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07 Jan 2016 : John Carroll (19582016) - an appreciation

John after 93 semi-final win in FA Trophy
Dave Bettley, trust secretary of Runcorn Linnets FC, pays tribute (on behalf of the club) to John Carroll, who died peacefully in his sleep on January 5th aged 57. John managed predecessor outfit Runcorn AFC to two successive FA Trophy finals and made the sixth highest number of Conference appearances for the original Yellow and Greens.

JOHN Carroll didn't lift a trophy as manager of Runcorn AFC yet his achievements in reaching three major non-league finals as boss, two of these played at Wembley, amounted to victory in all but name.

Competing at the top level of semi-professional football against teams with much bigger crowds and resources was no easy task but if you also factor in the off-the-field hardships John's team faced in the early 1990s guiding them to the twin towers in consecutive years was little short of remarkable.

Getting to the second of these FA Trophy final appearances under John or 'Cagsy' as John was affectionately known in 1994 was achieved despite the Linnets being homeless due to their ground being closed after a pitchside wall collapse and a major fire which destroyed the main stand at Canal Street.

The club played the home leg of their semi-final on neutral territory at Chester City's Deva Stadium.

The '93 final had pitched the Linnets against the Conference champions Wycombe who, despite Steve Shaughnessy scoring for Runcorn and team-mate Ken McKenna having an effort disallowed when believing the ball had crossed the goal line, the Buckinghamshire side were ultimately too powerful in their non-league swansong, winning 4-1.

The following year's final, secured by McKenna's dramatic strike at Guiseley in the final minute of extra-time, was one which Linnets could easily have won had they got the rub of the green against Woking, who ran out 2-1 winners on a waterlogged surface.

John had built his Wembley teams around established non-league names like one-time Telford United striker McKenna, Karl Thomas (formerly with Witton Albion and Colne) and Gary Anderson, who had played against Runcorn in the '86 final for victors Altrincham. As manager, he helped to develop players such as Graham Hill, Jamie Bates, Paul Robertson, present Tranmere Rovers manager Gary Brabin and Ian Brady into key performers.

His teams bore all the qualities of endeavour and desire which John showed as a player himself, as a central defender initially for Heswall and South Liverpool in senior football. He then moved to Dorset, joining Weymouth, before family reasons prompted a return North for the 1987-88 season signing for then Runcorn manager John King.

In the club's 15 seasons in the Alliance Premier League, Gola League and Conference, only five players bettered John's total number of appearances. The last of his 188 league games for the Linnets came in his two Wembley seasons but he limited himself to 14 league appearances in 1992-93 and just seven in 93-94.

Although not the most naturally gifted player, he was an imposing, uncompromising, enthusiastic and effective defender, who also chipped in with the occasional goal. A total of 14 in league matches for the Linnets.

He figured in the two Cheshire Senior Cup final successes, both against Macclesfeld Town, and was a kingpin of the team which tasted FA Cup glory in victory against Wrexham at The Racecourse Ground.

John took over as player-manager at Canal Street in 1991 and in his first season in charge steered Runcorn to the final of the Bob Lord Trophy the Conference's league cup.

The Linnets turned in an admirable display although beaten 2-1 on aggregate by a Wycombe side for which promotion to the Football League was only a matter of time.

The Linnets' efforts were certainly not lost on opposing manager Martin O'Neill, the current Republic of Ireland boss, who after the midweek second leg at Adams Park delivered champagne to the dressing room in recognition of their performance.

But, despite their exploits in knockout competitions, Runcorn had begun to find competing at top non-league level over 42 games increasingly tough and John paid the price for an 8-0 home defeat by Stevenage Borough on November 25th 1995. He was relieved of his services by the club's board immediately after the game.

Ironically, it was a match John should not have attended. He had been unwell on the day but watched from the dressing room area, having been determined to make it to the ground.

But that was John Carroll - a man of honest character and true integrity, who just did not want to let people down; a devoted family man and a great friend to have; loyal to his players, club and its fans and someone who always gave 100% commitment and outstanding service to the Linnets cause.

His contribution had been acknowledged with a testimonial season.

On a personal level, John was very accommodating to me in my former role as sports editor of the Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News. Extremely generous in nature, neither he nor his wife Julie would ever complain at a midnight telephone call.

John went on to manage Gateshead and Halifax Town while also assisting his former senior player McKenna when he took charge at TNS. Despite a very unfortunate, and unjust, end to his association with the Linnets, the supporters now remembering and mourning him would like to think that Runcorn Football Club always retained a place in his affections.

Farewell, 'Cagsy' from everyone at Runcorn Linnets you did us proud, left us with some great memories and will, for sure, always be in our hearts at The Millbank Linnets Stadium.

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