CHRISTCHURCH have reached the end of an era with news that their most successful ever manager, Graham Kemp, is leaving the club.
The 47-year-old, now in his sixth season at Hurn Bridge, broke the news to his players after last night’s 3-1 defeat at Sydenhams Premier table toppers Downton.
Since joining Priory from Brockenhurst, former central defender Kemp – a veteran of more than 800 Wessex games for AFC Lymington/Lymington & New Milton – has worked miracles to establish them as a regular top-five Wessex force.
Last season was his best ever, leading Christchurch to third spot and glory in the Sydenhams League Cup.
But after more than five years in the post he feels he has taken them as far as he can and wants to recharge his batteries before looking for another job – hopefully at a higher level – for next term.
“Last year we came third, reached two cup finals and won one of them and it was the ideal opportunity to push on,” said Kemp.
“But the club’s financial situation means I’ve never drawn a penny in wages or expenses and neither has any player, so it’s been really hard work.
“We’ve lost a lot of players to the Southern League and it’s understandable that they want to progress and, perhaps after a break, I will too.
“I’ve had 20 years non-stop in the Wessex League, playing and managing, and I’ve never had a period of time to relax. I feel shattered.
“I’m doing a bit of a Pep Guardiola and taking a sabbatical. I live and breathe football and I need a break.”
With this year’s title race wide open, Christchurch have as good a chance as any of lifting their first Wessex crown.
Kemp has agreed to stay on until a suitable successor is found but says he wouldn’t mind at all if the new manager stole his thunder.
“It’s early days yet to be talking about the title, but I’d love it if someone came in and won the league,” he said.
“Christchurch will advertise the post and I’m not going to leave them in the lurch. I should imagine I’d be around for two or three weeks yet.
“There’s no ulterior motive to my leaving. Christchurch are a fabulous club with a really good youth policy, but I’m tired and not enjoying it as much as I was.
“The club would never sack me, so it’s purely my decision.
“It’s very rare in football that you get to walk away with no hard feelings, shake hands and say thank you very much.
“Christchurch will move on and we’ll see what the future holds for me.”