President Rowley becomes freeman of Altrincham
By Joe Ward.
Former chairman of Altrincham Football Club Grahame Rowley was made a freeman of the town at the Hilary Assize at Altrincham Town Hall on Saturday, January 21.
The historic Court Leet, which has been creating freemen in Altrincham for over seven hundred years, recognised the tireless work Grahame has done for the football club and the community over his 25 years at Moss Lane.
"This award isn't just for me, it's for all the people that have helped me throughout my involvement with Altrincham and the community," says Grahame, who was made president of the club after stepping down as chairman.
"You are a part of this because, without all the people around me, I wouldn't be able to do the work that I do."
Born less than a mile away from the ground, Grahame has been involved at Alty, in one way or another, for his entire adult life.
In 1998, Grahame became an editor for the club's programme. Just three years later, he joined the board for a short while before leaving and re-joining in 2002.
Throughout the two decades that followed, Grahame moved from vice-chairman to chairman of Altrincham and, in the early years of his directorship, helped steer the club through one of the most financially troublesome periods in their history.
The Robins stalwart reflected on his time at Moss Lane by saying: "When I joined the board, we were all very busy at the time running full-time business' outside of the club, but you just make more hours in the day for what you love; it gets in your blood.
"Towards the end, I was working six days a week at the club and I think that killed me off. I felt we needed a change, but I loved every minute of it, and I still do today."
In the past, the award gave the honoured freeman certain privileges such as the right to walk their sheep through the town centre or to wander around the historic market and pick out whatever they liked - without paying.
Today the title confers no special privileges, but it hasn't stopped people from asking the age-old question, When are you walking your sheep through the town?
Amused by the question, Grahame says: "It's quite funny. Stuart Coburn, our ex-goalkeeper, texted me straightaway and said, 'I know what to get you for your birthday now'."
Another Alty legend Graham Heathcote, who was made a freeman burgess of Altrincham back in 2004, knows all too well about the title's bizarre benefits.
"Graham Heathcote, he texted me saying, 'when are we meeting up with our sheep then?'. It's funny, I must admit, and I couldn't tell you the number of times I've been told that."
Of all the unstinting contributions Grahame has made to the club over the years, the one he is most likely to be remembered for is the creation of the Community Sports Hall at The J.Davidson Stadium.
Opened in December 2014, the venue has become a cornerstone of the community, hosting activities that range from baby yoga to walking football. For Grahame, it's potentially his proudest and most significant contribution to the club, and to the community.
"Looking back on it now, I can't help but think how magnificent a project it was. You wouldn't believe the amount of work that went into that, even before a brick was laid. It was superb and now it's immeasurable the number of benefits it brings to the club.
"It's lovely - it's a great facility, and that's a great credit to everyone that got involved."
As part of the ceremonies tradition, freemen have to place their hand on the manuscript from 1290 and declare that they will honour the town of Altrincham with everything they do.
Whether that be in Grahame's new role as a freeman or as the Robins president, he is confident his work for the community is far from finished.
"I'm not sure how this has happened, but I just want to say a massive thank you and I look forward to many more years of being involved in Altrincham Football Club."