Turner.

He added: “There is a lot of competition with Ossett (United), Pontefract Colleriies and Nostell around us, but there is no presence in Wakefield itself.

“When I was asked about the venture I looked at Wakefield and was surprised myself how big a city it is. I know it is predominantly a rugby (league) city and we are not coming in to try and fight that, but we are just there to bring another sport to the attention of the people in the city.

“There are a lot of football people still in that city who will support Leeds and Barnsley, but people in their own area would still like the opportunity of supporting a football club that represents your city. There is a gap in the market we are trying to exploit.

“We are not rising from the ashes, but it is a brand new club and we hope to strike the imagination of people in the city and I am sure we will over the passage of time. It is about getting our name on the map and people getting used to it.”