Meet the Sussex football manager celebrating 10 years in the job

Little Common Football Club’s player manager Russell Eldridge will celebrate his tenth anniversary as manager on Saturday afternoon when he leads his team out against Newhaven.

A decade at the helm - Little Common player-manager Russell Eldridge
A decade at the helm - Little Common player-manager Russell Eldridge

It was the 6th November 2011 when Eldridge took charge of his first match, a 1-0 defeat away to Dorking Wanderers as Common languished in the SCFL Division One relegation zone. Eldridge steered his team to safety with a 2-0 win on the final day of the 2011/12 season against Storrington to ensure that they finished outside of the relegation places.

The following season he led the club to its highest ever finish when a last day win against league champions Littlehampton Town saw them clinch a third-place finish, however, ground grading regulations saw Common denied the opportunity of promotion to the Premier Division. Common finished the 2012/14 season in fourth place before two seventh placed finishes.

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Eldridge once again led the club to its highest ever finish in the 2016/17 season with a runners-up spot behind champions East Preston. Once again ground grading regulations prevented the Commoners promotion, and the club ended the season facing relegation into intermediate football due to the failure of securing a ‘G’ ground grading.

With this in mind, the club agreed a ground-share with Eastbourne United AFC for the 2017/18 season and despite having to travel twelve miles to play home games, Eldridge assembled a squad which went on to be the most the successful side in the club’s history, clinching the SCFL Division One league and cup double, winning twenty-eight of their thirty-four league games in the process.

The Commoners were finally able to take their place in step five of the football pyramid and finished eight points clear of the relegation zone to preserve their position in the Premier Division in the 2018/19 season. The next two seasons were cut short due to Covid, but the Commoners were comfortably positioned at the time of the curtailments.

Eldridge once again looks on course to guide the club to its highest ever league finish during the 2021/22 season with his side already amassing twenty-eight points from their sixteen matches played.

He said, “It’s been a fantastic 10 years in charge and there have been many ups and downs. I can still remember my first game in charge at Dorking where we were defeated 1-0 and the last game of that season when we secured survival thanks to a Sam Brown goal at Storrington. Following that season we always looked up and I managed to secure three top three finishes in six seasons and had it not been for ground grading regulations then we would have been playing in the Premier Division sooner.

"Since we have been promoted, we have worked hard to ensure that we maintain our place in the division and made improvements each season. I can see that football has changed massively in the ten years I’ve been manger in a number of ways and you have to adapt along the way. I’ve always been very fortunate that I have been able to put together groups of people that are not only good players but are good people too and I am always grateful to those that pull on the claret and blue shirt.

"I’ve been fortunate enough to have loyal servants in Lewis Hole and Matt Cruttwell who have showed dedication not only towards me but the club. I’m also thankful to those around me who have supported and assisted me throughout, we are a family club and always try to look after players on and off the pitch by creating the correct environment.

"Those players that have been in dressing rooms with me know that I’m loyal and do everything I can to be as successful as possible despite the challenges presented to me. There have been many great games and achievements such as our FA Cup runs where we have overcome higher grade teams but the biggest achievement has to be the League and Cup double winning season in 2017/18 – promotion is obviously nice but being able to say that you have won something is special.

"We are extremely close to returning to home and I can’t wait to get back there so that the local community can get back to watching us at the Rec, it’s been a long process and hard work getting back but it will all be worth it and I can’t wait for that first game with the supporters cheering us on. I know that grandad would be proud of what we have achieved as a club, and we will continue to work hard moving forward.”

Eldridge remains the second longest serving manager in the whole of the Southern Combination Football League, just behind Oakwood’s Mark Gilbert. During his ten years in the hot seat, Eldridge has overseen 302 league matches, winning 156 with a win percentage of 52%. With the Commoners on the verge of an imminent return to their home ground at Little Common Recreation Ground, Eldridge remains excited about leading Common into a new era.